Clifton Park

Editorial: Why voters should reject Shen land sale

There’s simply no reason to rush
A sign near the Shenendehowa campus on Route 146 promotes the special land vote on April 4, 2017.
A sign near the Shenendehowa campus on Route 146 promotes the special land vote on April 4, 2017.

Deciding how to vote in Tuesday’s Shenendehowa land referendum is a little like being a contestant on the old “Let’s Make a Deal” show.

In exchange for that paper clip in your purse, Monty Hall offers you a choice between a handful of cash and whatever is hidden behind Door Number 1.

Do you take the guaranteed cash and walk away, or do you turn it down in anticipation of receiving a much more valuable prize?

On the surface, the smart decision is to take the cash. But who knows what you’d be giving up?

After the crowds have stopped shouting, the best option for voters in the school district — for now — is to turn down the cash and take whatever’s behind Door Number 1.

Voters should vote no on the proposition for the very reason Monty doesn’t show the contestant what’s behind that door. You don’t know how good you can have it.

For now, there’s simply no reason to rush into a sale. So why not take a chance and see what good can come of it?

Proponents of a yes vote, which would allow the district to accept BBL development’s offer of $2 million for the land, have a strong case, for sure.

They say the district can use the money from the sale and the accompanying increase in taxes to offset homeowners’ school taxes and pay for future classroom expansion. They say a pledge by BBL to donate about 20 acres of the parcel for recreational development — the equivalent of about 15 football fields — could lead to the creation of a pretty nice park area for the town that opponents of the sale desire. And they say town residents could benefit from whatever business, including a possible new ShopRite supermarket, that locates on the developed portion of the site.

If you stop reading now, you’ll probably vote yes.

But hang on a bit.

First off, there’s no discounting the value that green space and parks add to the quality of life in a community.

People like to get out in nature to hike or walk their dogs or jog or cross-country ski or just sit on a bench and watch the birds. And not everyone wants to drive to the Adirondacks to do it. Having a passive recreational area close by, be it a series of trails through the woods or a combination of woods and open grassy areas with a pond, improves the quality of life in a community.

But what about the money the district could get from a sale? Many cities, including Albany and Schenectady, have large parks situated on valuable real estate within their boundaries, yet no one’s clamoring for them to pave over Central Park or Washington Park to boost the tax base. How much do you think an acre in Central Park in New York City could sell for? Tens of millions, at least. But a sale is not even on the table.

There are also pitfalls to putting more commercial development in an already congested commercial area, including increased traffic on Moe Road and Route 146. Do people really want the headache of another red light or longer waits in traffic to get around town?

As for supermarkets, you can’t fault people for wanting options, which they could still have if this property isn’t used for a new ShopRite. Clifton Park isn’t totally built out quite yet. If residents want yet another grocery store to complement the two Price Chopper/Market 32 stores, Hannaford, Target and other places that already sell groceries, they can still have one. Is it necessary that another be situated in that particular location?

The problem with making a decision to sell the property now is the uncertainty of what the sale will bring.

Despite some claims to the contrary, there’s no guarantee that a developer will be required to set aside land for a park, or that an entity — the school district or the town or a private organization like the Nature Conservancy — will take authority over it.

In fact, there are no concrete plans (pardon the pun) for doing anything with the land. No one has put forth a real plan for its use, meaning if it’s sold, it just might sit there unused. 

There also have been no traffic or environmental studies on the impact of putting a commercial development on that property. Developing the land could bring unanticipated headaches.

If there’s going to be a deal, then there should be a plan in place for ownership and development of the land as a park. What kind of park do residents want? Is the town of Clifton Park willing to invest in the preparation and upkeep of a new park? Are there open space grants or other money available to help create a park? Could there be a chance for residents supporting the park to raise additional funds to complement whatever the town is willing to put up to purchase the land and maintain it?

The other reason for district residents to vote no is that they still might see a financial benefit from a future sale. This vote would only affect this particular sale. It wouldn’t affect future attempts to sell the property, including to the town.

Unlike with the game show, there’s a good chance taxpayers will still have the opportunity to get the cash, should plans for a park or whatever use of the land not pan out. Clifton Park is still a hot commodity for developers of office complexes or supermarkets.

If in six months or a year or so, no one has come up with a tangible plan for developing the land as a park, put it back on the market. The school district is in no hurry to build another school, and there certainly will be no shortage of commercial interests that will want to develop that land in the future — maybe at an even higher selling price.

A no vote will give all interested parties — the school district, the town, park supporters and other town residents — time to get past the emotions of the vote and put a plan together. If no plan emerges, then there’s nothing to prevent the district from putting the “For Sale” sign back up.

Taking the money seems soooo tempting. But voters would be prudent not to rush into it without considering that there might be something better for them that they don’t yet know about.

Give it time.

Vote no on Tuesday.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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