Builderland’s Big Lie

We’re all pretty familiar with the Big Lie stemming from the 2020 election and we all know how absurd it is. But here in good old Builderland, New York, we’re the victims of another equally insidious and just as harmful big lie, and it’s been shoved down our throats for decades.

That one is simple: Constant development is good for everyone and great for our town.

My answer: Horse hockey (tip of the cap to Col. Potter).

Look at what really happens when we allow land developers (aka land destroyers, flim-flam artists, land speculators, or builders) to grab and destroy every square inch of green space they can get their greedy little claws into.

We have diminished environmental quality, increased traffic, reduced air quality (due to more vehicles), higher stress on an already stressed infrastructure, and each year our taxes go up anyway, despite a supposedly larger tax roll. And we won’t even get into wildlife living in our garages and competing for our jobs due to their natural habitats being destroyed.

In Altamont, the village of hard, high-pressure water, continued building has caused another well or two to be drilled and the water quality is even worse. Can you say manganese?

At the exact same time, our sewer and water bills are so high, SEFCU is now offering sewer and water loans for folks on fixed incomes. And yet, with all the new houses that keep going up around the village, making it less and less small and green, neither our taxes or fees have gone down despite the vaunted bigger tax roll.

And one other thing is the issue of affordability. Has anyone around here seen any new affordable houses? Anything under 1,500 square feet? Nope.

As the saying goes (among builders), bigger is better. So of course, at a time in history where resources are dwindling, it makes perfect sense to build 5,000-square-foot ego palaces that are as energy efficient as an Escalade.

Another issue is services like fire and ambulance. According to a story here in The Enterprise, volunteers have dropped some 20 percent over the past few years, making it much harder for our volunteer ambulance and fire companies to be adequately staffed. This is an issue all over the state and the country.

But here in Altamont and Builderland, we see more calls each year but fewer volunteers. Eventually, the volunteer companies will simply not be able to keep up with demand and people will suffer, die, and houses will burn. The developers don’t mind though; many don’t live here, for the most part.

In both Builderland and Altamont, another huge issue is traffic. My wife has lived in Altamont for more than 60 years and remembers when Route 20 was a two-lane road with nothing on it but a gas station and farms. Nowadays you have to check the signs to make sure you’re not on Wolf Road.

Crossgates has grown like a cancer, killing off the Pine Bush and yet, somehow, building and zoning boards just keep on approving more building. And Route 20 is now a daily nightmare despite being almost as wide as the Northway. You have to schedule your errands to avoid morning and afternoon rush hours.

In Altamont, the constant building of houses and neighborhoods around the village core has added a large number of cars to our small roads and made walking, biking, and pushing strollers a lot more hazardous. Granted, the village has added a decent number of new sidewalks, but we have a long way to go on that front.

We need sidewalks going all the way to Bozenkill Park, to keep kids and families safe, and if we’re going to keep the Altamont Police, they need to focus even more on speed control and traffic safety. The folks roaring through the village and ignoring crosswalks pose a hazard to all living things. I just saw a black bear wearing a safety vest, for goodness sakes.

Many people say they love the village and live here because it’s not like the endless rolling acres of nondescript burbs that make up the vast majority of Builderland. Sunday’s ACT WinterFest, the Fall Festival, the PTA garage sale in May and the Memorial Day parade all highlight what makes Altamont special.

But for developers, Altamont is just another land parcel in need of paving. Imagine what builders see when they look at the fairgrounds. Endless rows of McMansions, or acres of condos? They certainly don’t see the history. What was once a quaint, self-sufficient little village is going to turn into a burb and the people making a huge profit on it don’t even care about our history or community.

Like many things in our late-stage capitalist society, constant development benefits only a very small number of people. But, like corporate conglomeration, they sell it to us like the next great thing.

I say it’s time to stop with the big lies on our ever-shrinking planet. We’re not making new open spaces (except parking lots) and we’re not making more untainted water or fresh air or reintroducing extinct species. We’re just watching as it all dwindles away.

With their bloated egos, developers think they’re leaving behind a legacy of beautification and enrichment. In reality, they’re leaving a legacy of destruction, cheap construction, and desecration.

Personally, I’d love to see a law passed that prohibits building any new home or retail space while there are vacant homes or stores available. I would also like to see the state or county offer landowners more tax breaks for keeping vacant land undeveloped.

Guilderland does have such a program set up through the state, but it’s still in its infancy and needs lots of expansion. It covers only town taxes for landowners who join. Imagine a future where landowners are rewarded across the board for maintaining vacant land. Now that would be very cool. But, we have, at least, made a start.
Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he has lived in Altamont for nearly 30 years and has seen too much development by far.