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Residents foil meeting on Crossgates expansion

Guilderland -- Scores gather to keep a zoning board from advancing the project


published on September 1, 1998 in the Times Union

Nearly 200 residents refused to let the town's Zoning Board of Appeals conduct a meeting Monday that some say would have advanced the proposed $100 million expansion of Crossgates Mall beyond the point of no return.

The meeting had been called to reappoint consultants, counsel and engineers to review the project and establish a Crossgates escrow account of $500,000 to pay for the work. But opponents say the moves would have shielded the project from proposed changes to the town's zoning law that were presented by Altamont Mayor Kenneth Runion.

Those changes would ban high-rise buildings and parking decks, forcing Crossgates officials to appear before the Town Board to get approval for a 12-story hotel and multilevel parking garage. Such a move would effectively transfer approval power from the appointed zoning board to elected town officials.

The Town Board is scheduled to discuss the zoning proposal at its meeting tonight.

"We're not trying to push anything through,'' Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Bill Coons said as he tried to reassure residents.

Coons made repeated attempts, under fire from angry residents, to continue the meeting for about an hour. He finally agreed to halt proceedings after a whispered conference with other members of the board.

He then called for an adjournment until minutes from a controversial July 23 meeting can be made available and a "proper'' meeting notice could be posted.

"If the stated interest of town government is to do things openly and above board, they had no option but to adjourn this meeting and discuss (the proposal) at a later date,'' said Donald Csaposs, a grass-roots organizer opposed to the expansion.

Had the zoning board taken action as planned, the proposed zoning amendments would have applied to future developments but perhaps not the Crossgates expansion, said Runion, a former town and zoning board attorney for 13 years.

Carl Letson argued that minutes for the zoning board's July 23 meeting to discuss Crossgates were not available. He, and others, said they were outraged to learn that those minutes had not been transcribed and that the only tape of the meeting belongs to Crossgates.

Because the town did not have a stenographer of its own at the meeting due to "oversight,'' it was forced to make a copy of a tape recorded by a Crossgates-employed stenographer, Coons said.

Another town resident, Joseph Huberty, raised an objection to the meeting because the word "town'' and not "town of Guilderland'' had been used on an advertising notice.

"People don't know what town you're talking about,'' he said. "It could be the town of Colonie.''

Monday's meeting comes amid a power struggle between the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Town Board over which will take lead agency role in reviewing the project. The DEC will decide sometime in mid-September which agency, or whether the DEC itself, will lead. The conflict is believed to be the first of its kind in upstate New York.

The zoning board meeting was reset for Sept. 16 -- the day after the Town Board could hold a public hearing that could take the project out of the zoning board's hands.

The standoff between the two bodies also comes in the wake of the resignation of zoning board attorney Margot Thomas. Thomas, who is married to town engineer Hank LaBarba, said she resigned to devote more time to her legal practice. Thomas received criticism at the zoning board's July 23 meeting when the board appointed LaBarba, her husband, to coordinate the review work connected to the Crossgates expansion. Thomas refused comment Monday night when reached at her home.

Her resignation took effect Aug. 31, eight months after Supervisor Jerry Yerbury appointed her. Town Attorney Christine Kellett will act as zoning board attorney until the town can find someone to replace Thomas. The Albany-based firm of Ward, Sommer and Moore is counseling the board on the Crossgates proposal.

First published on Tuesday, September 1, 1998


published on September 1, 1998 in the Albany Times Union

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