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Will Build, if It Suits

Schenectady developer aims to allay concerns about code violations to gain support for new townhouse project


By the end of the month, Schenectady developer Christopher Maddalone should know whether he is approved to add five side-by-side townhomes to the city’s real-estate market, which currently offers buyers few housing options of this sort.

After a public hearing May 14, the city council will vote whether to approve the zoning change that’s necessary for Maddalone to move forward with construction at Lenox Road and Salina Street. The site is currently zoned as single-family residential and, accordingly, limited to three units.

“I think it’s a great project,” Maddalone said. “There are not very many people who want to build in the city. I believe this [townhome project] would be the first of its kind.”

The plan has been met with resistance, however, by both neighbors and one city council member.

At the first public hearing about the matter, which was held back in February by the city’s planning commission, a handful of neighborhood residents spoke against the project, Maddalone said. He called their concerns “typical” complaints that he has encountered during other development projects as well. The criticisms dealt primarily with the potential for increased noise and traffic. Safety issues were also discussed because of the property’s proximity to Steinmetz Park.

After that hearing, the planning commission recommended the project move on to the city council for a decision regarding the required zoning change. Since the project landed on the council’s table, Democratic Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard has spoken against the proposed zoning change on several occasions. She criticized Maddalone, whose management company oversees rentals throughout the city, for what she defined as an inability to provide responsible upkeep at his current properties.

“One of them is across the street from me,” Blanchard said. “There’s a car parked on the grass, which is a violation. It’s rutted up the grass awfully.” She pointed to the improper storage of trash cans, which are required to be stored at the rear of a property, as another code violation.

“Now if this man, who lives two blocks away from this property, can’t even get his garbage cans in order and can’t keep people from parking on the lawn, do I really trust that he can build five townhouses properly?” Blanchard said.

Blanchard, who was elected to the council during 2005, ran on a platform of strict code enforcement.

“There are a lot of property-management issues on these [Maddalone’s] houses, and in general these houses do not make me proud to be a Schenectadian,” she said. “I believe that if somebody wants a zoning change, then I want some proof that they’ve made my city better.”

Blanchard addressed her concerns to Maddalone when he met with the council on April 16. She said even after that meeting she has yet to see improvement.

Maddalone said the meeting was the first he’d heard of the problems, but he agreed that his tenants should not park on the lawn or improperly store their trash cans. He differentiated, however, between his management company, at which such criticisms may or may not be warranted, and his development company, which is the entity involved in the proposed townhouse project.

At the April 16 meeting, Steve Strichman, city zoning officer, reported that Maddalone’s properties are paid up in taxes. At Mayor Brian Stratton’s suggestion, Maddalone also agreed to allow code-enforcement officers to inspect his properties, which he said are free from violations.

Other council members spoke supportively of the plan, including Democratic Councilman Frank Maurizio. “I’m confident there’s a market for this,” he said.

Each townhouse is planned as a three-bedroom unit that would be marketed at around $170,000.

The vote on whether to approve the zoning change likely will take place at the city council’s May 29 meeting.

“We don’t have that many townhouses,” Blanchard said. “I’m not opposed to a project like this per se, but I think we need quality housing in our city. I believe that a person needs some sort of credentials to ask for a zoning change, and I’m not sure that I’m seeing that in Maddalone Properties.”

—Nicole Klaas

What a Week

Fun With Numbers

Four people were shot in Albany this past Sunday. You might have missed it, however, because it didn’t make much of a splash in the area’s largest paper. On Tuesday, the Times Union did bother to mention the shootings in the article “Albany Sees Decline in Firearm Violence.” However, in the article, Albany Police Chief James Tuffey relayed the happy news that one less person has been shot this year than last year when comparing the time frame of January 1 to March 31 of both years. Thirteen people were shot during the time period last year, 12 this year. The article ended with this quote from Tuffey: “Sometimes numbers don’t say everything.”

Deadly, Deadlier

The number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq during the month of April hit triple digits—at least 104 confirmed—for the sixth time since the war began. The news came as President George W. Bush awaited Democrats’ war-spending bill, which contained a timetable for withdrawing the troops from Iraq. Democratic leaders held a ceremony Tuesday (May 1)—the four-year anniversary of the infamous “mission accomplished” speech—before sending the bill to Bush, who vetoed it.

Cubans Celebrate Without Castro

Cuban leader Fidel Castro remained notably absent at the country’s May Day parade, despite anticipation that he might use the celebration as an opportunity for his first public reappearance since he fell ill in July. It was only the third time Castro has missed the annual celebration in Havana’s Revolution Square since he took power in 1959. Castro has, however, appeared in video and news reports throughout his absence, including an article published the evening before the festivities.

A Greener Governor

New York’s Executive Mansion will soon undergo renovations to make it the first green governor’s residence in the country. Several changes are planned in order to increase the mansion’s energy efficiency and environmental friendliness, now that we have a governor who seems like he might reside within (well, part-time, anyway). Solar panels will be added this summer, designed to meet around 40 percent of the home’s electrical needs, reports the Times Union. Other environmentally friendly changes include replacing an old washing machine and installing energy-efficient light bulbs.

Come a Long Way

New Yorkers rally in Albany in support of LGBT rights

“The absolute purpose is to get constituents to be able to tell legislators their story—the story of why these issues are important to them,” said Ross Levi, director of public policy for the Empire State Pride Agenda.

More than 1,000 people, many who came in buses from around the state, hit the capital Tuesday (May 1) for Equality and Justice Day, a day organized by the Empire State Pride Agenda to rally in support of issues of importance to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The event included remarks from legislative officials, a rally, and private visits with state legislators.

Levi enumerated the specific causes participants were voicing support for. He said they gathered to tell their respective legislators “why they want the right to marry the person they love, why they think New York should have a gender expression nondiscrimination act, why schools need to be safe, and hopefully, tell their real stories about things they’ve experienced.”

These specific issues dominated the event. Legislation introduced by Gov. Eliot Spitzer to legalize same-sex marriage was praised by virtually every one of the more than a dozen people who addressed the large crowd in the convention center of Empire State Plaza.

Also speaking was Sean Maloney, the governor’s deputy secretary, who told the crowd he was going to say something no deputy secretary had ever said: “My boyfriend is here today.”

One of the main focuses of the day was on the Dignity for All Students Act, which aims to prohibit harassment in schools. The bill recently passed the Assembly, and is sponsored in the state Senate by Sen. Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan). Duane, the first openly gay member of the Senate, said that school harassment is something he has heard about from constituents.

“There is a dramatically increased number of stories about children and teenagers who are bullied in school,” he said in a phone interview with Metroland. “Dignity for All Students would go a very long way in heading off bullying where it starts in schools.” The point of the bill is not to punish an incident after it happens, he continued, but to prevent the incident from happening in the first place.

At the rally in West Capitol Park, Duane asked how many in the crowd had been taunted in school. A significant number of attendees raised their hands, and Duane said that the legislation was necessary so that “no child ever has to go through what we went through.”

Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell (D-Manhattan), also openly gay, sponsored the bill in the Assembly. He told the crowd Tuesday that there was once a day when homophobic remarks would be made on the Assembly floor when debating such a bill. The fact that now the bill passed with only a handful of “no” votes shows how far the cause has come.

Tuesday’s event featured more than 100 LGBT groups, as well as labor unions and religious groups. Rev. Norman Kansfield, a controversial figure in the Reformed Church in America, addressed the rally on behalf of supportive members of the religious community.

Kansfield became active in fighting for gay rights when his daughter, Ann, came out as a lesbian more than 10 years ago. In 2004, Kansfield performed a marriage ceremony for Ann and her partner in Massachusetts. Because of this, he said, he was the first person in the church ever removed from his pastoral standing.

“The denomination has been in the United States since 1628,” Kansfield said, “and it’s the first time in all those years they deposed a professor of theology.”

He said that tolerance within the religious community has come a long way, but still has further to go. “The essence of [Christianity] itself is for the hearing of all persons, grace of all persons, and there’s no way we can discriminate like this long-term when we take our religion seriously.”

—David Canfield

Rush to Vengeance

Critics say the frenzy to enact a death penalty for cop killers is irrational and shortsighted

John Restivo’s e-mail address has the number 6,566 in it because that is the number of days the former Wantagh, N.Y., resident spent imprisoned, serving what was supposed to be a 30-plus-year sentence for rape and murder. For those 6,566 days, Restivo said, he screamed, “The cops framed me and a DNA test will prove it.” As it turns out Restivo was right, and after spending 18 years imprisoned for a crime he says he did not commit, a DNA test invalidated the evidence used to convict him. According to Restivo and others involved in his case, his conviction resulted from informants perjuring themselves and police planting evidence.

Restivo said the system broke down for him, and he knows he is alive today because New York state did not have a death penalty in place when he was convicted. Restivo is just one of 200 people in the United States who have been exonerated by DNA evidence since it has become admissible.

And yet, in the wake of the recent shootings of state troopers, the call to reinstate a death penalty—at least in the instance of the murder of a police officer—has become deafening. There are now matching pieces of legislation pending in both the Senate and the Assembly.

“I believe the majority of my district is against the death penalty, and one of the reasons is DNA,” said Assemblyman Jack McEneny (D-Albany). “We just had our 200th person freed. This particular unfortunate spent 25 years convicted for a crime he didn’t commit. We hit 200 nationwide, and we know there are others out there who should be out.” McEneny said that in a system where the highest officials can be wrong, can be corrupt, there should always be the understanding that the system is not infallible.

Along with McEneny’s general opposition to capital punishment, he is particularly worried by recent arguments for the necessity of a death penalty. Supporters of the death penalty for cop killers, including state legislators and police representatives, have repeated the mantra that if one trooper’s life is saved because of the deterrent, the law is worth passing.

McEneny said that he fears that such legislation could actually make officers less safe.

“Not all desperate people care whether they live or die,” he said. “How would you like to be the state trooper who is the negotiator when we have just created a cornered rat? Imagine being that negotiator, thinking, ‘Come on out so I can kill you. Do the right thing so I can kill you.’ So now what happens if I’m the suspect is, I gotta shoot my way out while I still can.”

McEneny said that in addition to making things more dangerous for officers on duty, if the death penalty is to work as a deterrent, a potential cop killer would have to take the penalty into consideration before committing the act, but most crimes are committed without thought of consequence.

Restivo said that during his 18 years in prison, he had a chance to speak to a lot of guilty people. “I talked to a lot of different dudes that belonged there. They earned it. You ask them, ‘Don’t you have any sense? Didn’t you think about what you were doing?’ And the thing is, they think they are gonna get away with murder. When getting ready to commit the ultimate crime they are not thinking rationally. The consequences are the furthest thing from their mind.”

After being released from prison, Restivo moved to Florida and tried to get on with his life. But after 18 years of being unfairly imprisoned, Restivo has not been able to stop considering what would have happened if things had been different, if there had been a death penalty, if DNA evidence hadn’t been made admissible. And that is why Restivo has stayed involved in anti-death-penalty work.

“They can reinstate it,” said Restivo of the push in New York for a death penalty, “but somewhere along the road there is going to be a close case and there will be a big question mark there.”

—David King

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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