The town of Niskayuna is backing out of the Ingersoll Home court appeal, stepping away from a legal battle begun by the prior town supervisor.
The new supervisor, Democrat Joe Landry, said the impact of development around the historic mansion should be scrutinized closely. That’s a reversal of the Niskayuna Town Board’s decision last year, in which board members said there would be no environmental impact from the project and issued a special-use permit so that Highbridge Development could go ahead with its commercial project.
The developers want to put up to seven new buildings for retail and restaurant space but would save the historic building, which was used as a home for senior citizens. Ingersoll Adult Home is selling the mansion, which originally was the home of the Stanford family, and moving to a new building on Consaul Road.
Preservationists want to keep the undeveloped, 12-acre mansion site as it is. They won a delay last fall when state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Sise said the project should get a full environmental impact review.
But then-Democratic Supervisor Luke Smith announced the town would appeal the decision. The town filed a notice of appeal without a vote from the Town Board. That prompted two of Smith’s fellow Democrats to say they ought to have been allowed to vote on the issue.
On Tuesday, they’ll get their chance. Landry and Town Board member Liz Orzel Kasper have sponsored a resolution that would withdraw the town from the appeal. They have the support of new Town Board member Julia McDonnell, so the resolution appears to have majority support.
The decision will not stop Highbridge Development from pursuing its own appeal, which it also filed last year. But Landry said the resolution would keep town attorneys from participating in next month’s oral arguments for Highbridge’s appeal.
But Town Board member Diane O’Donnell, who supported the Highbridge project, said she thought it was too late to withdraw from the appeal.
She questioned whether Landry and McDonnell were supporting a meaningless resolution “to send a message to a group of people about what they would have done were they on the board at the time.”
She also criticized her colleagues for putting together the resolution without discussing it with her or Town Board member Maria Freund, who also supported the Highbridge project.
“There was no announced meeting. We definitely didn’t discuss it as a full board,” O’Donnell said. “I would’ve liked to discuss it.”
The Open Meetings Law requires boards to announce their meetings to the public in advance if a majority of the board is gathering to discuss public business.
Resolutions are typically discussed at the board’s agenda meeting a week before the voting session, but this resolution was not proposed at that time, she said.
O’Donnell added that she still wants the Highbridge Development project to go ahead.
“I feel that I made an informed decision and I would stand by that,” she said.
Kasper, who voted against the project’s special-use permit, said she was “delighted” by the resolution.
“From the outset, I have felt very strongly a complete environmental impact study should have been done,” she said in a press release issued late Friday. “You can never go back after this historic site is replaced by asphalt and concrete.”
McDonnell, also quoted in the press release, said town residents want a full review.
“It is our job, as elected officials, to listen to the residents and address their concerns. I hope that our action to withdraw the town as a party to this appeal will provide an opportunity for more community input and a thorough review of every aspect of this project, including preservation of the historic Stanford Home,” she said.
Landry said the Town Board clearly made the wrong decision when it allowed the project to move forward without a full review.
“I believe that the Stanford Crossings Project will have a significant impact upon this community and its residents, and it should have received appropriate review and public input at all stages of the development process,” he said, “especially since the Planning Board recommended a full environmental impact study.”
Landry, Kasper and McDonnell promised in their election campaigns to support a full review of the project.
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