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Growing Services

Albany’s Planned Parenthood, a longtime Lark Street neighbor, is set to move to its new location

Packing boxes and plans for a greatly expanded space are both filling up as Albany’s Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood—one of Lark Street’s most enduring and visible presences—prepares to move to a new location in September.

The organization has put its three buildings at 259 Lark St. on the market. The Lark Street complex consists of the main building, which houses patient services and administrative offices, a smaller office building and a storage building.

A capital campaign for the new headquarters at 855 Central Ave., near Everett Road, is under way with about $400,000 to go, said Blue Carreker, the organization’s vice president for public affairs and marketing. The Central Avenue site will have 18,000 custom-renovated square feet—a 50-percent increase in space from the current location—and is along a major CDTA bus route.

“There’s a lot of new lighting to make it brighter and different kinds of workspaces,” Carreker said. “We know we have a high quality of service; now, our patients will feel it.”

The staff will miss Lark Street, she added; the proximity of so many restaurants and shops made for a convenient location and a close connection with the neighborhood.

“We have a lot of affection for Lark Street,” she said. “We’ve been here for 45 years in two different areas.”

The new location will include an expanded space for a teen drop-in center, and the private parking lot at the site means that patients and other visitors will no longer have to enter the building from a public sidewalk. A small but steady group of anti-abortion protesters has gathered in front of the Lark Street location on Friday and Saturday mornings for years to pray, hold placards and sometimes train their video cameras on the people entering or leaving the clinic. The weekend protests unfolded under the watchful gaze of escorts from Planned Parenthood who stood ready to assist women entering and leaving the building.

The new location will make it more difficult for anti-abortion activists to get their message out to women, said Lori Kehoe, executive director of the New York State Right to Life Committee.

“You can pretty up the space, but you can’t pretty up child killing,” Kehoe said of the planned move. “It’s also sad that they would close off women from debate. This closed-off parking lot is consistent with their principles of keeping information from women.”

At a recent news conference announcing the move, however, Upper Hudson president and chief executive officer Patricia McGeown and other administrators said the expansion will allow the agency to provide critically needed services of all types, including overall gynecological care and education on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. The Lark Street location handled more than 13,000 patient visits in 2009, a 14-percent increase from 2008, and the reception room has sometimes been so crowded that patients have had to wait in the hall for their appointment.

“Some people believe, mistakenly, that abortion is all Planned Parenthood does,” said Mary Kahl, former Upper Hudson board chair and author of the book Controversy and Courage: Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood from 1934 to 2004, in a written statement about the move. “In fact, prevention—of unintended pregnancy and of STDs—and education continue to be the central core of the services.”

As the move approaches, the availability of a site with parking on one of Albany’s main retail streets has generated considerable attention from prospective buyers, and also considerable speculation about how a new owner would use the space.

“As far as I know, everyone who has looked at the buildings has talked about tearing them down,” said Mary Spinelli, executive director of the Lark Street Business Improvement District. “There’s some structural issues with the smaller building. I think anyone going in there would either have some renovation to do, or would tear it down.”

Lark Street is a mix of commercial and residential zoning, but the Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood site is zoned for commercial use. That zoning allows nearly a dozen uses, including banks, offices and art galleries. A number of special uses also fall under the zoning, including health clubs, restaurants and taverns. Any special-use applications undergo additional review before the Albany Board of Zoning Appeals, which takes into consideration traffic, noise and residential concerns when considering an application for a special-use permit, said Doug Melnick, Albany’s director of planning.

Under the city’s new demolition ordinance, any proposal to raze the Planned Parenthood buildings would also have to go before the Albany Planning Board, and demolition plans must accompany finished proposals for use of the site—no one can simply seek to knock down a building without also outlining how the cleared space will be used, Melnick noted.

It’s far too early to predict what a new owner would want to do there, but Melnick said one thing is certain about the soon-to-be-former Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood property: “It’s a prime site.”

—Darryl McGrath

Negotiations, Hired-Thug Style

A union protest leads to allegations of assault as workers continue to strike at local Holiday Inn

Ongoing hostilities escalated into violence this Saturday at the Holiday Inn Express in Latham when a private security guard hired by hotel management allegedly took a bullhorn from a picketer marching in front of the building, striking her in the face and causing considerable damage to her wrist.

This incident represents the latest in a saga that has lasted more than a year and a half, since February 2009 when several employees began to organize a union for all hotel employees in an effort to secure better working conditions. The ensuing termination of the would-be organizers, as well as the perceived union-busting tactics of the hotel owner, Jim Morrell, precipitated a contentious battle of wills between the hotel and local union organizers and supporters.

According to Rev. Mike Roberts, director of Local 471, the private security guards were hired by the hotel management after repeated attempts to induce Colonie Police to put an end to the picketing, and especially the use of a bullhorn, failed.

Last month, in responding to a call from the hotel, local police initially put Roberts in handcuffs but then decided that the demonstrators were within their First Amendment rights as long as they respected the noise ordinance and refrained from using the bullhorn between the hours of 10 PM and 7 AM. Roberts was released and has continued to picket—and to use the bullhorn.

On Saturday night, when Pattie Wilcox, mother of two of the terminated employees, showed up to picket, she and others found three strange men waiting for them.

“We got our stuff,” she recalled. “And the minute we hit the part where we walk back and forth, their exact words were, ‘Cross this line, and I’ll snap your fucking neck.’ They were just awful, calling us white trash and lowlifes, telling us we had already lost. One guy was walking around, flashing a badge and claiming to be the police. ‘Don’t bother calling the police,’ he said.”

Wilcox said that she had raised the bullhorn with her right hand and began to chant when one of the men forcibly took it from her.

“I couldn’t really see around the bullhorn,” she said. “But this guy came up to me and snatched it out of my hand. He came down across my face and damaged tendons in my hand. It really scared me, and I don’t scare that easily. We were all scared.”

Sean Terry, a private security guard from Inner City Security Services and 31-year-old Latham resident, was arrested and charged with felony larceny. (According to the Colonie Police, the theft of anything from someone’s person, regardless of the value of the stolen article, is a felony.) Terry, along with the two other men, was ostensibly hired by hotel management with the intent to intimidate demonstrators as they marched in front of the building. “I want to say it’s disappointing, but we shouldn’t be surprised,” said Roberts.

No assault charges have been filed yet, but Wilcox says that she has seen her doctor and intends to do so. “My doctor said it was definitely assault,” she said. “Apparently he caused me to have carpal tunnel, which is actually pretty rare.” Reading from the doctor’s report, she continued, “Symptoms consistent with carpal tunnel syndrome that came on acutely after the injury, inflammation around the median nerve.”

Attempts to reach Tod Hanlon, manager of the hotel, were unsuccessful, as have been multiple attempts to reach owner Jim Morrell.

“We’ve been on strike for over a year, and I go out there in support of my daughters, they went on strike because they wanted a fair place to work. Morrell has been getting more aggressive, but we’re not going to let it stop us. We were out there on Sunday night. We just want Morrell to sign a fair campaign pledge so that there can be a fair [union] election.”

Morrell actually agreed to a settlement more than a year ago, then reneged and skirted the agreement by replacing hotel management and claiming that the new regime was not responsible for honoring agreements made under the old one.

The length and severity of this fight, many union activists say, is symptomatic of bigger problems within the National Labor Relations Board. Roberts, local organizer Richard Bensinger and others believe that the National Labor Relations Act, which is enforced by the NLRB, is “antiquated and impotent,” allowing for cases to be drawn out and lacking sufficient penalties for offending employers.

Barney Horowitz, Albany representative for the NLRB, said that a number of charges against the hotel and new management company had been withdrawn and subsequently refiled and now await further investigation. He confirmed that the terminated workers had received some back pay, but clarified that that money was awarded for only the relatively few days that fell between the terminations on Feb. 4, 2009, and the installation of the new management company on Feb. 22, 2009.

Wilcox also voiced frustration with the NLRB. “Half the stuff they rule on doesn’t make sense. I really feel they’re more for the employer than the employee.”

—Ali Hibbs

Vandals at the Ice Cream Shop

Photo: Kathryn Geurin

A handful of businesses and residences in the Delaware Avenue neighborhood suffered broken windows at the hands of vandals Saturday night between 2 and 3 AM; one of the casualties was a front window of Emack and Bolio’s (pictured). Residents and merchants in the neighborhood, which recently received recognition for its growth and progress, are calling on the city’s new police chief, Steven Krokoff, to work with them as the department supposedly returns to a strong community-policing model. According to sources, the neighborhood’s one beat cop wasn’t on duty during the acts of vandalism. The chief plans to meet with neighborhood leaders in response to the incident.

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