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NISKAYUNA: Mall critics head to court

Claiming that Niskayuna's town board failed to take into account the environmental impact construction of a new multi-million dollar shopping mall on the corner of State Street and Balltown Road would have on the surrounding area, a group of local activists have filed a lawsuit aimed at blocking the project.

Using a provision of state law commonly referred to as Article 78, the suit in state Supreme Court alleges that town officials should have required Highbridge Development LLC to perform a complete environmental impact study before voting on whether to approve a special use permit required for the project.

Town Councilman Bill Chapman said on Tuesday, April 10, that he wasn't surprised a suit was filed and expressed sympathy with the plaintiffs.

I don't know if there is really much we can do at this point except see how the court rules, said Chapman. "I still believe that we should have required a full environmental study before Highbridge could go forward with this project. That was the recommendation of our conservation advisory committee and the planning board, but a majority of the town board didn't see it that way."

For months, critics have voiced concern that construction of the proposed shopping mall would lead to the eventual destruction of the 170-year-old building that currently houses the Ingersoll Home for the Aged and the acres of trees that surround it. The building is one of the oldest of its kind in Schenectady County and was once used by the family of the founder of Stanford University in California.

"This is what we have spent a lot of hours on," said Linda Champagne, president of the Friends of Stanford Home. "It's taken a great deal of work to put this together and our lawyer, Lewis Oliver Jr., is really well-regarded."

The battle over the fate of the Ingersoll Home has raged since last spring when the town board narrowly approved construction of a new nursing home at 3359 Consaul Road. Located on a 7-acre lot near a bird sanctuary, the new facility is meant to replace the existing Ingersoll Home with an updated facility.

Developers have promised to preserve the original part of the Ingersoll Home as part of a retail complex they have proposed. They have also conducted a preliminary archeological dig as part of identifying historic resources to protect during construction of the proposed mall.

Town Supervisor Luke Smith, a leading supporter of building the new nursing home on Consaul Road and the proposed shopping mall on State Street, has previously noted that the land occupied by the Ingersoll Home is zoned for commercial use. ""

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