Why we live in Altamont

Roughly 25 years ago on a warm May day (Garage Sale Day, actually) I moved permanently to Altamont and found my first real hometown.

I grew up moving and by the time I settled here at age 29, I’d moved at least 10 times. My dad was a corporate attorney, so we moved for his career. It was like being an Army brat but with better benefits I suppose.

While I sometimes envy those who stayed in one place their whole lives, living in different places gives you a great deal of perspective. That’s why I think of Altamont as my adopted hometown more than any place I’ve ever lived.

One of the things that has always meant a lot to me about living here, is the real sense of community we have. We’re a small place with 1,500 or so residents, far smaller than Voorheesville and a mere flyspeck compared to Albany or Schenectady.

Walking around, you see familiar faces and you get to watch people come, have kids, raise them, send them off to college, and start talking retirement. Some old neighbors have gone, some new ones have joined, and many others have stayed. It really does take a village to raise a child and a family, and we have that here.

Years ago, I wrote a column I think I called “The Altamont Wave” in which I waxed poetic about the fact that we all tend to wave to one another around here, even if we’re not sure who we’re waving to. In a divided, angry, and frightened world, that means something. It really does.

Why do we all fondly remember when they all shouted, “Norm!” in “Cheers?” Because we want to live where everybody knows our names.

All that being said, I find one thing about living here to be a real problem. Change. And I don’t mean change like storms, floods, houses falling down, or being attacked by roving bands of angry chipmunks.

I mean greed-driven change. When I first arrived, they were just building Kushaqua and I remember riding my mountain bike through the muddy construction sites. Since then, we watched Brandle Meadows blight a pristine stretch of green space and the new development out on Bozenkill inflicted on another green buffer. Though, in fairness, 10 homes and most of the trees left intact is a lot less of a problem.

In the past couple weeks, we’ve watched as our elected officials bowed to the wishes of Stewart’s instead of listening to the residents who elected them. And now the same developer who schemed (gift basket, anyone?) to erect Brandle Meadows is intent on adding more apartments right in the center of the village on another green buffer (replete with 50 parking spaces). Has this person ever met a piece of virgin land he didn’t want to pave over? That’s a rhetorical question; we already know the answer.

I know change and growth are part of life, and I generally accept that. But not when the change involves upheaval and destruction that will only benefit one person or a small group of people whose driving force is greed.

Every time you build another residence, it means more stress on our water and sewer systems, more work for emergency medical services and firefighting folks, and a small-but-never-adequate increase in the tax base. And the fact that the village boundaries have been extended to the benefit of the developers just reflects that our elected officials don’t have the interests of the residents at heart.

Anybody who attended the Stewart’s meeting recently knew the fix was in from the very start. A bigger Stewart’s with a massive parking lot and surface-of-the-sun lighting doesn’t fit into our quiet little village. Neither does the destruction of an old, occupied, and architecturally correct home (comprehensive plan, anyone?).

Our mayor should have recused herself from the vote due to her prior public support for the project, which rendered her utterly biased and incapable of rendering an objective decision. That a recently-appointed board member who has yet to be elected also voted in favor certainly gives the appearance of impropriety. In our current political climate, optics are everything, as they say.

But enough of that. Altamont is still a small village made up mostly of people who moved here for that reason. They didn’t want to live in the suburban wastelands that surround us in Guilderland.

For many people, the suburbs are a perfect place to live and raise their families. More power to them.

But for those of us who are looking to live in a functional community, the character of Altamont is something precious and worth preserving. I want to live in a place where people wave, ask after the kids and the cats, and tell you how they’re doing. In a world full of problems and worry, it’s nice to know your neighbors and care about them.

Consistently giving in to commercial pressures serves only those who benefit financially. I don’t want Altamont to turn into Guilderland. But for developers, the character of a community doesn’t matter when there’s money to be made.

Let’s all remember why we moved here, why we live here, and why we stay here. Next time someone suggests building, tearing down, or changing things, let’s ask them a simple question: Who will this really benefit?

I want to live in a place where people know my name. During our short time on this little blue ball, that’s something that really matters.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg points out that he and his wife have lived in Altamont a combined 85 years and they have also walked thousands of miles through the village in that time. Remember to wave, he says; they’ll wave back.