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Doomed: The site of a future Rite Aid in Troy.

Rite Aids for Everyone!

On Hoosick Street in Troy, history makes way for another pharmacy


Getting the go-ahead from Troy’s Planning Board, the national pharmacy chain Rite Aid will begin with its plans to demolish five houses on Hoosick Street to build a new store only a hop, skip and a cough away from its current location. This includes the razing of one of the street’s oldest farmhouses and rumored stop on the Underground Railroad.

“There is a small room between the first and second floors,” Historic Action Network president Russell Ziemba said of the former frat house at the corner Hoosick and Burdett Avenue. “You enter this close-sized room through a hatch in the bedroom. The room is big enough for a person to sit or lay down in, and there is a stairway in the wall that leads from there directly to the basement.”

Legend has it that runaway slaves could crawl through a tunnel that led from the farmhouse basement to Hoosick Street.

Although the rumors seem convincing, he has no definitive proof.

Ziemba and a dozen other Troy residents have been fighting against the Rite Aid proposal since last summer, he said. They started an online petition that drew nearly 400 signatures.

Those houses, he said, would be perfect for professional offices—dentists, lawyers, accountants—anyone who would benefit from the traffic. A row of houses around the corner was successfully transformed from homes to businesses.

“That’s how you do it,” he said, you don’t demolish the buildings, you find new uses.

Hoosick Street has been a topic of heated discussion for years. One of the busiest streets in the Capital Region, it is increasingly becoming less of a residential stretch and more geared toward business. That is why members of the public came together with lawmakers four years ago, designing the Hoosick Street Overlay Zone to take up the challenges of the street’s challenging dynamic.

“How to redevelop it. How to make it urban,” Ziemba said. “How to reconfigure the existing businesses that are there.” The overlay zone was an effort to curb just such developments. “We anticipated this. We’ve seen this kind of thing before.”

In order to allow the build, he pointed out, the Planning Board had to give the developer four variances: a large set-back, twice as many parking spots as allowed by zoning, building height, and multiple use.

Beyond the simple fact the proposed building, he said, is ugly, with fake windows and vinyl siding, the final design also fails to provide doors on either the Hoosick Street side or the Burdett Avenue side. With a drive-though lane encircling the store, pedestrians will be forced walk through the parking-lot traffic just to get in the building.

“If the Hells Angels wanted to have no front door,” Ziemba began, “or if someone else wanted to sell drugs out of their back door, they wouldn’t let it happen.”

“Where do I begin?” asked Councilman Bill Dunne (D-District 4). “There is no master plan for the city of Troy, we don’t have an experienced planner in the position of planning director. It is apparent the Planning Board is ignoring that overlay. I am not sure what we can do. We really don’t have any more authority in this area then they do. If we wanted to, we could issue a moratorium, but that isn’t something we want to do.”

It would take a citizen filing a suit against the city, he said, to stop the build. He doesn’t want to see that happen, either.

“There is obviously a problem,” Dunne said. “We need to have a master plan and respect our city’s history and architecture.”

Hoosick Street, he predicted, will turn into a nightmare. No one is going to want to live in the neighborhoods bordering it. That will just hasten the exodus.

“I get a lot of emails about what are you going to do about it,” Dunne said. “We passed the overlay. We aren’t an enforcement body. If the people are ignoring the law, that’s the administration’s job. It is just unfortunate that the planning board will ignore laws passed by the council.”

“We are befuddled by how to approach this.”

Rite Aid also has plans to build a new store on Route 4 in North Greenbush, across from Hudson Valley Community College, tearing down the Country Grove, a home from the late 1700s, to compete with rival Walgreen’s.

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

Granma Reports From Cuba

After 49 years in power, Cuban President Fidel Castro is through, and his brother, Raúl, the current minister of defense, is set to take the reigns. Cuba has been racked for decades by low wages and high unemployment, yet Cubans seemed to acknowledge the resignation with little emotional reaction. President Bush promised to “help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty.” He is asking the international world to assist the country in stabilizing a democracy, something that Raúl has hinted he is open to. Although Raúl is seen as more pragmatic than his older brother, he is also reputedly just as dedicated to the Revolution; members of the Cuban Democratic Directorate expect little to change.

BBQ Ribs OK, 2006 Receipts Not

In an attempt to cut air pollution, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation officials are pondering a ban on barrel-burning. Their reasoning comes from statistics that say the burns release “17 times more dioxin and 40 times more ash than permitted incinerators.” Although there are minor exceptions, like small campfires, if the ban is enacted, the generalized burnings of household waste would stop. Some disagreement has arisen from rural lawmakers. They argue that the burning is minimal and counterbalances the growing landfills.

We’re Just Sharing

“Don’t tell me words don’t matter,” Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) told a crowd of Wisconsin Democrats over the weekend. The Clinton campaign was listening, apparently, because it later suggested that parts of that stump speech were plagiarized from a very similar speech given by Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick. Although Obama admitted that he lifted key phrases from Patrick, he argued that it was done innocently. The two men are friends, he said, who discuss politics and their careers. Plus, they share the same campaign manager. Last November, Obama even joked about the openness with which he and Patrick share rhetoric: “But you know in the end, don’t vote your fears. I’m stealing this line from my buddy Deval Patrick who stole a whole bunch of lines from me when he ran for the governorship.”

Be My Valentine: Advocates ask Assemblyman Ron Canestrari (D-Cohoes) to save education funding.

Be My Valentine—Bring the Cash

Education advocates demand promised funding from the state

Last Thursday, a number of local assemblymen got a Valentine’s Day card that had a more sobering message than “XOXO.” The message delivered by parents, children and members of the Alliance for Quality Education was, “Don’t break our hearts—Keep the promise.” Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed budget has a $350-million cut in legally promised foundation aid to state schools. Foundation aid is the primary funding source used by schools to pay for teachers’ salaries and teaching materials.

In 2007, Gov. Spitzer and the Legislature, prompted by a lawsuit by the AQE, made a financial commitment to provide schools with 5.5 billion dollars distributed, based on need, in four installments by 2010.

Last year, Spitzer said the aid would grow by $1.25 billion in 2008; however this year’s budget calls for an increase of only $900 million. Kathleen Campbell, a local representative of the AQE, said that the biggest problem with the aid cuts is that they will greatly affect the school districts whose students most need the funding.

According to a report by the AQE, “Districts outside New York City, with 60 percent of their students living in poverty, have 15 percent of all students in the state, but face 20 percent of the cuts, while districts with only four percent of their students living in poverty have 17 percent of all students in the state, but face only six percent of the cuts. Similarly districts averaging a 21 percent black student enrollment have 24 percent of all students and face 26 percent of the cuts, while districts with between one-half of one percent and 3.4 percent black student enrollment have 40 percent of the students in the state and face only 21 percent of the cuts.”

Campbell said that although Albany does not face drastic cuts, Schenectady schools may be monumentally affected.

“We are facing a $4.7 million cut in Schenectady,” said Campbell. “Schenectady was able to make a number of improvements for high-need students with the money last year.”

Campbell noted that the funding increase allowed Schenectady to improve programs and hire staff.

“Those improvements are now in jeopardy because of the cut,” said Campbell. “It is that cut-and-dry. That is what happens when we get $350 million out of our entire budget.”

Billy Easton, the executive director of the AQE, said that he feels it is the tendency of the Senate Republican majority to concentrate on funding rich, high-performing schools in Long Island while ignoring districts with lower scores and more minorities. Easton said that he is unsure whether the traditionally supportive Assembly majority or the generally frustrating Senate majority will win out on this issue.

“The Assembly has historically been very supportive of this kind of funding increase,” said Easton. “The Senate majority has many members that, as a group, stood in the way, in particular, because there is an obsession about making sure they are taking care of Long Island school districts, and not the needy Long Island districts. There are about eight Republican senators who function as a bloc in the Legislature demanding more money for Long Island. The foundation formula is fair to everyone, but they want more equity on Long Island. They want more money for districts that have already got 90 percent graduated and going to college.”

The AQE said that they hope legislators will consider the gravity of their funding cuts before they settle on this year’s budget.

—David King

Loose Ends

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