CLIFTON PARK — Alex Gutelias sees a 37-acre woodland as a key opportunity for the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Town Library to expand its programs beyond the library's walls.
The parcel, newly acquired by the town and directly adjacent to the library, could give it a new connection to the community, said Gutelias, the library's director. That connection could result in an expanded backpacking program at the library, and new trails could be created to connect the wooded area with library's property.
Those are just some of the ideas that will be brought to the table, as the planning process gets underway for the land, purchased from the Shenendehowa Central School District.
Gutelias is among a handful of town residents appointed to the committee tasked with planning future uses for the land. Among the other committee members are residents, elected officials, local business owners and developers.
The town created the committee, which has yet to meet, in mid-April. The goal is for the committee to have its first meeting later this month or in early June.
Gutelias said she is interested to see what ideas are brought to the table and added that the library is in unique position to help, as it went through a similar strategic planning process in 2016.
The library can also serve as a neutral ground for meetings and has enough space to accommodate many people, she added. It can also help keep town residents informed throughout the planning process, via the library's online alert system.
Other committee members involved with local businesses and development companies feel the town has to exercise caution in planning the park -- to be sure any changes are permanently sustainable.
“How can we do something that will stand the test of time?” asked committee member Pete Bardunias, who is also president and CEO of the Southern Saratoga Chamber of Commerce. “These are real decisions that have to be considered.”
The wooded property, located off Maxwell Road, was purchased from the Shenendehowa Central School District after a public referendum in April 2017 brought thousands of residents out to vote down a plan to sell it to BBL Development — for about $2 million.
BBL had planned to build a ShopRite supermarket on a portion of the property.
The sale of the land to the town -- for $1.1 million -- was approved by voters in a second referendum on Dec. 5. By law, the land can now only be used as a public park. The town and district closed on the deal in February.
Bardunias was a vocal proponent of the effort to sell the land to BBL. At this point, he said, the planning committee needs to address a myriad of questions, including how the land will be maintained and how issues like vandalism will be handled without putting too much of a strain on public resources.
“My word of caution is that whatever gets done has to be sustainable from an economic standpoint,” he said.
Donald MacElroy, of local company DCG Development, explained that he was asked to serve on the committee because DCG has property directly adjacent to the park.
MacElroy echoed Bardunias' concerns and said that, as a taxpayer in town and also as a neighbor to the park, he would like to see a solution that is, above all else, sustainable.
He also lauded the fact that the committee is comprised of people from a variety of fields, as that diversity should keep the project balanced and on track.
“Every opinion is going to be shared, and decisions that are made will reflect what the consensus is,” he said.
The planning process will involve public meetings, during which residents can offer their own opinions about how to develop the property.
Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett also pointed to the diversity of committee members, saying it will allow the group to identify a broader range of potential uses for the property. He added that it would be a highly public process.
“There will be ample opportunity for anybody that would like to be involved in the process to be involved,” he said.
Halfmoon Town Supervisor Kevin Tollisen said working on the committee will provide both municipalities the opportunity to partner on a project that will serve residents of both towns.
Tollisen noted that he and Barrett collaborate frequently, and the towns even share some services, such as the animal control. Clifton Park and Halfmoon have also worked together to secure thousands of dollars in federal grants to build trails to connect the towns.
Noting that it’s still early in the process, Tollisen added he’s looking forward to hearing ideas from other committee members.
“We work together. Our communities blend on a number of different things,” he said. “This is in Clifton Park, but we see it as an opportunity for our towns to work together.”