The LaGrange Doctrine

— Photo from Jesse S. Sommer

Vestiges of the “Big Box Wars” and the late aught’s Battle for Bender Melon. 

Curse you, Mark King.

Curse you and your Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.

Curse you for safeguarding so many of New Scotland’s rural and agrarian traditions, and for ensuring that our Town lives up to its moniker as the “Jewel of Albany County.”  

Curse you, Alan Kowlowitz and Dennis Sullivan, for so diligently preserving New Scotland’s rich historical legacy, and you too, Melissa Hale-Spencer, for so faithfully recording in these pages the life and times of every New Scot.

And, while we’re at it, curse all you municipal officials whose comprehensive plans and commercial districts and zoning schemas have conspired to make our hometown something worth fighting for.

A pox on these pillars of the New Scottish identity for having secured a cultural inheritance that’s now incumbent on all of us to preserve and pass on to the generations yet to come. No one asked these relentless busybodies to make our community so special, nor to foist onto our shoulders the solemn burden of defending a way of life against the pressures of modernization and economic exploitation.

So curse you, I say. Thanks to you people, there are countless shows on Netflix I’ll never get to watch, since remaining vigilant in the face of never-ending efforts to pave over our fields and forests is so time-consuming. You guys are jerks.

But what’s done is done. And now that these graying local boomers have gone and opened Pandora’s nostalgic toybox, I guess the first order of business is to figure out what questions should inform our vote in the upcoming town board elections on Nov. 2.

After all, the arrival of the 2020 United States Census data compels serious contemplation. Among other eyebrow-raising data points was the revelation that New York City now accounts for 44 percent of our state’s entire population, after having registered a completely unanticipated increase of 629,000 people since 2010. Well, good for y’all; stay there. There’s nothing to see up here.

Yet the encroaching horde isn’t relegated to downstate. To our north in Saratoga County, towns like Malta, Halfmoon, and Ballston have registered population increases anywhere from 16 to 21 percent in just the last 10 years. Meanwhile, Albany County grew by over 3 percent this past decade, a rate which itself was outpaced by New Scotland’s growth of more than 5 percent (to a total of 9,096 residents). As The Enterprise reported last week, “no other municipality in Albany County saw a bigger jump in its population rate than New Scotland.”

I welcome this influx of an additional 448 inhabitants. In expanding the tax base, patronizing the local business community, and augmenting our neighborhood’s creative energies, these new New Scots have injected vibrancy into a hometown they can now rightly claim as their own. There’s a whole slew of commercial opportunities and quality-of-life upgrades that our new neighbors make possible; their presence powerfully argues for New Scotland’s open-armed reception of those who would follow in their wake.

But it’s also true that what draws people to New Scotland is precisely what could be lost if population expansion continues unrestrained. And in the short-term, as new trappings of luxury enterprise arise to cater to this larger civic community, New Scotland’s appeal will further surge.

So to my mind, there’s only one compound question that matters for our town board candidates — from it, all other inquiries derive.  *Ahem*:

Should there be a practical limit on New Scotland’s total population and, if so, what should it be? 

Is it the current 10,000 residents? Should it be 20,000? 50,000? Or should New Scotland’s population growth be entirely unconstrained, its hamlets buried beneath an onslaught of cul-de-sacs and memorialized merely as the branding of massive new residential complexes, sporting names like “Clarksville Commons,” “Unionville Apartments,” “Tarrytown Meadows,” and “Feura Bushes"?

A question derivative to the one about population is whether the town board candidates are prepared to utilize the authorities at their disposal to strategically influence our municipality’s size, relying on a mix of development restrictions, zoning regulations, and a campaign to incentivize conservation easements.

To those who would argue that the right of property alienation should be unfettered, unimpeded, and unlimited, I’ll just say this: I hear you, I acknowledge the merits of your perspective, I unconditionally reject it, I extend you my sympathies for having chosen to purchase property in New Scotland when Bethlehem clearly would’ve been a better fit, and I’ll spare us both further lip service, since our positions are deeply-held and philosophically irreconcilable. And I really do need to get back to Netflix.

To those who would argue that logistical hurdles or the town’s natural peculiarities — e.g., lack of municipal water — will inherently prevent significant population growth, I say: “Hold my beer.” Where there’s money to be made, there will always be communities and ecosystems to destroy. Let’s not forget how close we came to the installation of Stewart’s Shops petroleum tanks in the Vly Creek floodplain across the street from an elementary school.

What’s therefore required is the continuation of a proactive and deliberate regulatory regime that channels expansion, construction, and new arrivals in a manner consistent with what makes New Scotland so, well, New Scottish.

Worried that New Scotland Town Supervisor Doug LaGrange wouldn’t give me the exact pull-quote I needed for this column, I elected not to call him for comment. Instead, readers, let’s together conjure a reality wherein, last week — I don’t know, say, on Monday — Supervisor LaGrange courageously strode to the flagpole outside Town Hall and delivered a rousing address wherein he declared, “The town of New Scotland is closed for further development.” Everybody take a second; have we all joined in that shared experience? OK, let’s proceed.

Last Monday, New Scotland Town Supervisor Doug LaGrange courageously strode to the flagpole outside Town Hall to declare that New Scotland was closed for further development. It was a truly audacious pronouncement. I, for one, was shocked.

This so-called “LaGrange Doctrine” has already become a cornerstone of New Scottish domestic policy, antagonizing would-be developers and the capitals of Europe alike. Supervisor LaGrange reportedly remains unperturbed in the face of criticism. “I am a servant loyal not only to my neighbors’ interests,” LaGrange told me by phone, “but also to the interests of those who came before us and those who will one day take our place.”

(Um, yeah, so I forgot about that part. We now also all have to jointly experience a reality wherein I called up Supervisor LaGrange and he said, “I am a servant loyal not only to my neighbors’ interests, but also to the interests of those who came before us and those who will one day take our place.” Which more-or-less sounds like something he’d say, right? Take a second. Got it? Keep reading.)

I readily acknowledge the deeply deleterious impact of restrictions on New Scotland’s residential growth, to wit, housing scarcity. Already, home values in New Scotland are skyrocketing; limits to development will only accelerate this trend. Absent tactical intervention, New Scotland risks someday becoming an elite enclave of smug granola-crunching capitalists and effete self-congratulatory professionals who import the fruits of the very family farms that can no longer afford to operate in town.

But in that case, maybe the solution is to build “up” and not “out.” Maybe the essential question isn’t one of limiting New Scotland’s population, but rather one of fortifying our undeveloped acreage.

After all, I’d love to live on a revitalized east side of Voorheesville’s South Main Street, wherein residents of adjacent four-story multi-unit apartment buildings, row houses, or condos live above first floors inhabited by dry cleaners, hardware shops, convenience stores, and existing staples like Star + Splendor, Purity Hair Design, and Gio Culinary Studio. A neighborhood in the vein of Albany’s Center Square would still afford access to a Blue Ribbon school district without the attendant lateral sprawl that too often devours what would’ve otherwise been picturesque upstate towns.

So perhaps the LaGrange Doctrine requires a bit of reinterpretation. I mean, who does that blowhard think he is, anyway? (OK, I’ll fix it: Now pretend I rang Supervisor LaGrange and he clarified that what he meant to convey is that New Scotland is closed to any further development that results in the destruction or clearing of existing open space, wetlands, and forests. Everybody good? Sheesh, constructing “alternate facts” is way harder than it looks on cable news.)

This reconstituted LaGrange Doctrine should now assist New Scotland’s town, planning, and zoning boards evaluate the application to construct six two-story buildings about a quarter-mile down from Town Hall on New Scotland Road. Yes, the proposed 72 units of affordable housing might offer New Scotland more of the socioeconomic diversity it increasingly lacks, but does it incorporate a due commitment to open space? Irrespective of how this particular matter is resolved, town officials must reconcile ambiguities in the applicable hamlet zoning law with an eye towards the preservation of New Scotland’s bucolic sensibilities. Because once gone, they’re gone for good.

Illustratively, there’s still time to express your thoughts on what to do with the historic Bender Melon Farm, which was saved for posterity by the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy in 2020. (Visit to learn more.) And I have no doubt that veterans of the “Big Box Wars” greeted news of the Bender Melon Farm’s acquisition with assured self-satisfaction, having thus firmly consolidated the gains of their 2008 uprising. Yet their achievement has counterintuitively created a back-country paradise that’s now even more inviting to those who would capitalize on New Scotland’s character at its very expense.

So what’ll it be, candidates? In 2050, will New Scotland look like Delmar? Like Clifton Park? Or will it look like New Scotland? And if the latter, what is your plan to shepherd the woodland hometown of today to the one of mid-century?

There’s a reason that New Scotland has long been known as the “jewel of Albany County.” On November 2, 2021, vote for the candidates who will unreservedly pledge to ensure that our jewel shines as brightly tomorrow as it does today — thanks very much to the efforts of those cursed aging boomers who seem to fundamentally misapprehend the concept of retirement.

Editor’s note: Jesse Sommer’s father serves on the New Scotland Zoning Board of Appeals.