NISKAYUNA — The Niskayuna Town Board is scheduled to vote Thursday on a special use permit sought by proponents of the Holocaust Memorial proposed for Troy-Schenectady Road.
Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial LLC, led by Latham orthodontist Dr. Michael Lozman, hopes to build a memorial on a two-acre plot of land adjacent to Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery.
Because the space is zoned for residential use, the Town Board must grant a special use permit before the project can move forward. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.
Lozman first proposed construction of the memorial on land donated by Albany’s Roman Catholic Diocese in November 2017. In March 2018, the project was approved by the town’s Planning Board.
The memorial became controversial, with many people speaking for and against it during a public hearing that packed the Niskayuna Town Board’s meeting room in April 2018. While some supported the project, some criticized the design and others complained about the location.
The Town Board scheduled a vote on the special use permit four times in 2018 and postponed the vote each time, at the applicant’s request.
Lozman and his group unveiled a redesigned version of the memorial in early May. Two public forums were held to show people the new concept, on May 15 and May 22. Most spoke in favor of the revised memorial.
During both forums, speakers were asked to observe a three-minute time limit. Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed said a time limit will not be enforced during Thursday’s “privilege of the floor” session, which is generally used by town residents to address specific concerns.
Board members have informally discussed a time limit for speakers at Town Board meetings and, at the June 11 board Finance Committee meeting, briefly discussed an electronic timer. The time limit discussion will continue at the Finance Committee meeting on July 9.
“The intention of the time limit is to allow for every individual who wishes to speak to have the opportunity to do so while also ensuring that the board can deliberate on town business within an adequate time frame,” Syed said in an email note. “In evaluating other towns’ rules of order, it appears the general rule of thumb is a 5-minute limit. Identifying the right limit to set here, if at all, is still in the discussion phase.”
Syed did not have a “yes” or “no” answer to time limits during meetings.
“At this point in time, I really feel like we need to just have more discussion so, neither for nor against,” she said. “I do think three minutes may be limiting speech a little too much. I think maybe something more along the line of five minutes I think is more fair. I think that should allow ample opportunity for anyone to get their point or multiple points across in that amount of time.”
Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw said she has told town counsel and her colleagues she is opposed to a time limit.
“I also made sure everyone understood this proposal required a vote of the Town Board and could not be done unilaterally by the supervisor,” McGraw said. “I’ve served on this board for 10 years. While I don’t always agree with everything that is said during privilege of the floor, I’ve never given a moment’s thought to curtailing it in any way.”
McGraw said she did suggest a time limit for the Holocaust Memorial public forums, “to ensure there was enough time for everyone to be heard in a timely fashion.”
McGraw also said she has learned from Lorene Zabin, a former deputy supervisor who is a regular visitor to the board podium. “I think everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from her opinions and suggestions,” McGraw said.
Councilwoman Lisa Weber is also against the limit.
“I am opposed to a time limit on free speech at public meetings,” Weber said. “I find it especially distasteful to use taxpayer dollars to buy an expensive timer to limit the remarks of taxpayers. There is an old saying — God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason — because it is so important to listen. That is especially true for those of us in elected positions.”
Weber also said, “I think we can find other, more creative ways to make sure everyone who wants to participate in privilege of the floor can do so in a timely manner, without cutting off anyone’s remarks.”
Councilman Bill McPartlon also does not think a limit is needed.
“I think if people are respectful of their time, it’s not necessary,” he said. “If they can respect the privilege of the floor and try to keep their comments to a reasonable length, it really isn’t necessary.”
Councilman John Della Ratta believes a limit would be helpful.
“I am in favor of a time limit because I really think it not only directs people to prioritize their statements, but it makes them more concise and to the point and therefore more effective, that’s really the main reason,” Della Ratta said. “There’s only a handful of people, but some people just kind of abuse it and go on and on. It gets to be counter-productive, it really kind of drags down the meetings.”
Hearing on turf management
A public hearing on the town of Niskayuna’s “Turf Management Procedures and Practices Policy (Plan)” will be held during Thursday’s 7 p.m. meeting of the Town Board.
The plan, a collaborative effort of the Public Works and Highway & Public Facilities Committees, is designed to guide the maintenance of turf areas under care of the Town.
The plan strives to balance the duality of providing residents with parks and recreational spaces while providing responsible management of park space to ensure minimal impacts to the environment.
The town maintains turf areas that have different levels of use and purpose ranging from driving ranges, club sports, open parkland and bank areas. Because of their variability in uses not all areas require the same management practices and procedures.
Within the plan, proper maintenance is dictated for each turf area under the responsibility of the town.
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]