COLONIE — A group of residents that has been recently putting a metaphorical foot down against rapid residential and commercial development and the elimination of forestry in the town is not planning on going away any time soon.
SAVE Colonie: A Partnership for Planning, is a conglomeration of Colonie residents who have made it their goal to bring change to their community in the form of a more transparent and involved planning process. The group, which had its first large meeting in April and currently has 123 members in its Facebook group, has been making appearances at town meetings to speak up with development concerns, and even had a meeting of its own in June at the public library.
The concern over how the town handles development boiled over when a developer’s crew took down a large amount of mature trees along Maxwell Road without obtaining the required town permit to do so. Town officials and residents alike expressed dismay over the loss of the trees, and SAVE Colonie formed initially as a reaction to the event. However, the group’s focus has since shifted from just the trees, still a fresh wound, to the larger issue of what some residents see as out-of-control, irresponsible development.
“There’s so much to do. It’s incredible how much there is to do,” Susan Weber, one of the group’s core members, told Spotlight News. Wendy Allen, another core member of SAVE, said the tree issue was indicative of a larger, quality-of-life issue in the town.
“They’re just emblematic of the whole quality-of-life issue we’re hoping to preserve here before it’s too late, Because it will be too late at some point. Whether it’s five years or 10 years, whether we live here or not. It’s not too late now, and we really have to do something,” Allen said.
SAVE Colonie is working towards establishing a way in which town residents can be more involved with the planning process early on, in order to prevent more Maxwell Road incidents from occurring.
“We’re concerned about the whole town and the process,” Lisa Barron, another core member of SAVE Colonie. “Developers just call the shots, you know?” she added, echoing a sentiment that some residents have voiced before.
Coming out swinging against development has lead to an adversarial tone to some proceedings the group has while dealing with town officials. At the group’s first meeting, tensions between town officials and group members were seen firsthand when town officials defended themselves against accusations that they don’t take in enough input from town residents, and instead focus on the desires of developers.
However, despite the back and forth, the members of SAVE Colonie insist they are not anti-development.
“I think we need to make the point that we’re not anti development at all. We’re very pro-thoughtful development,” Allen said.
In a further step to prevent the logging of mature trees in the future, SAVE Colonie is going to work towards is trying to implement a permitting process for removing trees.
“There’s a regulatory process, and we’re thinking that that would be helpful here. It would set a standard and put a value on the treed environment that’s not there now,” Weber said.
The group also expressed concern over how the town’s comprehensive plan review is being conducted, and plans to monitor that closely.
Colonie is the most populated suburb in Albany County, but the group hasn’t let the size of the town and the amount of work drive them off course.
“I don’t think we’ve allowed ourselves to get distracted,” Allen said. “Does it seem overwhelming? Yeah. But when you have a really big job, the only way to handle it is to break it down to pieces, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Right now, the organization has a core group of about 11 people, said Weber. They usually conduct their meetings via phone or in person, and they govern by consensus. Because of the diversity of skills possessed by different members, group members are able to help out in whatever area their skill set falls into, and many of the members met originally through work or by being involved with different groups in town — eventually all coming together to form this growing, but bold advocacy machine.
Allen said that people started to get involved when they started to pay more attention to the town government and planning process.
“You start to look around, and you start to say, ‘wait a minute…who’s in charge here?’ And, so we all got involved,” she said.
Barron said that there are more people waiting to become involved, but they might not have the time to devote to being involved on a large scale. Right now, the group is still in an organizational mode, reaching out to current members to determine the best way to proceed. SAVE Colonie has four committees: Outreach and Recruitment, the subgroup tasked with spreading the word about the group; Comprehensive Land Use Plan Task Force, responsible for spearheading SAVE Colonie’s involvement in the Town’s comprehensive plan review process; the direct impact committee, which monitors and critiques proposed development projects on Town Board and Planning Board agendas; and the law revision team, responsible for reviewing current statutes and proposing more protective land use laws.
“The feelings are high still about what’s been going on. It’s so devastating so see a whole forest gone near the central part of the town,” Barron said.
Despite what looks like growing involvement though, key members know they might still be responsible for bearing the brunt of the work, which they’ve embraced.
“I also think the core group will have to continue to take on a lot of the responsibility for driving things because a lot of people are very supportive but they may not have the time to put into it, and they will continue to support but they might not be able to come out for a lot of meetings,” Allen said. She stressed the importance of being an advocate for everyone in the town, not just the people who decide to join.
“One important role that SAVE Colonie can play is as a universal advocate for each affected neighborhood and resident. Our group represents all corners of the Town of Colonie, and we try to view the proposal pipeline not as separate projects, but as a larger picture of town development. So, neighborhoods and residents can feel empowered by having SAVE Colonie as a partner also working on their behalf. And if we can partner with the Town itself on behalf of the community, then we will have achieved a major goal.” Allen said.
The SAVE Colonie members also accepted the reality that in order for other people to become confident enough to voice their opinions at meetings, they might have to be a bit louder than everyone else. Weber said that is has been her job in particular to be in the town’s face, which she doesn’t mind.
“We are not deferential. We are more demanding and, although that’s not always the best tactic, I think it emboldens other people to stand up and say what they thing,” she said.