COLONIE — As we say hello to a new year, and a new decade, it is worth taking a look back at what transpired in town over the past 365 days.
It was an exciting year in many regards.
A Shaker High student performed for a national audience, there is now an Exit 3 on the Northway, an era came to an end in the village, the town will get at least half of its electricity thanks to a little known creek 30 miles north of Town Hall and Paula Mahan won a hard fought election for a seventh term as supervisor.
Since different events carry different significance to different people, the list is in no particular order.
One of the largest public projects to hit the Capital District in the last two decades is the $100 million Exit 3 ramp that allows more direct access to the Albany County International Airport and realigns roads around it to alleviate traffic congestion and upgrade the airport itself.
For decades the Northway ran from Exit 2 to Exit 4. The new Exit three will is a flyover for northbound traffic that loops behind and to the west of the Desmond Hotel that ends at a T-intersection at Albany Shaker Road. For those heading south, the new ramp takes traffic behind the Desmond Hotel and connects to a flyover ramp leading to the new intersection.
There is a new, direct on-ramp from Route 155 at Exit 5 to the southbound Northway, eliminating the need for the existing frontage ramp off the southbound side of the highway. On the northbound side, the on-ramp adjacent to the Times Union building will be extended all the way to exit 5.
The project also calls for new sidewalks on the south side of Albany Shaker Road between the connector road and Wolf Road as well as a shared use path between the airport and the connector road.
The first new ramp was open in October, ahead of schedule and on budget, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The second opened a month later. The majority of work is was completed in mid-December, a month ahead of the Jan. 17, 2020 stated finish date.
Work at the Airport, including a 1,000-car parking garage and new escalators and other interior renovations, is continuing.
In what was a heated election pitting a six-term incumbent against a long time political party chairman, Supervisor Paula Mahan won another two-year term.
But, it took the counting of more than 750 absentee ballots to determine the winner after Mahan had a 62-vote on Election Day.
After all the ballots were tallied, the official result was Mahan, a Democrat, with 10,701 votes and George Scaringe, a Republican who was the county and town party chair, with 10,596 votes, or 50.1 percent to 49.7 percent.
Most issues were not new such as traffic, the amount and type of development and infrastructure needs and/or wants like road paving.
Republicans,though, scored points, and votes, though, when they held a press conference criticizing Mahan and at least two of her top appointed officials of double dipping, collecting their full pensions while earning a full salary working for the town.
The Nov. 5 election also saw two Town Board members, Democrat Paul Rosano and Republican Chris Carey, voted out.
There were three seats up for grabs — Jennifer Whalen opted to run for county Legislature — and elected to a four-year term were Democrat Jill Penn and Republicans Rick Field and Danielle Futia. They will join incumbents Linda Murphy, Melissa Jeffers Von Dolen and David Green, all Democrats. 4-2 advantage when Mahan is counted in the mix.
Shaker High’s Madison VanDenburg wowed the Capital District and the nation as she made it as a finalist on American Idol.
Shaker held watch parties to witness her the panel of judges call her name up to the final round and there was a pep rally at The Crossings when the crew from American Idol visited to broadcast her hometown to the nation.
Her incredibly powerful voice and stage presence brought her to the finals, but her infectious smile and authentic personality endeared her to the fans.
She made it to the final five on May 5. After VanDenburg was picked, the panel of judges opted to “save” one contestant so there were five rather than the typical four finalists. A week later she made it to the final three. And the following week, she placed third behind Alejandro Aranda and the eventual champion Laine Hardy.
She is the second Shaker High student to make it to the national stage. In 2017 Moriah Formica was in the top 20 on The Voice. In June, the two, along with Queensbury native Delaney, who made contestant on The Voice in 2018, performed a concert at the Times Union Center.
After more than three years worth of work, the town has a Comprehensive Plan.
It is an update to one passed in 2005 and will be a gauge for town officials regarding development, recreation, public safety, public utilities and about every other aspect of living in Colonie.
The recommendations in the plan are not binding, but will also lay the groundwork for modifications to zoning and land use laws and regulations that will have legal teeth.
The process started in 2016 with the appointment of a Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee and the hiring of the engineering firm Barton & Loguidice.
After numerous public hearings the Town Board, with bipartisan, unanimous support, approved the plan.
Basically, the plan out goals into categories on when they should be achieved: ongoing, short term, medium term and long term. It also says the Planning and Economic Development Department should follow and track the progress of each objective to see if the town is following through with what is in the plan.
• Over the next year to ensure an efficient and fair development approval process that is predictable, transparent and protective of the town’s environmental and the residential character of its neighborhoods.
• Over the next three to five years “protect the town’s significant cultural and historic resources.
• Over the next five to 10 years, the town should “update the 2019 Comprehensive Plan.”
An era came to an end in October when Village of Colonie Mayor Frank Leak opted to step down for health reasons.
Leak, who is 92, was mayor for 24 years and served on the Village Board for 40. During his tenure a new Fire Department was constructed, the village Recreation Center was opened and extensive work was done at Cook Park, including a concert pavilion that bears his name.
Deputy Mayor Ed Sim was appointed interim mayor and may run for a full term in March.
The mayor often held court at Dunkin’ Donuts across Central Avenue from the village complex and helped foster a thriving senior services. Card games, yoga classes, a choir and a daily, homemade lunch for $5 were all part of the senior program offered at the village.
Trash pickup is free and town officials load up fire engines and bring the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus to the homes of children throughout the village.
The mayor showed up to Village Hall every day for the part time, $19,000 a year job to meet with residents and take care of their concerns to the best of his ability.
Leak turned 90 in 2017 and at the time was one of the oldest mayors of any municipality in the country. In the middle of the Capital District with a busy Central Avenue running through the heart of it, the Navy vet and retired self-employed home builder prided himself of keeping the village of about 8,000 people, a village.
“We like things the old fashioned way,” Leak said during an interview marking his 90th birthday.
The much anticipated connector road between 9 and 9R was opened to traffic in September.
The road, called Coliseum Drive after the site’s first entertainment venue, was built by the Galesi Group through the old Starlite Theater site where they are building a new headquarters for Ayco, a financial management company under the storied and wealthy Goldman Sachs umbrella.
The project also realigned the Johnson Road/9R intersection so that Johnson Road now connects through to the new road.
Galesi, a Schenectady-based development company, initially applied for a $5 million grant from the state to build the road that bifurcates the site but was denied. A majority of the $6.5 million road was instead funded through mitigation fees that are assessed any project within the Boght Road-Columbia Street Generic Environmental Impact Statement area.
Based on a formula dictated by the GEIS, the town was responsible for paying $338,000 out of the general fund for the road, Galesi would have to pay $998,000 out of pocket. The balance would come from mitigation fees other developers have paid, and will pay in the future, to cover the impacts of their respective projects on transportation within the Boght Road GEIS.
There was some $2.8 million in the fund waiting to get spent on traffic improvements within the GEIS.
Sometimes, the big stories are the ones that haven’t happened.
In November, the Planning Board opted to send a massive, mixed use development at the former Hoffman’s Playland on Route 9 back to the drawing board.
The board expressed concerns over insignificant public benefit, a mandatory contribution by developers looking to build more than the allowable density and some felt the proposed density was too much for the site.
Tom Burke, a developer who owns a number of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises, would build and operate the retail portion of the project, located nearest Route 9, that would include high end shops and restaurants.
Sage Life, a Pennsylvania based company, would have operated the senior housing component, which would include 177 beds with 85 earmarked for independent living, 92 for assisted living and 20 for seniors needing memory care.
Despite an impassioned speech by David Hoffman, who used to run Hoffman’s Playland, it was the second time in 2019 the Planning Board denied the project from moving forward. Developers were visibly not happy with the decision but vowed to come back with a new plan and a new public benefit package.
In September, the ribbon was cut on Phase I of a multi-million renovation project at the William K. Sanford Library, better known as the Colonie Town Library.
The $2 million Phase I consisted of a new entrance, new bathrooms, a new teen room, new carpeting, a new fire safety system and updated data and technology systems, said Evelyn Neale, the library director.
Phase II, which kicked off as the Phase I ribbon was cut, includes moving the children’s room to the back of the library where there will be a new exit to an outdoor play space, a new youth services bathroom and a new youth services meeting room. Phase III will include a new roof and Phase IV will focus on the mechanical systems.
State grants covered more than $1 million worth of work while the Friends of the Library raised about $30,000 and the town will come up with about half of the $3 million project.
In a unique arrangement, the town opted to buy into a 100-year-old hydroelectric plant 37 miles to the north in Schuylerville.
The deal was touted as a win-win-win. The town will get about half of its electricity needs at stabilized and reduced cost for the next two decades. The hydro company, Brookfield Renewables, has a long term investor so it can maintain and upgrade the plant. And hydro is the oldest and most reliable form of renewable energy so Mother
Earth gets a break by Colonie reducing its carbon footprint.
The deal was facilitated by the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance, a New York not-for-profit collective with nearly 300 member local governments and public agencies. In 2014, MEGA selected Gravity Renewables, through a competitive process, as the preferred provider of energy from small hydroelectric sites across the state.
The Schuylerville Hydroelectric Facility, located right in the middle of downtown in the small village just east of Saratoga Springs, is operated by Brookfield Renewable in much the same way as it operated in 1919, when water from Fish Creek first spun the same massive turbine that is spinning today.
Bags, straws and forks
Albany County passed a number of environmental measures that will have an impact on how consumers across the county shop.
In November, the Albany County Legislature opted into a program in conjunction with a state measure to ban single use plastic bags and force retailers to charge a nickel for single use paper bags.
One sticking point was the distribution of the nickel with 40 percent, or 2 cents going to Albany County to purchase reusable bags and 60 percent going to the state.
The measure will take effect in March, 2020.
The goal is to get people to use re-usable bags for their shopping.
Also, the Albany County Legislature banned retailers from handing out plastic straws and will make consumers ask for plastic cutlery with their meal rather than automatically hand out the forks, spoons and knives.
The idea is to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up where it should not be such as in our waterways and/or ingested by wildlife.
The straw ban will take effect in September and the cutlery restriction will take effect in June, 2020.