CLIFTON PARK — Town Board candidate Kerensa Rybak thinks it’s time to change the status quo in town.
Rybak, 42, who moved to Clifton Park in 2003 with her husband, is running for the board for the first time. Incumbent Republicans James Whalen and Amy Standaert also are running; the top two vote-getters will win.
Rybak was born in Albany, and since she settled in Clifton Park she has raised five children, all of whom attended the Shenendehowa Central School District; started a local photography business; served as the parent teacher association president at two different Shen schools; sat on the board of the Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation; and has run for the Shen school board.
After seeing five children through the school district and playing an active role in various community groups, Rybak said that she has a deep understanding of the residents of Clifton Park, their concerns and their desires. The youngest of her children is beyond elementary school, which has given her more time to pursue other interests, as she has wanted for years.
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“Now that my kids have gotten a little bit older, I realized that I can donate a little more time to doing more things in the community beside the school stuff,” she said.
And her time to run could not have come sooner, she said, citing what she called several “controversial issues” that the town has dealt with over the last few years that some residents take issue with, she said.
One major issue that Rybak, if elected, would focus on is rethinking town development. As large box stores that have shut their doors, including Toys ‘R Us and Kmart, more and more large-scale apartment buildings have been popping up to take their places, a process that, if left unchecked, could totally eliminate Clifton Park’s rural roots, Rybak said.
“A lot of people have expressed dismay at the direction the town is going in,” Rybak said. “A lot of families are unhappy with development. It makes our traffic patterns bad, it taxes our infrastructure.”
It’s crucial to be diligent in thoroughly examining such projects now, Rybak said, before it’s too late.
“Of course I am not against all developing. Obviously as our population grows, we’re going to be growing too. I understand that. My point is that it’s very important for us that we follow all of the zoning laws and are very conscientious of all of the things we approve,” she said.
Other factors Rybak would focus on if elected would be finding a way to create more community-based spaces in town, perhaps implementing such a space into a new 37-acre public park the town is planning, and empowering small businesses to not only move into town, but also thrive.
“A lot of municipalities have had an insurgence of small businesses. One of the problems with Clifton Park is that it’s expensive to start a business here,” she said.
Instead of leaving Clifton Park to hit locally owned restaurants that could be located elsewhere, like Saratoga Springs or Albany, families should be sticking around here for those places, she said, adding that she would work with the local chamber of commerce to develop incentives for small businesses to move into town, she said.
Rybak would also make a regular effort to place herself directly in the community, and be accessible. Rybak said she has plans to host open-door meetings with constituents at least once a month to take stock of both new and old concerns, as opposed to them waiting to speak during a public comment section of a Town Board meeting for just a few minutes.
But the main reason for her run, Rybak said, stems from her concern of the town government becoming too uniform, which does not reflect the diversity of town residents, she said.
“I have gotten to see the amazing things this town is willing to do for its members. We have a pretty close knit community for as many people who live here,” she said. “But the outside isn’t matching the inside.”
If elected, Rybak would be the first Democrat to serve on the board in at least a decade.
“It’s difficult for all the people in town to feel represented if it’s one party. There’s no other party being represented. There has not been a ‘no’ vote from the board in years, and that concerns me,” she said.
Rybak said that thus far, the response to her campaign has been “overwhelmingly positive.” She has canvassed thousands of houses in town.
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If elected, Rybak acknowledged that, as the lone Democrat, the potential for heavy pressure resting on her to have an alternative solution is daunting. But, she said, it is not so daunting that it would keep her from offering her opinions.
“Sometimes it does take one dissenting vote. Sometimes that’s all it takes, is one voice,” she said. “By me doing this the town will recognize that it’s important to have a balanced mix in our government.”
Rybak’s campaign has been endorsed by both the Democratic and the Working Families Parties.