NISKAYUNA -- Niskayuna is expected to consider a change in town law that, if approved, will expand the Metroplex Development Authority service district within town borders.
The larger district will allow Metroplex to help the town deal with "zombie" properties -- long-vacant homes that have fallen into extensive disrepair.
Ray Gillen, chairman of Metroplex, and Paul Webster, Niskayuna's Metroplex representative, on Tuesday appeared before the Town Board to discuss zombie properties and how Metroplex can help.
Metroplex has worked in the town before on such projects as the development and re-branding of Niskayuna Commerce Park and helping to redevelop St. James Square, now ShopRite Plaza. More recently, Metroplex assisted the town in the redevelopment of the former Williams auto scrap yard into a high-end apartment complex project.
Gillen wants to do more with zombie properties.
"We have a pretty serious zombie property problem in Niskayuna," he told the Town Board. People sometimes purchase homes, are unable to maintain them, and then leave, he said.
"Banks wind up taking charge of these parcels," Gillen said. "They're not maintained and they start to fall apart. And if you live next to one of these things, it ruins your life. Go to Mohawk Road, it's ruining the lives of people on that road."
Gillen talked about 1125 Mohawk Road, an abandoned house that is surrounded by grass, weeds and plants that have grown several feet high.
According to the town Planning Department, Niskayuna currently has 18 zombie properties. That number does not include the house at 2 Cornelius Ave., which was purchased by the Capital Region Land Bank this past February. Renovation is planned.
If board members vote to change the law, the Metroplex service district will include the entire town. Such a prospect made two residents uneasy: Leslie Gold and Carolina Wierzbowski both spoke against an expanded Metroplex presence during a public hearing.
Gold said a former county economic leader once disregarded zoning laws and brought what she described as inappropriate projects to the town for consideration. She was concerned about what future economic leaders might do with a larger service district available.
Wierzbowski suggested that the expanded service district, if granted by the town, should allow Metroplex to work only on zombie projects.
After the hearing, Gillen, who said the idea to expand the Metroplex district was initiated by Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw and the Town Board, repeated the troubles that come with zombie properties.
"If you live on that street, you can't have a picnic, you can't do anything, you can't have a family gathering," he said. "It drags down the property values. Any project we do in the town we follow all the rules. It allows us to bring our expertise and our financial wherewithal to bear on some of these properties."
McGraw said she has made the elimination of zombie properties a personal priority during her nearly 10-year tenure on the board.
"The home is the biggest asset for most people," McGraw said Thursday. "That is why I have led the fight to address abandoned or so called zombie houses in Niskayuna. I know if you live on a street where a zombie is located it hurts your home value and your quality of life."
She said she is proposing all Niskayuna be included in the Metroplex service territory, "so we can attack these zombie houses with all the help we can get."
"The Land Bank has been a great help, but we need all the resources we can muster to fight zombie homes," McGraw said. "Right now, Metroplex cannot provide financial help to fix zombies or in the case of properties too far gone to be saved to demolish them if the home is not in their service territory."
McGraw also said the entire towns of Glenville and Rotterdam and the entire city of Schenectady are currently Metroplex service territories.
"This move simply puts us on par with those other communities," she said.
Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed said the board could consider a vote to amend the local law to allow Metroplex expansion at an August meeting.
"I think it would be helpful for us, particularly with our zombie properties," she said. "If we can expand the Metroplex boundaries, it's incredibly helpful to us, just navigating that process. Having their help and assistance will move the process along much faster."
Syed said Metroplex can also assist in bringing in potential buyers for a zombie property and help with the cost of demolishing a house.
"We don't have a specific fund dedicated for that purpose," Syed said. "So it puts more of a burden on the town whereas Metroplex has much more funding available."
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]