EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story featured a rendering from an earlier design for the Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial, a design that is now obsolete and is no longer being considered. The old rendering has been removed and replaced with an up-to-date rendering of the project. We apologize for this error.
Principals in the Capital District Jewish Holocaust Memorial group — who already have secured a special use permit to build a memorial off Troy Schenectady Road — have presented minor site plan changes to the Niskayuna Planning Board.
Officials, who appeared before the board last week, are seeking final site plan approval from town planners.
The Holocaust remembrance has been in the news since November 2017. Dr. Michael Lozman — a Latham orthodontist — first proposed construction of the memorial on two acres of land adjacent to Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery, land donated by Albany’s Roman Catholic Diocese. In March 2018, the project received preliminary site plan approval from the 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.
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. Because the space is zoned for residential use, the special use permit was required before the project could move forward.
Lozman and his group later met with members of the Jewish community and, in several meetings, revised and redesigned the project.
The new memorial design, unveiled in early May 2019, includes a large Star of David-type structure that, after construction, will be about the size of a traffic rotary. Holocaust subjects such as “Names,” “Numbers,” “Final Solution” and “Never Again” are parts of the star. Six large, slanted stone towers rise from the center of the Star of David.
Niskayuna held two informational forums during the spring of 2019. On June 20, the Town Board voted unanimously to approve the special use permit needed for the project to continue.
“Final site plan approval is a requirement after you get a special use permit,” said town Planner Laura Robertson. “The majority of that reason is because the investment in doing stormwater management, like completing those engineered site plans and doing a full SWPPP (stormwater pollution prevention plan) is pretty substantial. I think they wanted to make sure they had the special use permit before they invested in creating that storm water pollution prevention plan.”
Final engineering approval is also part of the mix.
“It’s just engineering at this point,” Robertson said. “We just need to make sure the engineering is correct.”
Memorial officials said changes to the site include:
* Less disturbance to the front of the site, allowing a minimum of 40 feet of wooded area to remain along Troy Schenectady Road as a buffer.
* Relocation of the portable rest room to the west end of the parking lot, where officials say it will be more accessible and will avoid pedestrian-vehicular conflicts.
* Addition of a drop-off area at the entrance to the memorial to better facilitate pedestrian circulation.
Albany attorney Dan Hubbell, of Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, who has represented the memorial group, said permanent restrooms are not part of the plan.
“There’s a great deal of expense in running water and sewer lines from the road,” he said.
The memorial also will open from dawn until dusk beginning March 1 and ending Nov. 15 each year. The group will reserve the right to re-open the memorial on Jan. 27 (weather permitting) to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Dan Hershberg, of Albany civil engineering and surveying firm Hershberg and Hershberg, does not expect heavy traffic at the memorial.
“With the exception of a few days a year, the traffic here will not be great,” Hershberg said. “I think the greatest amount of traffic will be the day we dedicate this facility, it will probably be the time the most people will ever arrive there.
“On an annual basis, Yom Hashoah (April), which is a commemoration of the Holocaust, that will be a major day there,” Hershberg added. “There will be other days of the year where people tend to reflect on the Holocaust or what happened on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah. Orthodox Jews don’t drive on those days, they won’t be there. Buy they may be there before that. Passover is another time of the year.”
On days when large crowds were expected, Hershberg said, memorial officials would use parking located at the mausoleum in the cemetery and bus people to the site. People also could walk.
Low-level security lighting is also planned for the site. Planners asked about a possible path through cemetery grounds that would lead to the memorial, but memorial officials said such a path cannot be built because grave sites would have to be disturbed.
Planning board members briefly discussed holding a public hearing to discuss changes in the plan, but decided against it. People will have a chance to talk about the memorial — and anything else — during the privilege of the floor session at the next Planning Board meeting on Monday, Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Comments for or against the project will not be relevant, as the special use permit to proceed with the memorial already has been granted.
Robertson said if all engineering requirements have been met, the Planning Board could consider final site plan approval in February. “We’re really looking at design of stormwater and any other relevant building and planning codes.”
Hubbell explained how the stormwater pollution prevention plan will work.
“When stormwater comes on the site, it’s got to go someplace, and so what we do is direct it to a detention basin where the water is held,” he said, adding the plan will eliminate run-off that could cause erosion and potential environmental damage. “Basically, it looks like a little pond and there’s going to be vegetation that grows out of it.”
He also said the memorial group must also secure property subdivision approval.
Lozman, who attended the meeting, was pleased with last week’s proceedings.
“I think the Planning Board did an excellent job and look forward to a very positive and satisfactory result,” he said.
“We’ve come a long way,” Lozman said of the process to bring the memorial to Niskayuna. “We have a board that meets regularly, we have an education committee that is deeply involved in making this into an education process. But I think the most important thing to talk about is that one only needs to pick up the newspapers to read what is happening in the world and in our country to appreciate how important it is to have a memorial that speaks against prejudice and bigotry.
“If we’re going to win this fight, we have to do it through education and this is a very important element, the education process,” Lozman added. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that the memorial has tremendous value to all of us. It doesn’t matter what your religion is, it doesn’t matter what your politics are. What does matter is that were in a wonderful, great American society and we need a memorial and many memorials to educate the public.”