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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 14, 2011
McKownville neighbors concerned
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND The University at Albany is interested in purchasing a historic piece of land that would encroach on the residential neighborhoods in McKownville if it were developed.
The McKownville Improvement Association, led by Donald Reeb, a former professor at the university, said that, if the college develops the land, it would be revoking a promise it made to the community nearly 50 years ago.
The nine acres, referred to as the Holt-Harris property after the family that currently owns it, borders Norwood Street, Waverly Place, and West University Drive. There are 40 houses on Norwood Street, and 16 on Waverly Place. The property is zoned R-15, which means it is residential, allowing 15,000-square-foot lots.
The Holt-Harris property is listed at $1.6 million, according Steven Cronan, the real estate agent handling the sale.
Brother and sister John-Holt Harris III and Susan Holt-Harris own the property. The land was once part of the Christian LaGrange farm; the LaGrange family members were some of the earliest inhabitants along the Normanskill. Some of the property originally owned by the LaGrange family already belongs to the university, and the rest is under the Holt-Harris name.
“The land is for sale because it is nine acres that my father owned, and he died 10 years ago,” said Ms. Holt-Harris. She said her family had no use for the land. There is one house on the land that the Holt-Harris’s father occupied at one time.
“We are interested in purchasing the land, at a more fair price,” Karl Luntta, a spokesman for the university, told The Enterprise this week. The property is assessed at about a third of the asking price a total of $597,000, according to Guilderland’s assessor, John Macejka.
Reeb said that, in 1963, the late Colonel Walter Tisdale, then the assistant president of the university, promised the McKownville Improvement Association that the university would never take over any residential land in the area.
Two weeks ago, on June 29, seven members of the improvement association met with university president George Philip to make him aware of the promise that dates back half a century. Reeb said he brought a copy of the May 30, 1963 Turnpike Record, in which Tisdale was quoted saying the university would not need residential property in McKownville “in your lifetime or mine.” The colonel died years ago.
According to Reeb, Philip’s response was that 1963 was “a long time ago.”
“We agreed to a meeting with the improvement association precisely to get their feedback,” Luntta said. However, he indicated that it would be premature to discuss issues that might occur with property development, or their remedies, because, at this point, the university is merely interested, and has made no concrete plans.
“We have not determined what we would do, but the land would give us more flexibility with our master plan,” said Luntta. The master plan, he explained, is a multi-year plan to consider expansion and growth, in academics, mission, and physical size.
Though Luntta and Philip said the university has no plans for what to do with the land if they acquire it, Reeb said there was a strong rumor that it would be used for a new gym and parking lot, or baseball fields.
Reeb said the university would be pushing its luck if it decided to go through with the purchase.
“They are lucky to have a neighborhood next door that is safe and secure for their students,” said Reeb. He cited concerns such as excessive noise, lights, traffic, and stormwater run-off.
“They’d be losing that safe neighborhood feel,” Reeb said. He also called expanding to the Holt-Harris property “unnecessary.” He said there was land available on the Western Avenue side of the campus that would be more suited to development.
“It is premature to talk about this,” concluded Luntta. “But, we are taking the association’s concerns into consideration.”
The McKownville Improvement Association will meet on July 21 to discuss ideas “about how to persuade the university that the acquisition is not a good idea,” said Reeb.
“We have had very good relations with the university for more than 50 years,” he concluded. “So there is good reason to be hopeful.”