Building owner opposes RPI’s plans
By KENNETH C. CROWE II Staff writer
Published 12:00 a.m., Friday, September 9, 2011
TROY — The demolition equipment is parked and the fence down on the west side of 811 Federal St.
Kirt King, who owns 807 and 809 Federal St. the two adjoining sister buildings to 811 Federal St., wants to stop Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from going ahead with knocking down the building.
But King admits three lawyers have advised him that RPI has the right to knock down 811 Federal St. even though it dates back to the mid-19th century. And, the $5,000 to $10,000 legal bill he would face going to court is a big obstacle.
“All I can hope is public pressure will stop them or they sell to me,” King said.
The university has owned the building since December 2010, said Mark Marchand, a RPI spokesman. The structure was in horrible shape when RPI took title, he said.
RPI secured an emergency demolition permit Aug. 5 from the city last month and has begun the work to remove the building, which is on one of the approaches to the campus. It’s the most westerly of the five buildings that stand on that block of Federal Street.
“When we purchased the property on Dec. 23, 2010, the building was vacant and in an advanced stage of deterioration with several structural deficiencies,” Claude Rounds, RPI’s vice president of administration said.
“In addition, the building contained asbestos and it was filled with debris, garbage, and rubble, providing a breeding ground for rats,” Rounds said. “Upon purchasing the building from a private owner, it was clear that the condition of the building made demolition the only feasible option for compliance with city codes.”
RPI is working with its contractor and the city to proceed with the removal of the building.
Two Democratic candidates for City Council, Russell Ziemba in the Third District, and Rodney Wiltshire, running at-large, called on RPI to stop the demolition. They stood outside the buildings with King and his wife, LeAnne.
Ziemba said every effort should be made to restore the building, which appears to be in good shape.
The Kings were upset that RPI secured an emergency demolition permit from the city. They are also worried that 809 Federal St. could be damaged due to sharing a wall with 811 Federal St.
King said the university should have appeared before the city Planning Board to obtain a demolition permit. He said this would have given him a chance to speak out on the issue.
Protestors urge RPI to rehabilitate building at 811 Federal Street
Published: Wednesday, September 07, 2011
By Katie Nowak Roberts
TROY — Political candidates and community activists gathered for a protest at 811 Federal St. Tuesday afternoon in a last-ditch effort to prevent the already in progress demolition of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute-owned building.
Russell Ziemba, a Democratic candidate for Troy City Council in District 3, said the emergency demolition, ordered by the city after determining the building to be unstable, was an example of an abuse of power on RPI’s part and a way for the school to bypass the typical demolition process, which requires an appearance before the planning board and public comment. Ziemba said the “attractive, historic building … should be rehabilitated” rather than destroyed, and worried that its demolition might pose a problem for the adjoining building at 809 Federal St.
That building’s owner, Kirt King, shared those concerns. Also the owner of 807 Federal St., King said the three connected properties are what’s known as “sister houses,” or identically-built structures, and share common walls. So far, the school has been vague about how it plans to demolish 811 while leaving 809 intact, King said, and he worried that RPI would offer little in the way of a sound proposal for preserving his property.
“I really have no confidence that RPI will be a good neighbor,” he said. “…We don’t want the house to go down, but if it does go down, we have got a lot of serious concerns on how we protect our property.”
Democratic at-large City Council candidate Rodney Wiltshire said tearing down 811 was “a clear example of demolition by neglect,” adding that he believed the school had no intention of using the building when it was purchased.
The school owns two vacant lots next to 811, as well as two other buildings next to King’s, and Wiltshire said the college has not done its part to upkeep any of those properties. Vegetation has run wild in the empty lots and has also crept up the outside of 811, Wiltshire said, perhaps contributing to the very damage that RPI claimed to have irreparably harmed the house.
King, who had considered legal action against the college to prevent the demolition pending a public review and detailed plan, said he also offered to buy the building from the college so he could rehab it like he did with 807 and 809. He has yet to receive a response, he said.
An RPI spokesman said the college had no comment on Tuesday’s protest outside of its previously released statement from RPI Vice President for Administration Claude Rounds, who said the property was filled with garbage, debris and vermin when it came into the school’s possession.
“Upon purchasing the building from a private owner, it was clear that the condition of the building made demolition the only feasible option for compliance with city codes,” Rounds said.
Katie Nowak Roberts can be reached at 270-1287, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @knowak_record.
South Troy voters turn out for city council candidates’ forum
Published: Wednesday, August 10, 2011
By Cecelia Martinez
TROY — The South Troy Neighborhood Watch Association hosted its first ever Political Candidates Forum Tuesday for city-wide and district candidates for City Council. Held at the Troy Area United Ministries and representing residents from the Osgood, Burden Ironworks, South Central, Little Italy and Stowe Farm neighborhoods, the event hosted all 10 candidates running At-Large and in Districts 5 and 6.
Participating were the six At-Large candidates – Democrats Lynn Kopka, Nina Nichols and Rodney Wiltshire and Republicans Jim Gordon, Billie Jean Greene and Tom Killips – and Ken Zalewski (Dem) and Seamus Donnelly (Rep) running in District 5 and Gary Galuski (Dem) and Dan Mahoney (Rep) in District 6.
Moderator Pleasant DeSpain, who organized the event along with Sid Fleisher and the neighborhood groups, said the idea came after a candidate asked to speak to the group. “We decided to go with At-Large and Districts 5 and 6 because they have the most direct impact on South Troy,” said DeSpain. “It was definitely a success.”
While many topics specific to South Troy were addressed during the forum, candidates also took the opportunity to discuss city-wide concerns, with absentee landlords, the need to develop Troy’s waterfront and the importance of partnering with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute were common themes throughout the night.
Missing was the political infighting often found at other public meetings. Both incumbents and candidates new to the political arena addressed the issue of the perceived lack of communication between the current City Council and the city administration, stressing a need to improve relationships and putting politics aside.
Each candidate was given three minutes to introduce themselves and discuss his or her vision for Troy.
- Jim Gordon, Republican, At-Large: Grew up in South Troy, purchased a home in Lansingburgh five years ago. Founded North Lansingburgh Neighborhood Watch. “That’s when I really began to take stock in what the community had to offer and what Troy had to offer as a municipality. Rather than just be the person that just sits there saying ‘what if?’, we decided to become part of the solution.”
- Lynn Kopka, Democrat, At-Large: President of Washington Park Association, working on a variety of programs including the reuse of St. Mary’s Church, the feral and abandoned cat program and is a small business owner. “I am someone who gets things done. I’m someone who believes that everyone can make a difference and that we should strongly support collaborative partnerships between stakeholders in the community.”
- Billie Jean Greene, Republican, At-Large: Bought a home in North Central in 2009, helped co-found the Uptown Initative. “This campaing is more about you and all the people I’ve met and how I can be a vehicle of success for all of you. I’ve been very active within the last year going to City Council and Finance meetings. I know what the needs are, I know how the comittees work and I hope to work with all of you in the future.”
- Nina Nichols, Democrat, At-Large: Came to Troy five years ago as pastor of Christ Church United Methodist. Has served on TAUM Board, Joseph’s House ‘In From the Cold’ program, Downtown Clergy Association and Human Rights Committee. “This is a time where its an advantage to be new on the Troy scene in politics, as I’m not invested in any of the old grudges. Part of what I do as a clergy person is take a group of people that have very different thoughts and feelings and bring them together on a common vision.”
- Tom Killips, Republican, At-Large: Covered the city for 31 years as a news photographer for The Record. Now works as a photographer, boat captain and commercial driver. “I’ve wanted to give back to this community that I’ve fallen in love with. One thing you should expect from a candidate is that they can be a positive ambassodor for this city. We need to exploit the good things we have, improve our relationship with RPI and not-for profits. We need to use our waterfront docks and look into historical tourism.”
- Rodney Wiltshire, Democrat, At-Large: From South Troy, bought a home in 2004 after graduating from Cornell and now owns a renewable energy business. “My commitment to the City of Troy and my background are real. I understand what it means to be from the city, to love this city and to be very proud of this city. This is something we need to uphold, lift up and continue to promote so we can have a great Troy year after year. We need to work to feel powerful and create green jobs.”
- Seamus Donnelly, Republican, District 5: Born and raised in Troy, graduated from Troy High School and works at Cooley Motors. “I want to see the city move forward. One of the things you don’t want to see is infighting and bickering from your politicians. I want to stand up and do what’s right for you people, and I think Troy deserves it. Part of my vision for the city is to get more of these businesses in here. We need to take more pride in our parks and develop our waterfront.”
- Ken Zalewski, Democrat, District 5: Incumbent. A graduate of RPI, hockey coach and homeowner, passed Landlord Registry legislation. “It’s a little odd to be introducing because I essentially have a personal relationship with everybody in this room right now. I have a passion for the people here in this city. We’ve come a long way and we still have a long way to go. District 5 has a diverse set of neighborhoods that require a lot of effort in representation.”
- Dan Mahoney, Republican, District 6: Works with Rensselaer County probation, teen mentor for Drug Education for Youth, works with Project Impact. Owns two properties on Stow Avenue. “My vision for this city is to keep taxes low, to get out and have contact with neighbors and different groups and let them know about the great programs going on in this city. I think its important for neighbors to be informed. I ran because I love Troy.”
- Gary Galuski, Democrat, District 6: Incumbent. “We have worked together with our code department on vacant properties and dealing with absentee landlords that have plagued our community. We have worked with DPU, DPW, and engineering on paving, plowing and infrastructure issues. My vision for Troy is very simple. It is a vision that each and every one us be proud to call Troy home and continue to be active and engaged in our community. Let’s work together.”
Then, each candidate was given the same two questions to answer, followed by a session where candidates could volunteer to answer questions submitted by the audience.
We as citizens do want to see more cooperation within City Council and between Council and mayor’s office. How will you, as a council member, help to create a cooperative and positive atmosphere?
- Kopka: Essentially by doing what I’ve been doing all along, and building those partnerships. I know that we cannot do anything unless we work on the same page to get things done. We have to have everyone working together.
- Greene: With the community work I’ve been doing over the past year and a half, you don’t look at people as their party. We should be looking at each other as individuals, and hopefully that’s infectious.
- Nichols: I have a proven record of already working across party lines. It starts out with the way we treat one another. We don’t always agree on positions, but by treating others with respect, that gets the ball rolling and we all benefit from Troy moving forward.
- Killips: To work together the first thing you have to be willing to do is listen. Healthy debate is not a bad thing, as long as both side are bringing things to the table. I think that’s not been happening the past few years.
- Wiltshire: There are three simple things we can do: Try to have a little trust that each of us running for office are doing it for the benefit of the city. When it comes to listening, try to hear the other idea, but have data to back up your position. Don’t inflict or tell your opinion, but have dialogue with the other side.
- Donnelly: Healthy debate is crucial, but back and forth is counterproductive. I believe come November we will have a mayor and a Council that will be willing to work together. I’m not that kind of person, I’m not divisive, at all.
- Zalewski: I’m going to answer this question on my own record. Political parties don’t mean anything on a local level. With mini-dorms legislation, the first pass had a small mistake in it, so the Mayor vetoed it. I said, ‘the Mayor is right, we’re going to fix it,’ and we sat down and got it done.
- Mahoney: I don’t think people are elected on the local level based on whether they’re Republican or Democratic, or at least they shouldn’t be. I can tell you that, when I decided to run, I didon’t know Jeff Pirro from Robert DeNiro. I didn’t know the players. I’m not infected by what has been going on. I think the Council should sit down with the mayor before each meeting and have a good strong debate and get things done for once.
- Galuski: There are egos on the Council and in the administration, we all know it. You don’t hear about the positive stuff – 98 percent of legislation is passed month in and month out. We have to work together, and that goes not only for us as neighbors, but at the level of the Council and administration.
What is your number one issue of concern facing the city?
- Galuski: Absentee landlords.
- Mahoney: I think absentee landlords are the biggest problem in District 6.
- Zalewski: Negligent absentee landlords most certainly are [bad for the city].
- Donnelly: One of the other biggest issues is the close to 8-mile long waterfront that needs to get developed.
- Wiltshire: The economy. I want to do something about bringing back Troy’s economy, and make it easier for potential business owners.
- Killips: I think what has to happen is we have to change the perception of Troy outside the city.
- Nichols: One of the most important thing is to pass the budget, and we’re going to have to look at the most creative and effective ways to keep taxes low.
- Greene: I would say most improtant issue is public safety. All the other things don’t really fall into place without public safety.
- Kopka: Jobs and a living wage are extremely important. if we’re not developing sustainable jobs and keying in on those emerging technologies coming out of our incubators, we’re not going to get anywhere.
How will you attract outside investment and job growth in our city?
- Wiltshire: The seven-miles of waterfront is a natural resource we could be and should be exploiting. The entire capital district is part of an emerging trend in green jobs. Troy should be gaining on some of that benefit.
- Zalewski: I have also been a big proponent of green jobs and energy. Create a Director of Marketing, full-time position to market city of Troy to outside the city. That will grow jobs.
- Killips: We have the waterfront and we have the buildings. We need to take the developers in the area and have a roundtable discussion, and determine, ‘what can the city do to help you fill these buildings up?’ We have to market and promote our city better.
- Mahoney: At some point businesses became hip that buildings are cheap but we have a lot of vacant buildings. We have to think outside the box and continue to promote the city with good marketing strategies.
What are some solutions you can offer to increase owner occupancy?
- Donnelly: We don’t want to push people away that are potentially going to invest in the city. The landlord registry is a start, but it needs to have a little more teeth to it. There needs to be better communication from all levels. Police see it as one issue, neighborhoods another, landlords another – everyone needs to come to table and see a solution.
- Kopka: We need to educate realtors of what we have here. That’s what we did with Prudential, we said ‘here’s your block and neighborhood leader’ to get them connected so they immediately know there’s a community there. It’s been effective for us. You’re not just buying a house, but a neighborhood.
- Nichols: I don’t think people know that all this stuff is here. I also think we’re going to have to deal with our schools. We could have a better engagment with them.
- Killips: What are people looking for? They’re looking for a safe place to live, reasonable taxes, affordable homes and the quality of schools. I can tell you Lansingburgh and Troy [schools] have a lot offer, but they’re not well-perceived outside of Troy. The city cannot directly involve themselves with that, but someone in the adminstration could meet regularly with schools to determine what you can use to promote Troy.
- Zalewski: It definitely has to do with marketing the city, not just to businesses but to prospective homebuyers. We also have to make use of all available federal funds that come to this city. We cannot turn away funding. and we have to make sure the city is making use of that.
- Wiltshire: The ideas about marketing and incentives, that’s like the carrot. We also need a stick. We need something to discourage negligent absentee landlordism. Troy should not be someone’s dumping ground from California that looks at it as an easy buck to make.
- Galuski: For me, it’s about taxes. There are ongoing increases in property and school taxes. We need to promote and market, and we have to make people want to come to Troy.
How would you better utilize the waterfront?
- Mahoney: There are areas in South Troy zoned for industrial use. There is a $35 million cleanup that has to be approved by National Grid, and a Canadian and American firm want to come in and develop renewable energy. I wouldn’t be opposed to any of those companies coming as long as they’re green.
- Galuski: It’s going to be three to four years before anything down there [in the Troy Energy Park] is even on the table. South Troy is the dumping area for the city. We need to put our heads together and find out how to develop that property.
- Zalewski: Move the salt pile. There are certain areas we cannot develop into something beter, we undestand that. Still doing research on Troy Energy Park. City Engineer is a proponent, not sure about the project.
- Wiltshire: We need to leverage our waterfront to bring in foot traffic. I also agree about bringing in boaters to Troy.
- Nichols: People of Lansingburgh has said the waterfront is not just going from downtown to south, but downtown to north as well. We need to have a BID equivalent for what’s going on up there.
Finally, the forum was opened to allow members of the public to address candidates directly.
Some of the candidate’s responses included:
- Zalewski: We need comprehensive city-wide rezoning
- Killips: We need to reach out to other cities that have similar relationships with their colleges – New Haven, Ithica, etc. RPI wants to be thought of in the same sentence as Cornell, Yale, etc., and we can talk about what they’re doing in their communities. You need to step up and do the same things for Troy.
- Green: The students that come out of RPI, we want them to stay here. There is also a lot of intellectual capital with RPI that we have to take advantage of. Animosity has to stop.
DeSpain said that, because of the success of the forum, the association will likely hold similar events in future election seasons. There are no plans for them to host another event in South Troy this year.
Cecelia Martinez can be contacted at 270-1294 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Working Families Party endorses candidates for Rensselaer County races
By Cecelia Martinez
TROY — The Working Families Party officially announced its slate of candidates for Rensselaer County at a press conference Wednesday in Little Italy. The WFP also took the opportunity to reinforce the party’s focus on bringing green jobs to Rensselaer County and continuing its mission of historic preservation.
“I am enthusiastic about our slate of candidates for the 2011 cycle,” said WFP Chairman Jim Welch. “Among our endorsed candidates are people with a great deal of expertise in the field of green energy retrofits and historic preservation. I am proud to introduce such a progressive slate of political newcomers and to support them along with those who have been champions for WFP values for many years.”
Fitting with the party’s dedication to historic preservation, the announcement took place in front of a current reconstruction of a historic building at 253 Fourth St. in Little Italy. The home is owned by Andrea Daley, a WFP registrant, and Brant Caird of the WFP said the project falls in line with the party’s goals to implement the recently-enacted Green Jobs Green New York initiative.
The legislation is a job creation bill passed in 2009 and completed last week with the passage of the on-bill financing, the second step in implementing the initiative. According to the WFP, the bill is posed to create 14,000 sustainable jobs while reducing energy costs for homeowners.
The WFP previously announced its support of Clement Campana for mayor. And for City Council the party is backing Nina Nichols, Lynn Kopka and Rodney Wiltshire for the At Large seats.
The district endorsements are going to Kevin McGrath in District 1, Doris Day in District 2, Russell Ziamba in District 3, Michael LoPorto in District 4, Ken Zalewski in District 5 and nobody in District 6.
For district attorney the party is backing Rich McNally and endorsed Gary Gordon for sheriff.
It also endorsed: in East Greenbush, Rick McCabe for town supervisor, Phil Malone and Sue Mangold for Town Council and Tony Murphy for receiver of taxes. In Hoosick the WFP is backing Robert Ryan for Town Council. In North Greenbush, Mark Premo for the nod for superintendent of highways and Kimberly Margosian for Town Council. In Poestenkill, Michael Stufflebean was endorsed for superintendent of highways and in Sand Lake Barbara Biittig is endorsed for town clerk.