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NISKAYUNA: Mall critics hire lawyer

Bracing themselves for a tough legal fight, a group critical of plans to construct a multimillion dollar shopping mall on the 12.5-acre site of the Ingersoll Home for Adults has hired an Albany lawyer with a long track record of litigating environmental law cases.

The decision to retain Lewis Oliver Jr. comes as the group, known as Friends of Stanford Home, faces an impending Friday, April 13, deadline, at which time they have to file suit against Niskayuna if they want to overturn the town board's decision to grant the special-use permit required for the Stanford Crossings project. The group is paying the attorney's fees through money it has raised.

From the beginning, critics of the shopping mall proposed by Highland Development have said they would go to court if necessary to halt the project, but the hiring of Oliver marks the first concrete step in preparing for courtroom action.

The site of the proposed shopping mall is already zoned for commercial use and sits across from Mohawk Commons, one of the biggest malls in the region. When granting the site its special-use permit, town officials said the area's pre-existing commercial properties were considered.

People can tell us all day long that this is not a commercial area. It is a commercial area, said Supervisor Luke Smith at the March 13 vote, pointing to the retail stores already operating near the intersection of State Street and Balltown Road.

The town board narrowly approved granting a special-use permit for Stanford Crossings 3-to-2, with Smith casting the deciding vote.

Oliver, known for fighting a string of legal battles to protect portions of the environmentally sensitive Pine Bush preserve from development, has built much of his practice on litigating issues related to enforcing the state's environmental protection statutes.

Linda Champagne, a leading critic of the proposed strip mall, has contended that the town violated that law when it failed to require completion of a full-blown environmental impact statement before giving the project the green light.

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