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Endangered landscape? As upstate New York sprawls, valuable vistas are gobbled up.

Not Growing,
Just Taking Up More Space
Report concludes that sprawl in upstate New York is far outpacing the state’s slowly increasing population

‘Sprawl: Tear down all the trees and name the streets after them.” Slogans like this one can be found on bumper stickers all over the country, as people react to the growing problem of sprawl, the movement of people outward from cities and the ongoing development of open spaces in suburban and even rural areas.

According to a recent report, Sprawl Without Growth: the Upstate Paradox, upstate New York is experiencing serious sprawl: The consumption of land has been much greater than the population growth. The study was conducted by Cornell University and the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C.

The report found that in 2000, about 1.8 million upstate residents lived in cities, just over 900,000 lived in villages and almost 4.2 million lived in “towns” outside of villages. The report also found that upstate cities, such as Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, lost an average of 8.4 percent of their cumulative population in the 1990s. Upstate towns gained 160,000 households. Also, upstate cities lost 2,200 businesses from 1982 to 1997, while noncity communities gained 2,800 businesses.

Albany proves no different than the rest of upstate New York. According to the 2000 Census data, Albany has lost about 5,000 residents since 1990.

The report’s author, Cornell professor Rolf Pendall, cited among the costs of sprawl “environmental degradation, pressure for the development of rural lands and a loss of the village life that historically was a large part of upstate’s character,” according to an Oct. 19 story in the Times Union.

These patterns are troubling to many environmentalists in the region. “What I personally don’t understand,” said Lynne Jackson, a volunteer with Save the Pine Bush, “is this drive to live in the middle of nowhere.”

“People [are] leaving cities [because of] factors beyond our control,” said David Casciotti, director of planning for the city of Albany, referring to economic problems faced all around the country and especially in the Northeast. But Pendall cited public-policy factors that have encouraged sprawl, including higher property-tax rates in cities and excessive subsidies to sprawl development.

Jackson has a different perspective on the city’s options. “What is the problem with really looking at rebuilding our inner cities?” she said. “From my window, I can see at least three or four abandoned buildings.”

Since 1990, the number of new single family homes built in the Saratoga County suburb of Clifton Park has quadrupled. This statistic doesn’t even represent apartment complexes and other multiple family buildings, or people moving into preexisting homes.

“People are coming from all over, in state, out of state,” said Barbara McHugh, director of community development in Clifton Park, “It’s reflective of availability of work, commutability to employment centers, a good school district and a variety of housing.”

The decreasing density of residents in cities can lead to unexpected risks. According to a study released by Smart Growth America on Aug. 28, people living in automobile-dependent neighborhoods walk less, and therefore weigh more and suffer more frequently from high blood pressure. Jackson added that air pollution, from increased car traffic, is another health concern in areas of sprawl.

There is no quick fix to sprawl. But the first step is recognizing a problem exists. So environmental groups, such as Save the Pine Bush, have been working to educate the population about the problem, which can sometimes go unnoticed.

Town officials in Clifton Park are also trying to take a closer look at the situation by placing a 12 to 18 month building moratorium on the west side of the town. This will stop any sort of expansion plans in that area while officials figure out the best approach to future development.

The Brookings study suggests aggressive ecomonic development in aging cities, including subsidies to businesses and investment in infrastructure. The report also encouraged “the gradual development of better state and local policies to reduce unneccessary land consumption and sustain upstate’s cities, villages, hamlets and suburban towns.”

—Christen Deming

Trustworthy, Loyal, and Handy With a Rifle
As the ranks of hunters decrease, New York tries to sell the sport to Boy Scouts

Americans are hunting less these days. Nationally, the number of hunters declined by 7 percent between 1996 and 2001, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. New York state’s hunting licenses have declined from 900,000 in 1990 to 700,000 currently. Nationwide, hunters make up only 4.6 percent of the population.

The existence of this decline isn’t debated. But it means very different things to different people. To the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, a private organization dedicated to advancing the rights of hunters, fishermen and trappers, it’s a crisis (instigated in part by “anti-hunters”) that threatens “time-honored traditions that helped establish America at its roots.” To animal-rights advocates, it’s a cause for celebration and part of a natural evolution toward non-blood-sport enjoyment of wildlife. (They point out that 31 percent of Americans now identify themselves as “wildlife watchers.”)

And to state conservation agencies, the decline may be affecting their bottom line. On average, hunting and fishing licenses account for 42.9 percent of state wildlife funding, according to a study from the Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Sportsmen have a vested interest in more game because they like to hunt, but that happens only a few months a year, and everybody gets to enjoy it the rest of the year, usually for free. . . . We feel pretty proud of that,” said Doug Jeanneret, communications director for the alliance.

Another 21.2 percent comes from federal redistribution of special taxes on firearms—something that the sportsmen claim is also primarily their dollars. Since handguns were included in those taxes, however, others estimate that hunters’ taxes make up only about 25 percent of this funding source.

In any case, as hunting declines, state conservation agencies have found themselves forced to raise license fees and seek out other forms of funding—like the sale of special license plates.

So in an attempt to boost the anemic and aging numbers of hunters, the Sportsmen’s Alliance, state agencies, and the Boy Scouts have teamed up to offer the “Trailblazer Adventure Program,” which the Capital Region’s Twin Rivers Boy Scout Council offered at Thompson Lake State Park on Oct. 18. This daylong program for scouts and their parents includes demonstrations of trapping, shooting, fishing, and game calling. It also includes hunting video games. Interested scouts can be matched up with experienced mentors who will encourage them to continue these pursuits.

Price said they plan to include other youth groups as partners, but started with the Boy Scouts because they were already outdoors-focused. Trailblazer was launched in 2001 because “we saw a need to build, get the new generation introduced,” said Price, and the program has since has grown quickly. He said they will reach 30,000 participants through 15 events in 2003.

State agencies make no bones that they’re in it for the money. “I am so convinced that this is a great hunter and fisherman recruiting tool that we’ve already signed on for a repeat performance this fall,” gushes David Waller, director of Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division, on the Trailblazer program Web site.

But the program has drawn some sharp criticism locally. “We find it particularly repugnant that our own state agency is working to dissolve children’s empathy,” said Dora Schomberg, director of the New York state chapter of the Fund for Animals. “They are trying very hard to transform sensitive boys into children that would find it rewarding to destroy fellow creatures through a process of denial of the real pain inflicted on flesh-and-blood animals.”

The Fund for Animals report Children in the Crosshairs details reports from hunting organizations that acknowledge that young adults tend to be uncomfortable with hunting unless they were introduced to it at an early age.

But Schomberg is also concerned about the funding side of it. Millions of dollars of taxpayer money from the general fund and other special sources of fund-raising go into the Bureau of Wildlife, she said, and yet it is run with a “hunting-club mentality.” “Non-hunters get zero representation,” she charged, saying that this leads to an overemphasis on maintaining the population of game species, in some cases through boondoggles like the money-losing pheasant-breeding program.

New York’s Bureau of Wildlife and the Twin Rivers Boy Scout Council did not return repeated calls for comment.

Schomberg pointed out that the Boy Scouts’ second law is “be kind,” and the Scout Handbook says a scout should not “harm or kill anything without reason.”

“Scout leaders,” she said, “should encourage kindness towards the defenseless and scrap the program.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Dialogue Disbanded
Albany’s Community Police Council has been suspended, fueling residents’ suspicions

Earlier this month, the Albany Police Department reassigned to administrative duty a community- oriented police officer who’d built strong ties with residents of some of the city’s worst neighborhoods [“They Got Him Off the Streets,” Oct. 16]. Ever since, city residents have assailed the department, questioning its commitment to these neighborhoods and to its community-oriented policing programs [“Cop Out?” Oct. 23].

“We don’t feel that we are abandoning our community policing initiative by any means or abandoning the community,” Albany Police Chief Robert Wolfgang told Metroland on Oct. 23. A week earlier Detective James Miller told Metroland that the department wasn’t looking to eliminate or neglect any of its community-policing programs.

Meanwhile, Albany’s Community Police Council—made up of police officials and representatives from neighborhood associations and business groups—was to hold its regularly scheduled monthly meeting. However, the 6-year-old council never met in October. Nor did it meet in September. In fact, the CPC has been suspended indefinitely, Wolfgang said.

This has fueled residents’ concerns about the department’s commitment to community policing. “I just don’t understand it,” said Helen Black, an Arbor Hill resident and CPC member. “I’m puzzled as to why the police department would want to stop the flow of good information.”

Conceived by the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations in December 1994, the CPC was formally recognized by city in 1996. The council provided a way for citizens to be better informed of the police’s role in their neighborhoods, and for police to receive direct feedback from the neighborhoods they policed.

“At the time that I was involved, I found it a very worthwhile endeavor,” said Maria Parisella, who was involved in the CPC since its inception, as a member of the Mansion Hill Neighborhood Association. “It helped us to understand how all this really worked. It was a great forum for introducing questions and concerns from all involved. Everybody walked away with good information.”

Parisella was forced to leave the council at the end of last year due to family responsibilities, but she still praises the link between the department and the neighborhood residents provided by the council.

“The police department certainly needs an ongoing ear as to whether this community policing is working . . . and the citizens certainly need to understand their role, because it’s not a passive role,” Parisella said. “I know it sounds kind of Polyanna-ish, but we’re all in this together.”

But waning attendance and a lack of focus of late led to the council’s indefinite suspension, Wolfgang said. Reviewing minutes from recent council meetings, Wolfgang said the group was spending a lot of time discussing ideas that either never came to fruition or that had other avenues where they could’ve been addressed.

“I’m not saying that they haven’t been doing anything—they do have some accomplishments under their belts—but we’re looking into whether or not it’s as effective as we’d hoped,” Wolfgang said.

Joe Cunin, who sat on the council as director of the Lark Street BID, agreed.

“I think it may have been a little ill-defined in terms of its goals and responsibilities,” Cunin said. “We had a mission to participate somehow with the Albany Police Department’s community policing program on a citywide basis, and . . . I don’t think we a had a concrete way for doing that.”

Cunin said that council meetings were often filled with residents’ concerns specific to individual neighborhoods, and the discussions didn’t always address police issues common to Albany. He questioned whether the council was the proper avenue to address these concerns.

“It seemed like you could try to call the police and track some of these complaints down that way,” Cunin said.

But Black contends that building from specific neighborhood complaints, through bodies like the CPC, is a good way for the department to focus its community-policing initiatives.

One concrete proposal Black thought the council should undertake was the creation of a police outreach station in abandoned apartments on Swan Street. The station could serve as a drop-in center where neighborhood youth could play games or receive help with their homework. It would be staffed by a police officer, providing an environment for the police to build relationships with neighborhood residents.

“When you know people by face and by name, you are going to build trusting relationships with them, you are going to share information with them,” Black said.

Black said she had the council’s support for the idea and was hoping for its implementation as the group reconvened this fall.

Wolfgang wouldn’t say when the council might begin again. “This is not something that has gone unaddressed,” Wolfgang said. “We’ll be moving on this soon.”

—Travis Durfee

Trailmix: Tilting at Democrats

Mark Mitchell has gone through a lot of M&Ms.

Mitchell, a Republican from Latham, hopes the way to Albany County voters’ hearts goes through the sweet tooth: The candidate hands out bags of the bite-sized candies, with which he shares initials, during his door-to-door campaigning as he attempts to unseat two-time incumbent Albany County Executive Michael Breslin. Sure, it’s a gimmick, but he needs something.

Election year 2003 in Albany County has been dominated by a vote that appears not to be happening: A lawsuit-rich redistricting fiasco appears to have suspended elections for 39 legislative seats until next year. Although voters will still choose the county’s executive, comptroller, family court judge and three coroners on Nov. 4, these races have taken a backseat. Way back. Nosebleed seats, really. Which is especially troubling, Mitchell said, considering that his opponent has proposed a 41.5-percent increase in the county’s tax levy over the past two years. Mitchell can’t figure out why voters aren’t clamoring for front-row seats in the debate over how to better run the county’s operations.

“There is a real lack of accountability in this county,” Mitchell said. “Someone has got to sweep the cobwebs out of the corners of the Democratic machine that has remained in power in Albany County for too long.”

Mitchell has plenty of ideas about how the county could better run its operations—from purchasing and refurbishing the now-vacant Eden Park Nursing Home rather than building a new county-run nursing home in Heritage Park as proposed, to making better use of technology within the county’s day-to-day operations. In fact, it’s Mitchell’s job to think this way.

As the director for internal audit at the New York state Department of State, Mitchell is a bureaucratic exterminator. It’s his job to make sure operations run effectively, on time and on budget. Although his function as the kill switch for departmental waste and mismanagement may seem to make Mitchell an ideal candidate for county executive, Tom Clingan, Albany County clerk and Breslin’s de-facto campaign spokesman, said his criticisms of the county’s operations are way off base.

Breslin has been forced to raise taxes the past two years, Clingan said, due to ballooning Medicaid costs. Clingan also noted that Breslin’s proposed tax increases have been the first of his tenure as county executive. “The only thing I can say is Mr. Mitchell is apparently not familiar with all the tax cuts Mr. Breslin has put in before we got hit with this latest crisis,” Clingan said.

Breslin’s record on taxes aside, Mitchell readily admits that his is an uphill battle: the Republican candidate is running for elective office in a county where his party is outnumbered by Democrats 90,235 to 46,471—almost 2-to-1. But Mitchell also notes that the county has 40,746 unregistered voters, and 11,625 registered in minor parties—plenty of votes to overcome the Democrats long-standing enrollment majority.

“It’s not as formidable as one might think,” Mitchell said. “The biggest disservice to voters in this county is to perpetuate this myth that the Democrats control this county.”

Mitchell has a stockpile of M&Ms and less than a week to dispel the myth.

—Travis Durfee

The hopeful candidate: Republican Mark Mitchell.
Photo: John Whipple

Vote For Me! I Agree With Him

As Troy voters head to the polls on Election Day to choose a new mayor, they’d be hard-pressed to find two candidates with more in common.

Both Republican Harry Tutunjian and Democrat Frank LaPosta are hoping to jump from Troy’s City Council to the mayor’s office. Each has held at-large positions within the council, has been politically aligned with the council’s Republican majority (LaPosta, a registered Democrat, accepted a Republican cross- endorsement during his reelection in 2001) and has been fond of beating up on exiting Mayor Mark Pattison, a Democrat. For the past two of his four years on the city council, Tutunjian served as president, a position he won over LaPosta, a council member for the past eight years.

But the onetime allies are now laying into each other. LaPosta accuses his opponent of being inexperienced and basing too many of his decisions on party affiliation. “I’m representing the people, not the party. That’s the difference between Harry and myself,” LaPosta said.

Tutunjian, on the other hand, paints his opponent as a political opportunist. “The fact is that I’ve never changed my political philosophy,” he said. Tutunjian says he may have spent less time in city politics, but that doesn’t make him a lesser candidate. “My partner may have more political experience than myself, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing,” he said.

But according to Jeff Buell, who’s covered city politics in Troy for almost three years with The Record, the candidates’ clamor should be chalked up to nothing more than preelection rhetoric.

“Don’t forget that they’ve been [politically] together over the last eight years, voting together on 98 percent of the legislation out there,” Buell said. “They are so ideologically similar, that there’s really not much to differentiate between them.”

The candidate’s platforms do little to dispel the belief that one of these guys must be a clone: Both hope to increase revenue by selling the city’s water, and list improving the quality of the city’s municipal services as a number-one priority. Choices? Well, upon closer inspection differences are revealed, even if they are slight.

Tutunjian plans to answer perennial complaints from city residents about municipal services, like snow and garbage removal, by adding three new full-time employees to Troy’s Department of Public Works. LaPosta dismisses the idea of hiring new staff, saying it will only raise the city’s taxes. Instead he is offering a five-point plan that includes more options for residents to dispose of their trash themselves, and stricter enforcement of civil code—an idea he shares with Tutunjian.

In his proposal to capitalize on Troy’s abundance of water, Tutunjian believes the city should divert some of its excess to booming, thirsty Saratoga County. Tutunjian says the city won’t have to invest in any new infrastructure for his plan, pointing to an existing pipeline that connects to the Town of Waterford.

LaPosta says Tutunjian’s idea is nothing new: The city already engages in municipal water sales with surrounding communities. LaPosta thinks the city should bottle its water for sale commercially, under the name Naturally Troy. “This is a $7.1-billion-a-year industry here in the U.S. and we should get in on that action,” he said.

Both business owners (Tutunjian runs Naz’s Body Shop in Brunswick, and his opponent co-operates a grocery store in Speigeltown), the candidates have expressed the desire to make the city more business-friendly. Tutunjian’s specific proposal is to continue efforts currently being made in this vein, like the city’s matching-fund contribution to downtown businesses making storefront improvements. LaPosta probably agrees.

Another thing both candidates can agree on is that they are inheriting a city in much better shape than the one Pattison took over. Troy was in such a fiscal mess when Pattison took office eight years ago that the city council was considering selling City Hall. After a series of tax increases and loans from Sen. Majority Leader (Uncle) Joe Bruno (R-Brunswick), the books have run in the black for the past few years.

Pattison’s only reason for not continuing the work he’s accomplished in the Collar City thus far is term-limit legislation adopted last year that is forcing him out of office. He will be able to run again in four years.

—Travis Durfee

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