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Family neighborhood: Ben Larsen poses with his wife, Jamie, and their children, Jude and Willa.

Photo: Chris Shields

New Kids on the Block

Plans to renovate an old building for a new use riles some Troy Hillside residents

When Troy Property Group bought 155 10th St., tucked in a quiet side street of a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute neighborhood, the company intended to renovate the building, do structural repair and update its interior. The goal was to turn the single-family unit into an eight-bedroom “mini-dorm,” housing eight unrelated RPI students. This proposal has since been shot down by the city for a few reasons, mostly focused on the definition of a “single-family” dwelling.

Troy Property Group, which owns 23 properties in the area, took its proposal before the Zoning Board of Appeals on May 17, after receiving a negative recommendation from the Planning Board. At the meeting, six residents of the Hillside neighborhood spoke. These neighbors were angered by the idea of high-density student housing in the middle of single-family and owner-occupied houses, and claimed that the building would no longer be a single-family unit, but a boarding house.

One of the speakers was Ben Larsen. Larsen, his wife and two young children live in a house adjacent to 155 10th St.

“It is bad for the neighborhood,” Larsen said of the proposal. “It fundamentally changes the character of the neighborhood for the worse. This is an owner-occupied neighborhood. We are a young family. There are a lot of families around us. One of the reasons I bought in this neighborhood is all of the families, and the high quality of life.”

“There is a density issue,” added Eric Daillie, an activist and resident of the Hillside neighborhood. “We have a huge traffic problem on the Hillside, already. Accidents every week.”

Noting that the residence was to be rented by college kids, he asked: “You mean they don’t party?!”

“I understand some of the concerns,” said Jamie Bray, acquisitions manager for Troy Property Group, “but I don’t think the [Zoning Board’s] decision was fair. There is not a law limiting how many bedrooms can be in a single-family unit, and our proposal falls within the legal definition of a single-family unit in Troy zoning code.”

The definition, she pointed out, specifies that a family doesn’t have to be related. A “family” according to the code just has to share a common bond.

“[The bond] could be as minimal as that they are all RPI students, or that they are on the hockey team,” she said. “I feel that the decision was made based more on political concerns than legal concerns. One of the things that I was told is that our plan ‘just seems to bother everybody.’ ”

Though she has heard the fears that the neighborhood will turn into a “student ghetto,” she doesn’t buy it. There just aren’t enough students to overrun the neighborhood, for one thing. And another, she claimed, her company is a good steward of property.

“We have a local office,” she said. ”We have a 20-plus staff right now. There are a lot of properties in Troy that aren’t being maintained . . . so I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want us to own the house next door, spending a lot of money fixing it up and keeping it nice.”

Bray said that the company hasn’t decided what the next step will be with 155 now, although she doesn’t consider the board’s decision to be legal.

The Hillside Association has been working for years to attract home buyers who will stay and fix up their homes and invest in the community, Daillie said. But in the last two years, there have been investors like Troy Property Group from New York City, from Boston, from California moving in and buying up properties.

He has a form letter that he said that he was sent from the company offering him anywhere from $60,000 and $160,000 for his house, sight unseen. He claimed that the same letter was sent to dozens of his neighbors.

“A few years ago, nobody wanted to move here, because it was so bad, so much drugs and so forth,” Daillie said. “Over the years, we pushed the city to crack down on code violations and drugs. We have been trying to attract new home buyers. And then these people come and say they are going to buy us out, anyway. There needs to be a balance. But there is no way to stop this company from buying.”

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

Battle of the Hawks

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wants Americans to that know if he wins the presidency in ’08, he will take the toughest approach to terrorism—Bill of Rights be damned. During a recent debate between Republican presidential hopefuls, Romney called for doubling the size of the Guantanamo prison facility. “I want them in Guantanamo where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil,” declared Romney. Not to be outdone, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) both suggested that certain forms of torture, including waterboarding, would be tolerated under their watch.

We Don’t Need No Education

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias announced Monday (May 24) that the country will no longer send its police officers to train at the notorious Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as School of the Americas. After meeting with School of the Americas Watch activists, Arias decided to officially join the leaders of Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay in resistance to the controversial school often dubbed the “School of Assassins.” The Georgia-based combat-training school once was referred to by former Panama President Jorge Illueca as the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.”

Lethal Mannequin

All you Lara Croft/Angelina Jolie enthusiasts out there, consider yourselves warned. David Williams of Manchester, England, was jailed last week after nervous neighbors called the police, claiming there was a gunman lurking in his front window. The “gunman” turned out to be a life-size model of video-game character Lara Croft. Williams was still taken to jail, anyway, and held for more than 13 hours. He was charged with a “suspected firearms offence” and is now out on bail and speaking to lawyers about wrongful arrest.

Fill ’er Up

Ethanol made its Albany premiere Monday (May 21) at the Campus Mobil station on Western Avenue. The station will offer customers a combination fuel made of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Ethanol, a corn-based fuel, also will be available to the public at a station in Warrensburg.

Bullet Points

Gun violence causes uproar in Albany’s streets and in the Common Council

“Fourteen, 16, 17, 18, 19,” recited Leonard Morgenbesser at the Albany Common Council meeting on Monday. Those numbers are the ages of the latest victims of gun violence in the city of Albany. Teens who were likely those same ages, who were visiting the Common Council as part of Students in Government Night, sat positioned around the council members listening as speakers including former mayoral candidate Archie Goodbee; Allison Banks, the mother of a victim of gun violence; and anti-gun-violence activist Morgenbesser lent their support to two proposals put forward by Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1).

The first proposal, which would see the Common Council establish a gun-violence task force, has languished in the Public Safety Committee for months, during which only one meeting was held on the issue. The second proposal Calsolaro put forth would require the Albany Police Department to provide the Common Council with gun-
violence statistics. Calsolaro has been asking for gun-violence statistics from the APD for years. He said that recently he had been told that he would receive the statistics by April 1, but since then he has come to believe, due to comments made to the media by Albany Police Chief James Tuffey, that the statistics have been completed but are being withheld from him.

A recent quote by Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings in the Times Union seems to confirm Calsolaro’s fears. “We know what the statistics are,” the mayor said. “It is a problem the chief has been discussing with his command staff. It’s got to be a comprehensive proposal. Just talking about statistics doesn’t solve any problems.”

Calsolaro said that the numbers are important and belong to the citizens of Albany. “They have the numbers, which is good, but we should have the numbers, the council should have the numbers, the public should have the numbers,” he said. “It is public information.” Calsolaro said he would put in a Freedom of Information request if his bill did not quickly yield results.

Jennings also told the Times Union that “Dominic could create a task force within his own ward, talk to kids, let them know. I’d rather us break this down into a meaningful discussion, not just a task force for a task force’s sake.”

Calsolaro took exception to Jennings’ comments.

“This legislation isn’t just saying something about the First Ward,” he said. “The gun violence isn’t in one ward—it’s spreading. The gun-violence issue isn’t just one part of the city. The problem exists to the north, the south and now west. That doesn’t leave a whole lot left.” Calsolaro noted that the point of his task force would be to bring together voices from across the city to work on issues and effect change in both the government and in the community.

Jennings recently was lambasted by the media and public due to his own gun-
violence proposal, which would have created a system by which all gun sales in the city would be reported to the police chief.

Calsolaro said that Albany has become synonymous with fear because of gun violence and what appears to be a lack of action. He said that he is embarrassed by the stigma friends and coworkers attribute to Albany, the offhand comments made about the level of crime in the city. Calsolaro is disturbed that his constituents are afraid to walk to their cars after dark and that the once-bright windows of some residents of his ward are now dark after nightfall because the people fear they will attract attention and have moved their televisions out of the living rooms to the back of their residences.

Notwithstanding Jennings’ opposition to his task force and statistics-reporting bill, Calsolaro said he recently was reminded by a retired member of the APD that the greatest threat facing his efforts on gun violence may actually reside inside the communities he is trying to help.

“He told me it could be dangerous for someone to be on the task force if someone in the neighborhood knew about it,” Calsolaro said. “They could get their car smashed or attacked or something. What does that tell you? That because someone was on a Common Council task force they could be threatened? What does that tell you about the safety of our neighborhoods?”

—David King

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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