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Don’t fence me in: dog and owner in Washington Park. Photo: John Whipple

We Can Still Let the Dogs Out
A proposed ordinance requiring that canines be leashed within Albany city parks has dog owners howling—and city lawmakers dragging their paws

Dog owners turned out to bark down a city proposal that would require owners to leash their dogs within city parks, and city politicians obeyed, unanimously deciding to table the legislation for further review.

The Albany Common Council’s Public Safety Committee held a public hearing Tuesday (Aug. 12) to discuss a sweeping package of legislation that would alter the city code pertaining to animal regulations and behavior. Some of the proposals would increase fees for redeeming pets from the city pound and stiffen penalties for owners who fight dogs for sport, but every resident at the hearing addressed the proposed amendments to the Albany’s leash law, with the majority of speakers hailing from the Center Square neighborhood.

“I’m very happy that they decided not to vote. I just hope they continue to let us bring our dogs to the park,” said JoAnne Alessio, who lives on Hamilton Street in Albany with her dog Ozma, a terrier mix. “The dog parks they are proposing now are so far away, [and] if you don’t have a car, it’s not that easy to get there.”

Currently, dog owners are required to leash their canines at all times unless in a city park or on their own private property. The new proposal, drafted in response to a spate of dog attacks last summer, would force dog owners to bring their pets to one of the city’s four proposed “dog parks” in order to have them unleashed.

Two of the fenced-in plots currently exist on Erie Boulevard near the Department of General Services complex and off of Hartman Road near the Albany municipal golf course. Two additional parks may be built in Westland Hills Park, off of Colvin Avenue, and at the Normansville Farm, near Graceland Cemetery. But many citizens who attended Monday’s meeting said these sites don’t work for them. A number of citizens said they chose to live in the Washington Park area so that they would have a place to exercise their pets and would consider leaving Albany to find a more dog-friendly home.

Officials in Saratoga, Troy, Schenectady, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo said their cities all have leash laws, even in parks. Only Buffalo has a dog park, a city official said, and only one. There also is a leash law in Ottawa, Canada, although there are certain parks where dogs are allowed to run free.

The public safety committee decided to hold the proposal until the next council caucus meeting to see if any other Common Council members have any fresh ideas.

“I guess we’re undecided and we’ll have to come back [to the issue],” said public safety committee chair Joseph Igoe (Ward 14). “The same issue keeps coming up, and it’s Washington Park, and we’ll have to address that.”

But, Igoe said, an even bigger concern is safety and lessening the number of dog bites within the city. “One less dog bite on a kid’s face is worth the law to me,” Igoe said.

The chairman said there were 153 reported dog attacks from January 2002 through April 2003, with 30 of those incidents occurring in Washington Park. But there was some debate at Tuesday’s meeting over the relevance of those numbers, which didn’t specify whether attacks were dog-on-dog or dog-on-human and whether said attacks occurred while the attacking dog was on- or off-leash.

Joseph Sullivan, chairman of the city’s Republican Party and owner of two dogs, said the city should not enact a broad-brush solution, like the leash law, that would affect every dog owner in the city for problems caused by a few irresponsible dog owners.

“I find it ironic that we are here tonight in front of the body that called for the repeal of the Patriot Act . . . that is now looking to place restrictions on law-abiding citizens,” Sullivan said. “Go after the people who are causing the problems.”

—Travis Durfee

No more passengers: the train station in Altamont. Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen

Where Trains Once Rolled
A local rail line seems slated to become a bike trail, but are other transit options being overlooked?

Albany county residents may soon gain another recreational trail for biking and hiking. They may also, however, lose the opportunity to explore commuter rail service between Albany and its southwest suburbs.

On June 16, the Delaware and Hudson Railway, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway, filed a request with the U.S. Department of Transportation to abandon its 9-mile-long line between Albany and Voorheesville. Part of the former Albany Main Line from Albany to Delanson, this section of track is in a state of disrepair and has not been used for years.

Though Canadian Pacific is considering selling off the entire D&H (as repo- rted on July 24 in the Toronto Globe and Mail), observers note that this is not a factor in the abandonment. According to the filing, there is no longer any business along the line; any remaining business in Voorheesville has been rerouted through Delanson to the D&H main line in Schenectady. Also, as Jim Bachorz, vice-president of the Bridge Line [D&H] Historical Society explained, the bridge over the Normanskill Creek has been determined by the railway to be unsafe for the movement of heavy freight cars. Bachorz says that if bridge repairs are undertaken, they are “not going to be cheap.”

The Albany County Legislature has filed a grant application with the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for the initial funds to acquire the line. Both the legislature and CDTA have indicated that the preferred use of the line would be as a recreational hiking and biking trail.

“I’m not against trails,” said public-transit advocate Thomas Coates, “but I think it’s stupid not to consider rail transit options.” Coates, a Voorheesville resident, pointed out that it now takes 45 minutes to take a CDTA bus from Albany to Voorheesville. When the D&H was operating passenger service along the line, the trip took half that time. “It’s a more direct route,” he explained.

The line runs from Albany through Delmar, Slingerlands and New Scotland to Voorheesville, through densely settled suburbs served mostly by crowded two-lane highways.

The CDTA, Coates said, seems averse to projects involving commuter rail. The authority was unable, he noted, to find a way to take advantage of a recent federal grant for a test program involving commuter rail service between Albany and Saratoga Springs.

Coates also pointed out that once the tracks are removed, the chance that they would ever be put back in—a longterm option alluded to by CDTA planning director John Poorman in the Times Union—is very slim. The cost of restoring the rail bed and putting in new track is much higher than rehabilitating an existing line, Coates said.

The most important thing, argued Albany County legislator Herbert Reilly (D), is keeping the line intact. Breaking the line and selling it into segments, Reilly warned, would be “awful.” He said the proposed recreational uses would be extremely worthwhile, and suggested other possibilities for the right-of-way: “It’s a great opportunity to bring some infrastructure out” to Delmar and Voorheesville. Reilly was referring to fiber-optic cable, and the possibility of tapping into Albany’s water system, purchasing water from the city, and running a water main under the trail.

No decision on the purchase and future use of the line can begin to be finalized until the state Department of Transportation rules on the application for abandonment, which should be issued within weeks.

—Shawn Stone

At Least California Has Celebrities
With voters slated to head for the polls in a month, there’s no sign of a settlement in Albany County’s redistricting debacle

With primary elections less than a month away and Albany County’s 39 voting districts still unsettled, the fate of this fall’s legislative elections seems to lay firmly in the hands of federal judges. And though negotiations between county legislators and citizen advocates have yielded little shared ground, the parties have agreed on at least one matter: The protracted legislative redistricting fiasco is nearing the level of political farce.

Preceding its monthly meeting Monday (Aug. 11), the legislature was to hold a public hearing on the latest changes to the county’s voting maps, but the comment period was canceled due to lack of speakers. Legislative chairman Charles Houghtaling Jr. (D-New Scotland) adjourned the public-comment period minutes after its 5 PM start time. The decision angered the few citizens who trickled into the County Courthouse minutes later who said the meeting time made it difficult for people who work 9-to-5 jobs to attend.

“How anxious are you to hear what people have to say if you cancel the meeting five minutes after it starts? Don’t they know people work?” said Carolyn McLaughlin, 2nd Ward Albany alderwoman who had come to speak at Monday’s meeting. “They just think people don’t care. This just speaks of the whole process.”

“Way to run a democracy, chairman,” barked Aaron Mair, a lead plaintiff in the federal case challenging the county’s maps, as he entered the legislative chambers minutes after the hearing had been called. “This only makes you look like asses.”

Maps amended by the county over the past few weeks during settlement negotiations were sent back to the legislature’s redistricting commission at Monday’s meeting, but commission chairman Sean Ward (D-Green Island) didn’t know when the body would meet next. Though Ward is hopeful that the matter will be settled in time for the November elections, he said the issue is now in the federal judges’ hands, and that much of what has stood for debate on the issue amounts to little more than political rhetoric.

“The judges aren’t going to rush into decisions, and we wouldn’t want that anyway,” Ward said. “We just have to wait and be patient for a decision, as we know that time is of the essence.”

Mair, also president of Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Association, and Anne Pope, president of the Albany County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, continue to assail the county legislature for gerrymandering its 39 legislative voting districts down racial and political lines.

Their charge was supported by U.S. Magistrate David Homer in a recommendation issued on July 7 stating that census data justified the creation of a fourth legislative voting district consisting of a majority of ethnic minorities. County Democrats previously said creating a fourth minority-majority district was impossible, but have done so at the judge’s request.

Now the issue is whether or not the four districts give the county’s ethnic minority population sufficient political power. The plaintiffs claim that the new legislative districts created by the county still dilute minority voting strength by crossing communities of interest and combining voters in Albany’s South End and Arbor Hill neighborhoods with more affluent constituents in Delmar and Loudonville.

“One population is asking for a better free lunch program in school and the other is asking for tax relief from the free lunch program,” Mair said.

A different federal judge, U.S. Magistrate Randolph Treece, had been mediating settlement discussions between the plaintiffs and the county for the past few weeks, but talks broke down over the past week.

“I spent four days of my life wasted in settlement talks,” said Miriam Mair, Aaron’s wife and also a plaintiff in the case. “The county attorney came to the table and said he had no power to negotiate. Why go through the farce of working toward a settlement when you send someone to the table who says they can’t negotiate?”

“Obviously I disagree with what was said in the chamber tonight,” said Albany County Attorney Michael Lynch, who is representing the county legislature in federal court. “I feel that the county has negotiated in good faith throughout settlement talks.”

Though the plaintiffs and county legislators have adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward the fate of the county’s voting maps, some wonder how the process will affect voters scheduled to head to the polls this fall.

“When the district lines are finally drawn out and settled, then I think we’ll see the people get more interested in the process,” said Annette De Lavallade, an Albany resident who came to speak at Monday’s meeting. “[But] this is not going to look good to the public who will be coming out to vote.”

—Travis Durfee

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