[Home Page] [This Week] [Classifieds] [Legals] [Obituaries] [Newsstands] [Subscriptions] [Advertising] [Deadlines] [About Us] [FAQ] [Archives] [Community Links] [Contact Us]

New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 29, 2011

2011 in review: New Scotland
Elected candidates promise to pass size-cap law, fracking debated,
school and post office close in Clarksville, three walkers struck dead by SUV

NEW SCOTLAND — Planning and development issues remained the town’s focus in 2011 as a committee started studying the New Scotland’s commercial zone and the fall election delivered two candidates to the town board who pledged to pass a cap on the allowable size of retail development in town.

The three sitting members of the board had won the previous election on that issue, but were stymied by a protest petition filed by landowners that required at least four votes to pass the cap.  Restricting the allowable size of retail development became popular in town after Cazenovia-cased Sphere Development proposed a Target-anchored shopping center for the old Bender melon farm.

At the beginning of the year, the town named five people to sit on a committee charged with studying the commercial zone and developing a master plan.  Maura Mottolese, Jim Olsen, Katy O’Rourke, Kathy Macri, and Liz Kormos represent New Scotland on the committee, which is made up of half-a-dozen representatives from various transportation and planning agencies.

Mottolese is the lawyer who represents the owners of the old Bender melon farm, which is the largest single piece of land in the commercial zone, and she is the daughter of one of the owners; Olsen owns a nursery and property in the area; O’Rourke and her husband own land in the commercial zone that they plan to develop; Macri is a resident of the town with planning credentials; and Kormos is a resident who works in real estate.

Both O’Rourke and Kormos were instrumental in securing the $42,500 grant from the Capital District Transportation Committee, which is funding the study.  The town of New Scotland is contributing $12,500 for a total of $55,000.

The committee began meeting in the first part of the year, but put its meetings on hold in March while the most recent version of the size-cap bill was before the town.  Jen Ceponis, of the CDTC, said at the time that the work of the committee was separate from the heated size-cap issue and the committee would wait to resume until the town had settled the cap.

Although the bill fizzled with no clear resolution, the committee began meeting again in the fall and held its first public workshop in November.

In September, Councilman Daniel Mackay, who has been in charge of drafting the size-cap bills since he won a seat on the town board with a platform advocating moderate commercial development, expressed optimism for passing a size-cap bill after the election.  He also said that the urgency for the bill had waned since the committee will be coming up with suggestions for zoning ordinances in the commercial zone.

If a new zoning code is eight to 10 months away, Mackay asked, “In some ways, is a size cap even necessary?”

On Election Day, after the Democrats had won, Mackay said of the size cap, “We have the votes and support to pass it.”  He attributed the outcome of the election to the public’s sustained interest in the issue of commercial development — all three candidates who won vocally supported a size cap.

Patricia Snyder and William Hennessy, who ran on the Democratic line with incumbent Supervisor Thomas Dolin, each won a four-year seat on the town board.  Snyder had been a member of the town’s ethics committee and Hennessy had been chairman of the zoning board of appeals.

Republicans Timothy Danz and Timothy Stanton, who ran for town board, both said that they supported the idea of a size cap.  Danz was making his first run for office while Stanton was making his second consecutive run.  In the previous election, Stanton had not supported a cap on the allowable size of retail development.  Dolin faced no challengers.

The issue of commercial development was most commonly raised by citizens, Snyder said of what she and Hennessy found as they campaigned by going door to door.  Also, she said, they were frequently asked about their stance on hydraulic fracturing, which has become a major issue in the state’s Southern Tier and could affect this area.

Hydraulic fracturing debated

The southwest half of Albany County, where New Scotland is located, sits on the edge of the Marcellus Shale formation, which could yield hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, making it the center of debate between those who want to extract it and those who are concerned about the methods used for extraction.

In July, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation released a revised  environmental impact statement that recommends that the controversial hydraulic fracturing method for gas extraction be prohibited in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds and within a third of a mile of other public drinking-water supplies.

New York City and Syracuse have the only unfiltered municipal water supplies in the state, according to the DEC, “and they deserve special protection.”

Hydraulic fracturing is a way to force the release of otherwise trapped gas by injecting water mixed with chemicals and sand at high pressure into wells to fracture the rock.  The sand, or proppant, “holds the fractures open, allowing hydrocarbons to flow into the wellbore after injected fluids are recovered,” the document says.

The Marcellus Shale was formed almost 400 million years ago and extends from West Virginia to New York.  It is buried as deep as 7,000 feet in some parts and near the town of Marcellus, N.Y., for which it is named, it is exposed.  The shale deposit holds pockets of natural gas.

Environmental groups and citizens called for more time to review the thousands of pages of documents.  The public comment period on the draft ends on Jan. 11.

Closing Clarksville

The rural hamlet of Clarksville faced two closures this year — the first was its elementary school and the second its post office.

In a split vote in March, the Bethlehem School Board closed the Clarksville Elementary School, which opened in 1948 and is the only district building in the town of New Scotland — the other five elementary schools, including the Eagle School that was built in 2008, are located in Bethlehem, as are the middle and high schools.

In January, the school board asked then-Superintendent Michael Tebbano to look into the feasibility of closing the Clarksville Elementary School and the administrative offices at 90 Adams Place after a “fiscal think tank” the district had created in the fall included those options in a list of several possible solutions to fill the budget gap created by the downturn in the economy in recent years and the cuts in state aid.

The two two-hour public hearings that followed were crowded with Clarksville residents who opposed the closure.  Students who would have attended Clarksville’s elementary school are now being bused to other elementary buildings.

In September, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office proposed leasing the building for use as its substation.  Acting Sheriff Craig Apple hopes to consolidate all of his department’s investigative units, advanced life support, patrol units, and Stop-DWI units at the Clarksville location.  Moving all units to one building would streamline operations and shrink costs, Apple said.

According to the school district, it is considering a five-year lease that would start at a cost to the sheriff’s office of $30,000 a year in the first year and end at a cost of $54,000 in the fifth year.

In August, the United States Postal Service announced that it would close its Clarksville office.

“With everything going on in the Post Office… we know we’re going to run out of money,” said Margaret Pepe, the Postal Service’s manager for marketing and customer relations in the Albany district.  She referred to the Postal services strapped finances, leading it to petition Congress to change mail delivery to five days a week instead of six and to seek relief from its heavy pension costs.

Peter Henner, a lawyer who lives and works in the hamlet, filed a petition to review the closure, arguing that the Postal Service acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner, failed to consider the impact of the closure on the community, and assumed that closing the branch would save money, a reason for action that is “statutorily prohibited.”  More than 30 people and six businesses and organizations signed on to the petition.

Henner, who relies on his post-office box at the Clarksville branch to handle time- and security-sensitive material, also notes in the petition that rural route delivery would not satisfy the needs of other businesses, which also handle valuable and confidential mail, and residents, some of whom need to get temperature-sensitive medications through the mail.

The other option is for Clarksville residents to move their postal box to the Feura Bush office, which is about five miles away.

Tragedy in Voorheesville

Three women died in front of St. Matthew’s Church on a Wednesday morning in August when a sport utility vehicle crashed through the building’s portico.

Carol Lansing, 66, of Green Island; Rosemarie Hume, 79, of Waterford; and Frances Pallozzi, 81, also of Waterford were gathered near the church on Mountainview Street with a few dozen other members of the Empire State Capital Volkssporters at about 8:30 in the morning, according to the sheriff’s office.  Some members of the group were using the church’s bathroom before setting out for their scheduled walk through Voorheesville.

A few minutes later, having dropped off a foster child at a summer program, Luann Burgess, 55, of Voorheesville, lost control of her 2007 Toyota Highlander and crashed into the building, according to Apple.  Burgess was driving east on Mountainview when she went off the road and onto the sidewalk.

The road has a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour and five seconds before the first impact, assumed to be the three women, Burgess was traveling at 39 miles per hour, according to information from a black box that gathers information in the vehicle, Apple said.  At the point of impact, she was going 46 miles per hour, he said, and then the car slowed to 25 miles per hour before a second impact, assumed to be the brick bell tower where the vehicle stopped.

One of the women was struck and thrown a short distance and the other two were dragged, he said.  All three were pronounced dead at the scene.  Apple described it as “extremely gruesome.”  He also said that the sheriff’s department had had some serious cases to deal with recently, including a fatal plane crash in Berne, and he was concerned about the effect on his deputies.

There was no braking, Apple said.  Burgess told police that the flip-flop sandal she was wearing, borrowed from her husband, had gotten stuck in the area of the gas and brake peddles.  “She’s saying it was stuck.  It very well could have been,” Apple said.

An initial toxicology report showed that Burgess had Wellbutrin, Xanax, and quetiapine in her system.  The drugs were used to treat her Parkinson’s disease, Apple said.  The later analysis showed how much of each drug was in her system.

Parkinson’s is degenerative disorder marked by early symptoms of shaking, rigidity, and difficulty moving.  Most people are able to drive during the first stages of the disease if they are taking medications to control their symptoms, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission.

Apple said this week that his office is still waiting to consult with the district attorney’s office before deciding whether or not to charge Burgess.

By Saranac Hale Spencer

[Return to Home Page]