Niskayuna Holocaust memorial clears hurdle

Neighbors concerned about appearance, traffic on Route 7
Sheila DiSarro looks out her bedroom window into where a proposed Holocaust memorial would stand in Niskayuna.
Sheila DiSarro looks out her bedroom window into where a proposed Holocaust memorial would stand in Niskayuna.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

NISKAYUNA — Plans for a Holocaust memorial at Holy Redeemer Cemetery on Route 7 were forwarded Monday to the Niskayuna Town Board for a decision.

The town Planning Board unanimously recommended the town allow the controversial memorial, but with conditions that include providing an adequate vegetation screen from residences on Route 7. The board also said the Town Board should make sure the memorial won’t cause a traffic safety problem on busy Route 7, also known as Troy-Schenectady Road.

Before making its recommendation, the Planning Board heard from neighborhood residents and others about the plans. Most speakers, but not all, said they oppose the placement of the memorial.

“I did not move in [to Niskayuna] to be next to a Holocaust concentration camp,” said Marjorie Knickerbocker, who estimated she lives about five minutes away.

“I think it sounds like a great project, but there are things that will have to be mitigated,” said resident Nancy Strang, citing traffic in particular.

Plans for the  2-acre site, which is in the Roman Catholic cemetery, were first submitted to the town in November and have been controversial in large part due to the design, which features a concentration camp-simulating gate, a rail car to represent how Jews and others were transported to German concentration camps during World War II, and a dark wall meant to resemble that of a gas chamber.

Dr. Michael Lozma of Latham, the memorial’s developer, said it is intended as an educational memorial, with the features intended to be symbolic of, rather than replicating, a concentration camp where  millions of Jews and others died.

“Having a Holocaust memorial is important for everyone, not just Jews,” Lozman said after the meeting. “We want it to be a memorial that speaks to everyone.”

During the Planning Board discussion, Lozman’s representatives said they have increased the planned amount of vegetative screening in front of the memorial in response to neighbors’ concerns. They also conducted additional traffic reviews and plan to lower the height of the wall to make it less visible from beyond the property.

But an across-the-street neighbor who has spoken against the plans said Tuesday the changes don’t go far enough.

“The screening looks lovely, and the wall may be lower, but I”m still going to see it from my upstairs,” said Sheila DiSarro. “And the traffic, they don’t seem to care about it. They seem to just want to push it on to the Town Board.”

That section of Route 7 is used by about 27,500 vehicles per day, so an estimated 10 visitors per hour won’t be noticeable, said Lozman’s traffic engineer, Alana Moran. She said sight distances for the planned entrance are adequate, though some Planning Board members appeared to still be concerned about the issue.

Construction of the memorial will require a special permit from the town. Under Niskayuna’s laws, the Planning Board vote is a recommendation to the Town Board, which will make the decision after holding a public hearing.

The Town Board, at its Tuesday meeting, was expected to schedule a public hearing for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10, in Niskayuna Town Hall.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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