Schenectady County

Court halts move of Niskayuna’s Stanford Mansion

A state appeals court granted a temporary restraining order Friday that prevents contractors from mo

A state appeals court granted a temporary restraining order Friday that prevents contractors from moving the historic Stanford Mansion from its original foundation while the case is being reviewed.

The order came after Friends of the Stanford Home and the Mohawk-Hudson chapter of the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit to stop work earlier this week.

The case continues many of the arguments that were rejected when state Supreme Court Justice Barry Kramer denied an injunction and dismissed the action, finding the town Planning Board’s decision against requiring further environmental review was proper. Alex Brownstein, an attorney representing Friends of the Stanford Home, said he was able to successfully convince the higher court that the home will be irreparably harmed by the move, that there are enough unresolved questions to review the decision and the developers won’t be damaged by delays caused by further review of the case.

“What’s the harm if they have to wait another couple of weeks?” he said.

Prior to the restraining order being issued late Friday afternoon, Town Planner Kathy Matern said contractors were still working to prepare the home for the move and anticipated the relocation would occur sometime in the next two weeks. Supervisor Joseph Landry did not return a call for comment early Friday evening.

Brownstein said the primary issue with the move remains with the town’s alleged flouting of the state’s Environmental Quality Review Act. In particular, he said the Niskayuna Planning Board wrongly approved a major change to the original site plan review granted to Highbridge Development without conducting the necessary public hearings.

“All we’re saying is don’t do the move and go back to the original plan,” he said.

The Sierra Club chapter joined the fight against the relocation shortly after Kramer’s early September ruling. Chairman Pete Sheehan said the decision prompted concerns that the move of the Stanford Mansion might allow builders to sidestep state laws in place to guide development.

“We feel the principles of SEQRA have not been followed here,” he said.

The plan approved by the Planning Board in July allows the nearly 200-year-old mansion to be moved and rotated, so that it can be included in a larger retail space paralleling State Street. The development envisions nine buildings, including a 19,240-square-foot retail space incorporating the former mansion.

Approvals were originally given in 2007, but a legal challenge and economic issues delayed the project. The site was cleared of most trees in spring 2009 and an 80-year-old addition built for the Ingersoll private nursing home, formerly housed in the building, was torn down in June 2009.

Brownstein said allowing the Stanford Mansion to be moved could set an unhealthy precedent throughout the state. He said developers shouldn’t be allowed to substantially deviate from previously approved plans without going through additional review.

“[The Sierra Club] would like to see this plugged now and set the precedent that you can’t do this,” he said. “You can’t circumvent the law.”

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