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Open space advocates press Shen school board

Open space advocates press Shen school board

Residents submit petition for new park
Open space advocates press Shen school board
Residents want to vote on board's plan to sell district land
Photographer: Cady Kuzmich

Less than a month after Shenendehowa’s school board voted to sell 34 acres of undeveloped land to developer BBL in a 4-3 decision, volunteers collected 7,000 signatures to challenge the decision in a public referendum.

Once signatures are verified, a public referendum on the issue could be held as early as March or April according to Superintendent Dr. Oliver Robinson.

During a public comment period at the school board meeting Tuesday, open space advocates held up signs which read, “We Want A Vote,” and community members addressed the school board.

School board President Robert Pressly began the meeting saying, “We can’t come out of this with disenfranchised voters. If a group that’s organized and focused can show up to a meeting it doesn’t mean those who are less energized and who don’t come to the meeting have a lesser voice.”

During the public comment period, Keith Martin addressed Pressly’s comments on potentially disenfranchising voters saying, “There’s a simple answer. Put this to a referendum. No one is disenfranchised if they have the opportunity to vote.”
Robert Rybak questioned the board’s commitment to transparency throughout the decision making process.

Board member Gary DiLallo referred to open space advocates as well spoken and well organized but said the board had been mischaracterized.”We’re not selling our souls for money. What we’re intending to do is maximize our resources so we can purchase land down the line,” he said.

Robinson said the board would likely take action on confirming a future referendum at the next board meeting.
“We never had a dialogue,” said Frank Berlin of Jonesville. “You are the stewards of our system. This park is for the school district. It’s not one town against another,” he added.

“Education goes beyond the walls of a school,” said Nancy Buehler, a Shenendehowa alum and mother. “I think we’re missing the point if we don’t listen to the community,” she added.

The total number of signatures collected by the Friends of Clifton Park Open Space in just a month adds up to more than two and a half times the number of ballots cast in the last budget vote. Based on information from the district, the group only had to collect between 5,100 and 5,500 signatures.

BBL offered $2,050,001 and agreed to donate between 17.5 to 19 acres of the land to the town to be used as a park, while the remaining land will be developed as retail or office space.

The town’s bid was just $1 million and would have been paid over the course of a year. According to the school district’s attorney, David Rowley, the request for proposals forbade payment over time.

DiLallo, Pressly, Todd Gilbert and Mary Blaauboer voted in favor of the sale. Gilbert cited the importance of securing funds to buy land that’s more developable in the future. Bill Casey, Deanna Stephenson and Christina Rajotte voted against the BBL bid.

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