Osborne Street Garage is under fire for illegal tows and unpleasant
wasn’t until one of his family’s cars was illegally towed
for the third time from the same spot that John Cutro really
started to get frustrated with Joe’s Osborne Street Garage.
first, I thought it was just a misunderstanding,” he said.
“It didn’t occur to me that the car had been towed illegally.”
Problems first arose two years ago when Osborne towed a vehicle
used by Cutro, a caretaker of the Albany Friends Meeting House,
from a spot on Hamilton Street near the meeting. After convincing
the garage that they had erred, Cutro was forced to repeat
the process earlier this year, as two more family vehicles
parked in the same spot ended up on the business end of an
Cutro has now learned that the sign that had hung on a nearby
fence for more than 30 years, alerting drivers that the small
spot on Hamilton was reserved for members of the Albany Friends
Meeting, didn’t constitute any actual right to the spot. Still,
Cutro had just as much right to park there as anyone else.
And Osborne Street’s contract was to remove unauthorized vehicles
from a private parking area across the street from where Cutro
was parked, not from the side of the street he was on.
your towing contract with the city, it is illegal for your
company or any other towing company to remove vehicles from
the city of Albany streets or right-of-ways without the permission
of the city through the Albany Police Department,” wrote Patrick
Jordan, an assistant corporation counsel for the city, in
a July 14 letter to Joseph Gimondo, owner of Joe’s Osborne
Street Garage. In the letter, Jordan warns the garage that
removal of a vehicle from city property—which that long-reserved
spot on Hamilton is—without the explicit permission of the
city “will place your contract with the City of Albany in
Cutro said the garage’s stubborn refusal to refund the latest
towing fee isn’t what frustrates him the most—it’s the way
they do business. According to Cutro, his efforts to retrieve
cars from the garage have been met with laughter, rude dismissal
and accusations of dishonesty.
time, the police officer I called used my cell phone to call
the garage,” laughed Cutro. “Well, apparently they had some
sort of caller identification system and didn’t believe he
was a real policeman. Judging by his side of the conversation,
he received the same rude treatment I did.”
And Cutro isn’t alone in casting a critical eye on local towing
companies. In recent years, bills have been introduced in
Congress and more than a dozen state legislatures targeting
the “predatory” practices of towing companies.
companies] are all too anxious to tow cars and make it difficult
to retrieve them,” said Rep. James Moran (D-Vir.) in a July
19, 2004, Washington Times interview. Moran, who sponsored
a bill last year that would give local municipalities the
ability to regulate the towing companies that operate within
their borders, and eventually won passage of an amendment
this year that gives states more control over the practices
of towing companies.
Tracy Fears experienced the difficulties of dealing with Joe’s
last weekend. According to Fears, a long line at the Mobil
gas station at Madison Avenue and Lark Street prompted her
to park her car—with its sputtering, near-empty gas tank—in
the station’s parking lot while she waited for the line to
diminish. She bought a pack of gum (“Making me a paying customer,”
she later argued) and walked across the street to chat with
a friend until some pumps freed up. When she returned less
than five minutes later, the front, driver’s side wheel had
been booted, and a note from Osborne, which contracts with
the station, was wedged underneath her windshield wiper.
Upon calling the number provided, she was told it would be
20 to 30 minutes before anyone could remove the boot. After
20 minutes, she called again to ask about the garage employee’s
whereabouts and was laughed at; meanwhile, a truck bearing
the garage’s logo was at work in a lot across the street.
Forty-five minutes later, the employee arrived, only to cut
short Fears’ explanations.
don’t care—it’s $54,” interrupted the employee, who refused
to tell Fears his full name. “And I’m not going to argue with
you about it.”
And it’s exactly that sort of attitude, said Cutro, that’s
causing so much bad blood between the garage and the public.
Cutro said he intends to take the garage to court if he isn’t
refunded the most recent towing fee. And, he added, the “mysterious”
disappearance of the sign posted by the Albany Friends’ “reserved”
spot just a few days after he lodged a complaint about the
illegal tow doesn’t help matters.
thing is, I want something more valuable than just the towing
fee to come out of this,” said Cutro. “These sort of practices
need to stop.”
Calls were placed to Osborne for comment, but a garage employee
said Gimondo was “not interested” in responding.
Moving on from his recent outing of local bribe-takers
FLY-92 for their involvement in the Sony payola
scam, N.Y. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has
announced that he has come to a settlement with
New York City radio station WQHT Hot 97. This
settlement was not for payola but rather for holding
“Smackfest” contests where women were encouraged
to slap each other for cash prizes. “This agreement
should be a wake up call to all those in the entertainment
industry who think outrageousness is a clever
marketing tactic,” said Spitzer.
Honoring Albany’s Activists
The Albany City School District recently announced
that the new middle school at Kelton Court will
be named after Stephen and Harriet Myers, publishers
of The Northern Star and Freeman’s Advocate,
an abolitionist newspaper, and local leaders of
the Underground Railroad. The school is set to
open Sept. 7, with Kimberly Wilkins, former principal
of the city’s PS 16, serving as its principal.
You Wanted Us to Meet?
The civil-liberties board ordered into existence
by the Intelligence Reform law of December 2004
still has yet to meet. The five members of the
board appointed by President Bush are tasked with
monitoring the war on terrorism’s effect on civil
liberties. Critics claim the board is toothless
and underfunded. They also think it would be just
peachy if the board could manage to get together
to discuss the effect of the Patriot Act, parts
of which are currently up for reauthorization.
They are not holding their breath.
Laughable or Scary?
In a recent rundown of 2008 presidential possibilities,
Daily Show host Jon Stewart could barely
contain himself at the notion of New York’s current
governor’s bid for the presidency, breaking into
laughter at the mention of “President Pataki.”
Of course, several recent and sudden shifts in
the governor’s policies toward a more conservative
platform might indicate that Pataki doesn’t think
it’s such a funny idea. Whether he gets the Republican
nod or not, expect Pataki to bring more attention—from
blue and red states alike—to the Empire State
in the coming years.
I gave him $50 for 'cheese' from Vermont, and
he brought back $50 worth of actual cheese! It
was damn good cheese though."
night at the Old Songs Festival campground
of a Wal-Mart in Ballston spurs debate over the town’s development
plot of land at the inter section of Routes 50 and 67 in Ballston
looks ordinary enough. Besides a few yards of orange fence,
there is just overgrown grass and shrubbery, with pines and
maples rising like walls along the fringes and sporadic patches
of purple wildflowers blooming throughout. Among the grasses,
one can glimpse unmanned construction vehicles, but these
are the only indications of the struggle over the land’s future.
There is little to distinguish this plot except the buzz over
whether or not a Wal-Mart should be built there.
That question is a microcosm of a rigorous debate within Ballston
over the future of the town as a whole—a debate being conducted
in jam-packed, into-the-night public forums and letters to
the editor, Internet postings and radio talk-shows, political
campaigns and grass-roots movements, and signs with slogans
like “Yes to Wal-Mart” or “Sprawl Mart” (with a red slash
through the words) taped to storefront windows or stuck in
On July 6, the town extended a six-month moratorium on all
commercial construction, which was originally passed in February
in order to delay the construction of Wal-Mart and other large-scale
commercial enterprises so the town could update its master
plan, which had not been updated since the 1980s. The town
board created the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee to
lead the effort.
CPAC is working with Saratoga Associates, an independent company
that specializes in what Dan Sitler, Saratoga Associates’
principal in charge of the Ballston project, described as
“participatory community process” that involves “consulting
work with communities to shape vision into plan.”
In a poll conducted by Saratoga Associates, when asked to
choose only one thing that would be an improvement in the
area in which the respondent lived, 28.9 percent of residents
selected preventing the loss of open space and rural character—a
10-percent margin over the second most selected option. Saratoga
Associates and CPAC’s draft proposal seeks to address this
concern through a series of measures, including a 60,000-square-foot
cap on all commercial development and “mixed use centers,”
which, according to the draft, seek to “provide a social and
commercial core for a community” while also offering residential
options in order to create the atmosphere of a small town.
The plan is drawing fire from some town residents who worry
that it will stunt commercial growth and prevent the construction
of convenient shopping locations. Ballston has no grocery
store, and a 60,000-square-foot cap could prevent the construction
Gina Rossi Marozzi, the land developer who is trying to sell
the plot of land at Routes 50 and 67 to Wal-Mart, and the
Bridgewater Group, another land developer seeking to prepare
land for large-scale commercial development along Route 50
(rumored to be a Home Depot), insist that large-scale development
can help Ballston by expanding infrastructure in the developed
areas, contributing to town taxes, and allowing residents
to shop in town, rather than traveling to nearby Milton or
Clifton Park shopping areas.
Opposition to CPAC’s proposals is not limited solely to those
who have a financial interest in the land’s development. Linda
Lambert has been a resident of Ballston for 18 years, and
is the owner of Kaleidoscope Gifts at Hearth and Home Antiques
in downtown Ballston Spa. Lambert supports the construction
of Wal-Mart and other large commercial businesses in Ballston
because “they are able and willing to contribute millions
of dollars for major road and intersection work that small
businesses are not in a position to do,” and because “right
now there is no place in the village [for residents] to fulfill
their general needs.” She does not worry about losing business
to Wal-Mart because she believes that her store and the other
stores of Ballston offer specialty goods that a large store
like Wal-Mart does not.
What does worry Lambert is the CPAC proposal. Lambert sees
the mixed-use centers as threats to the livelihood of downtown
Ballston Spa, because they would create similarly sized stores
to the Ballston Spa shops, but would be able to offer more
convenient parking. Other citizens are concerned over proposed
increases in housing density, which they see as potential
threats to the town’s rural character. Some see parts of the
proposal, such as a provision that would prohibit the construction
of garages that face the street, as limits on individual architectural
choice and taste.
Sitler said that the opposition of some to the CPAC proposal
is “not unusual,” and that “design and development standards
are a way of compromise.” And despite some opposition, reaction
to CPAC’s efforts has been largely positive.
Lynn Prentice, one of the founding members of Ballston Concerned
Citizens for Sustainable Communities, has been lobbying the
town to update its master plan since before the Wal-Mart controversy
began. After seeing the plans to develop the neighboring town
of Malta, Prentice said that Ballston’s citizens have realized
that they are “at risk for rampant, reckless development.”
She cited both the Saratoga Associates survey and a second
survey conducted by the town’s Land Conservation Committee
as evidence that “over 75 percent of the town wants open-space
protection.” She lauded CPAC’s draft plan as being “representative
of what the town at large wants,” and she supports the controversial
60,000 square foot cap on commercial development, insisting
that “this town is a small town” and “we don’t have the infrastructure
to support that type of development.”
The draft plan is currently undergoing revisions as the CPAC
members meet almost every week to debate the draft among themselves
and with the public. Copies of the draft are available at
the town’s Web site (www.townofballston ny.nycap.rr.com) and
also at the Town of Ballston Public Library.
Years of Living With the Bomb
part of a wide range of events last weekend marking the 60th
anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima
(Aug. 6), activists chalked outlines on sidewalks throughout
the region to represent those caught in the blast who were
reduced to nothing but a shadow outline on the ground or a
Pataki has vetoed the Unintended Pregnancy
Act, which would have provided broader access
to emergency contraception by allowing pharmacies
to dispense it with a non-patient-specific prescription
[“Pharm Stand,” May 26]. Reproductive-health activists
call the veto “a tragedy” that will cause thousands
of unneccessary abortions. . . . Entergy, which
manages the Indian Point nuclear power plant,
has finally agreed to provide backup power systems
to its emergency siren system [“No Need for Lights
When You’re Glowing,” What a Week, April 7], after
Sen. Hillary Clinton included a provision to force
it to do so in the Nuclear Security Act of 2005.
Environmental groups applauded the action, while
questioning why it had taken so long.