For several years, Alan Galuski’s home has bordered the property of a KFC that had caught fire on Kunker Avenue without any sign of it being fixed, but luckily for him, the town will now be able to use a new local law that will allow it to take down the building itself.
At a town board meeting on Thursday, Sept. 8, Galuski, a resident of Latham, got up in front of the town board for the first time to air out his grievances. The list included construction performed by the town in front of his house that he said causes rainwater to flood his backyard, a tree from Boston Market that fell on his fence in the backyard that he said he’d warned them about for months and the burnt KFC building.
“It takes time for anything to fester,” he said. “After the better part of six months, you start seeing the vagrancies happen and the total disregard for surrounding areas.”
Mainly the appearance and the trash build up near the KFC is one of Galuski’s main concerns. He said he understands that KFC is a nationwide company that it may not be zeroed in on the situation near his house in Latham but with all the activities that take place in the parking lot during the evening have become too much for him.
“There are arguments, there are noises such as trucks, I’ve repeatedly found alcoholic beverage containers,” he said. “Because of its abandoned status, it has become a haven for not only a hangout but also a dumping area, an illegal dumping area and it just isn’t right.”
After pleading with the town at the board meeting to do something about the eyesore, Colonie Town Attorney Mike Magguilli said the town will be able to use a new law, which was recently filed with the New York State Secretary of State. It would allow the town to do the work itself to help root out abandoned buildings around town.
Before the legislation had been adopted, though, Joe Mahan, a building inspector for the Town of Colonie, said that the owners of the KFC building live in Troy. He said there had been several people interested in the place but the problem was always with the location of the store.
“I get calls on it frequently,” he said. “At one time, someone kicked a hole through one of the windows… It’s not a prime location. That’s my own personal opinion.”
There are several properties in the town similar to the KFC building, he said, but there isn’t much the Building Department can do since it was up to the owner to find a tenant. The department has tried to take care of some of the graffiti that has sprayed on there, but other than that, he said the building wasn’t in terrible shape.
“The property’s not in severe disrepair,” he said. “We’ve been there to take care of the graffiti. The business community needs to step it up.”
With this new local law, Magguilli said, the town will now be able to take down the property on its own. An owner must now register abandoned properties and pay a filing fee. If it is the first year the property has been abandoned, the owner will have to pay a fee of $250. After that, if a property has been abandoned for 10 years the owner must pay a fee of $5,000 and $500 after each additional year.
“There are arguments, there are noises such as trucks, I’ve repeatedly found alcoholic beverage containers,” Alan Galuski said. “Because of its abandoned status, it has become a haven for not only a hangout but also a dumping area, an illegal dumping area and it just isn’t right.”
The town board must approve all of this at a board meeting. Magguilli said the law does allow the owner due process as they are allowed to appeal and explain why the building should not be knocked down.
On Thursday, the town passed a resolution that ordered the demolition and removal of Sebastian’s, located on 705 Troy Schenectady Rd. The owner of the property, Charles Rafferty, is allowed to appear in front of the town board to appeal the process. If the board upholds the demolition process, Rafferty is given 10 days to begin the process and has 30 days from the start date to complete it. If he fails to do either of those, the town is then allowed to step in and remove the property and put a lean on the real property taxes. This means that before the owner does anything with the property, such as sell it or make an addition, the owner must pay off the cost it took for the town to remove the building. If the tax bills are not paid off, he said the town would be paid off by Albany County.
“Under the former law, we would have had to go to Supreme Court and bring a lawsuit against the owner,” Magguilli said. “Supreme Court actions can take awhile. In the event you can’t find the property owner and they have literally abandoned the property and walked away, you could put a court order on him but that doesn’t do you any good… We want to give the town the ability to go in and remedy the situation ourselves and put a lean on the property.”
Republican candidate for supervisor Denise Sheehan doesn’t feel the new local law gets to the crux of the problem, as she said the town needs to come up with a better plan for economic revitalization.
Her suggestion is to produce a plan that promotes private investment and make it easier for a new company to come in a redevelop some of the corridors in town that have abandoned properties so they can get back on the tax rolls with a new business moving in.
“This new vacant buildings law is fine and a piece meal approach,” Sheehan said. “You need a more systematic and strategic approach. We need to really create some redevelopment zones and streamline the redevelopment process.”
This would include an accelerated review process that would be completed in a fixed period of time, a process that would take less than a year to complete and either waving mitigation fees or significantly reduce them, according to Sheehan.
“When you’re just taking down a building, it’s not economic revitalization,” Sheehan said. “You want a complete picture. Get a new viable business to replace an abandoned building.”
Colonie Supervisor Paula Mahan, though, questioned why Sheehan didn’t help in removing abandoned buildings while she was director of the Planning and Economic Development Department during the Mary Brizzel administration in 2007.
“To my knowledge, she didn’t do anything with abandoned buildings in 2007 as the director of the planning department,” Mahan said. “It was a task she could have taken on from day one.”
Mahan singled out the Sebastian’s property and said that it wouldn’t be the best economically driven move to put a new business in there. There is no parking or any access to the building, she said, and it is a small parcel of land that could be used for more green space, she said.
She then pointed to the Fresh Market Plaza, which Mahan said has developed into a great piece of property for the town. With the KFC building, which she visited on Friday, Mahan said it is something the town will soon be working on to remove.
“We have been working on this for awhile to identify what problems were there when we got here in 2008,” she said. “The building department had to come up with a list of abandoned properties in town and that takes time.”
Galuski is optimistic about the property after the town board meeting. He said he believes the town is looking to do the right thing and that the situation will soon be resolved. He even said that at this point, he isn’t event upset about it.
“At this point, I feel good knowing and believe this situation will be resolved,” he said. “This is what the town is looking for, to put on its best and genuine face.”