Resident Rally in Opposition to Abele Woods Project, Planning Board Grants Project Approval

Ballston Residents Rally in Opposition to Abele Woods Project, Planning Board Grants Project Approval

BALLSTON – Residents staged a rally outside of Town Hall before Wednesday’s Ballston Planning Board meeting to voice their opposition for the proposed Abele Woods Residential Subdivision, the board voted unanimously to grant final approval to the project during the meeting.

Resident Rally in Opposition to Abele Woods Project, Planning Board Grants Project Approval

Residents held a rally outside of Town Hall to voice their opposition to the Abele Woods Subdivison, that was granted final approval by the Ballston Planning Board later Wednesday./Photo by Ashley Onyon.

The rally was organized by Susan and David Gibson, residents whose property borders the proposed subdivision, as a final effort to convince the Planning Board to deny final approval for the Abele Woods Subdivision. Approximately 16 residents attended the rally.

The Abele Woods Subdivision calls for 123 single family homes, 22 twin townhomes and 60 multi-family apartment units on 96 acres of land.

The Gibsons have been vocal opponents to the project since it was first proposed in 2013, speaking out against the project during public comment periods during Town Board and Planning Board meetings. The Gibsons’ attorney also sent letters to the developers of the project raising concerns that they felt should have prevented the project from moving forward.

Points that the Gibsons raised include the existence of wetlands on the property, the potential for development of the property to cause flooding on adjacent properties, wildlife on the property, the impact that the project would have on traffic and the presence of a prehistorical site on the property.

David Gibson said that the purpose of the rally was to raise public awareness for the issues with the project that he felt the Planning Board has not addressed.

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Villlage of Round Lake residents Peter Sheridan and Denise McDonald attended the rally out of concern for the amount of traffic that the project would likely create at Exit 11. McDonald added that the board had not communicated with the Village, which would surely be impacted by traffic.

During the Planning Board meeting, Thomas Shepardson, the attorney representing the project developer, related to the board that he had received an email at approximately 3 p.m. on Wednesday from an attorney representing the Gibsons raising objections to the findings of the project review.

Shepardson then read his emailed response to the letter, in which he addressed each of the objections, aloud so that it could be entered into the public record.

Shepardson’s email began by saying that the letter from the Gibsons’ attorney “continues simply reiterate the same objections previously made during the course of the Planning Board’s extensive review as a pure delaying tactic.”

According to Shepardson, the initial letter referenced an email from a state Department of Environmental Conservation employee who he claims was not authorized to communicate with the Gibsons. Shepardson added that he had previously addressed the issue for the Planning Board via email on Feb. 21.

Shepardson stated that DEC had issued water quality certification for the project under review and that he had contacted the DEC employee’s supervisor who informed him that the employee was not commenting on behalf of the department and had inappropriately used his department email to make the comment.

He went on to refute the DEC employee’s claim that rare species inhabit the property and would be adversely impacted by the project citing Planning Board’s State Environmental Impact Review Act process.

“An expert wildlife biologist performed an onsite examination for the presence of any endangered, threatened species, species of special concern and rare species. The North Country Ecological report provides a listing of all flora and fauna species on the site. There are no such species on the site, all species on the site are common to the area,” Shepardson said.

The DEC employee had also referenced issues with soil and storm water on the site, which Shepardson again stated had been proven false under the project review process. The storm water management plan for the site conforms to all local, state and federal guidelines and was expected to reduce or eliminate any storm water runoff from the site. The Town Engineer had previously reviewed and approved the management plan, as had the Planning Board.

Another claim from the letter was that the project would impact large trees over 400 years old. During the design stage, the project developer employed Lumac Company and Benchmark Forest and Land Management, LLC to analyze the trees on the site.

The study completed by Benchmark found that logging activity had previously taken place on the site and the project would preserve over half of the 500 trees on site.

Finally, the letter claimed that cultural resources would be disturbed by the plan. The project review did find prehistorical artifacts on the site and included measures to protect the artifacts from disturbance by deed.

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The State Historic Preservation Office had reviewed and approved the avoidance measures for the site. Shepardson stated that the plan was also approved by all effected Native American tribes and was merely awaiting a final signature from the Army Corp of Engineers.

“Nothing in this latest letter has been overlooked. It has been looked at for over two years, maybe three, so there is nothing new. It is the same old thing, there is no proof which is new evidence and we respectfully request that the Planning Board move forward tonight, not delay, because a new letter would probably be coming the afternoon of the next Planning Board meeting with some new allegations,” Shepardson concluded.

Planning Board member Patrick Maher expressed his belief that all of the issues had been covered in full and that none of the information introduced in the email would necessitate the board rescind the original environmental impact declaration from 2014.

The board members agreed with Maher’s assessment and decided to move forward with final approval of the project.

Before voting on the project, Board Chairman Jeffrey Cwalinski said, “I just want to clearly state that we acted previously on the SEQRA for this project, we adopted a negative declaration at our July 2014 meeting. We did receive communication from Young/Sommer LLC, which is the attorney for Mr. Gibson, and we have reviewed and carefully considered the response given by Thomas Shepardson in his letter of response to that.”

“So, after careful consideration, this board is declining to overturn negative declaration,” Cwalinski said. The board members voiced their agreement with Cwalinski’s statement and voted unanimously to grant final approval to the Abele Woods Subdivision.

Final approval for the project is subject to receipt of the Army Corp of Engineers permit for the prehistorical site and approval from the Town Engineer for the design of retaining walls and roadways that will be turned over to the town.

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