On Monday (July 14), the Albany County legislature unanimously approved a resolution supporting an environmental review of the proposed site of housing developments for Solider On, a nonprofit organization that aids at-risk veterans. The group plans to convert the vacant Ann Lee nursing home in Colonie into apartments for homeless veterans, and the review is a first step. Dozens of veterans spoke at the meeting on how important and positive Soldier On was in their struggle to adjust to civilian life.
The housing project, which will include on-site services for veterans, also encompasses new housing construction at the home’s property, which is in close proximity to the Watervliet Shaker National Historic District. The 770-acre district encompasses several Shaker buildings, an orchard, a cemetery, and sensitive wetlands. The Shaker site is owned by Albany County but operated by the Shaker Heritage Society, which has done extensive renovation and interpretation work. SHS does not receive funding from the county.
At the legislature meeting, the society’s executive director, Starlyn D’Angelo, spoke in support of the Soldier On project, and SHS’s request for inclusion in the group’s development planning was guaranteed with an amendment listing the Shaker Heritage Society as an interested party.
“We see the Solider On project as part of our revitalization,” said D’Angelo. “We will be able to identify any potential concerns through the SEQR review process.”
If the New York State Department of Historic Preservation determines that there is an adverse impact on the district, she said, the society will work with the state, Albany County, and Soldier On toward an appropriate form of mitigation. “Albany County has been very responsive in recent years,” she said.
In the meantime, SHS is looking forward to sharing the area with the veterans group, which is currently based in Pittsfield, Mass.
“We are very excited about the prospect of developing mutually beneficial programs with Soldier On,” D’Angelo said. One possibility is a traditional building trades training program. “The veterans would have an opportunity to learn a marketable trade while working on historic Shaker structures,” she said.
The society has been nationally recognized for its educational programs, and D’Angelo said they have other programming ideas that draw upon Shaker history and traditions to benefit veterans and the local community while enhancing heritage tourism.