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Alplaus residents want say in hamlet's future

Alplaus residents want say in hamlet's future

Concerns about Alplaus' future grew from a developer's proposal for hundreds of apartments nearby
Alplaus residents want say in hamlet's future
Alplaus Residents Association Board members Jessica Hornik Evans, center, Gray Watkins and wife, Vicki, discuss the hamlet.
Photographer: Erica Miller

GLENVILLE - Residents of Alplaus are looking for more say in their hamlet's future, as development increases in the rest of Glenville and in nearby Clifton Park.

In large measure, residents don't want to see the tight-knit community of about 450 people change much, despite the development pressures around it, and growing volumes of cut-through traffic -- and they want the town of Glenville's help.

"It's a great place. We don't want to see it change," said Maurice "Bud" Watson, president of the Alplaus Residents' Association.

The association last week submitted to the Glenville Town Board a proposal for the community's future, what its members are calling the Alplaus Hamlet Plan. Members hope it will give residents more say in town development decisions that will affect Alplaus.  

Alplaus has more history than much of Glenville, which saw a burst of suburban housing in the first two decades after World War II, and has grown pretty steadily ever since.

Most of the housing in Alplaus, on the other hand, dates from around 1900 -- though its name is centuries old, old enough to be from Dutch: It means the "place with eels." In the 1800s, Alplaus was served by a long trolley bridge across the Mohawk, and was offering summer housing for residents of Schenectady.

Today, those who live in Alplaus say the grouping of about 180 houses on the north side of the Mohawk River, near the mouth of the Alplaus Creek, has a unique charm not found in the suburbs.

"It's the only community I've ever lived in that was small enough to welcome you and make you feel part of the community, but big enough to let you be anonymous if that's what you want," said Gray Watkins, a semi-retired attorney who has lived in the community for 41 years.

The residents hoped the Town Board will adopt their submission as part of the town's comprehensive land use plan, which broadly guides the location and intensity of new development. That's unlikely, but the submission has started a public conversation about how a growth-oriented town deals with a hamlet that preceded the suburban era.

"My feeling about our hamlet plan is that we would like the town to accept Alplaus as Alplaus. We should be appreciated for what we are, and that we are not overdeveloped," said Jessica Evans, a freelance editor who is a 29-year Alplaus resident and a member of the association board.

Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle praised the residents' effort, but said he doesn't agree with everything in the plan.

"We've got work ahead of us if we're going to do this, and we have to be open to each other's thoughts," Koetzle told the residents after they presented their proposal at a Town Board meeting on Wednesday.

In large part, the residents' efforts to control their own destiny stems from debate in 2016-2017 about a high-density development proposed along the Mohawk River frontage just south of the settled area, on an industrial brownfield site and a marina. Those plans were ultimately withdrawn in the face of residents' criticism in the fall of 2017, but it spurred discussion about residents' wanting to offer their own vision for how things should evolve.

"We do not want multi-story or hundreds of apartments," Evans said.

Former Glenville Town Board member Jim Martin, a professional land use planner, suggested in February 2018 that the residents develop their own community plan, and then gave them some help with it.

"My point to them is that there was a lot of energy created when that project was under consideration, and there ought to be a way to channel that energy constructively, so they're not just be coming out against it when something is proposed," Martin said.

Martin, who has lived in Glenville for many years, said Alplaus is one of its unique places, "in terms of its housing architecture, its land use patterns, and how it evolved. It has small lots; it's a close-knit community."

Martin noted that the plan is based on extensive community input, which gives it validity as an expression of what residents want. "At the least it's a communications piece -- it communicates to the town government and other leaders that, 'this is what we want to have happen,'" he said.

"This is something we're really proud of. There's never been a hamlet plan before," Watson said.

The current town comprehensive plan, which was adopted in October 2017 after three years of development and review, calls for keeping Alplaus' residential character, but -- significantly -- it doesn't consider the riverfront lands to be part of the hamlet. The residents say it should be, arguing that the riverfront is an integral part of the hamlet, and how it is developed could change the community.

Koetzle, however, said it's too soon for the town to make significant changes in the comprehensive plan, less than two years after its approval.

"It's going to be a very serious discussion, I think, whether this thing moves forward," Koetzle told the residents on Wednesday.

By Friday, however, Koetzle had softened his stance, saying the Town Board wouldn't change the comprehensive plan, but could accept the residents' plan as a document to be considered when development proposals come forward, particularly for the industrial and waterfront land.

"They have a piece of property there (on the waterfront) that someone will do something with, and this will be an important document to have when reviewing it," Koetzle said. "It's not going to be in the comprehensive plan, but we will have their thoughts."

A resolution being drafted for consideration as soon as the April 17 Town Board meeting would accept the plan, and encourage planning and zoning boards to consider it when development is proposed nearby.

While the land use questions could split town officials and residents, residents also hope for town help with some quality-of-life issues.

The plan calls for help with issues like increasing speeding enforcement on Alplaus Avenue, including electronic radar speed signs; building wider shoulders or sidewalks to increase pedestrian safety; providing crosswalks; better lighting and drainage; and addressing problems with feral cats and unleashed dogs coming from the industrial park.

"Alplaus residents who frequently walk along Alplaus Avenue know that drivers view it as a way to get where they're going in a hurry rather than a road through our neighborhood," the plan states. "We look forward to continuing to work with the town and the county on the best -- and most durable -- means of controlling the speed on traffic in the hamlet."

State Department of Transportation figures show about 3,500 vehicles per day pass through the hamlet -- many of them people who commute between the Clifton Park area and downtown Schenectady and Rotterdam.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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