A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old
and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and
disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel
Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add
or would like to make an empty threat, please contact
January 22, 2006
The Mystery Of Holland Avenue
So, why’d they do it?
Several current and former members of the City of Albany Common
Council, along with some of their supporters, are very upset with
me. They are simply shocked... SHOCKED I tell you! ...to find out
from me that many of their constituents believe that Albany politicians
are on the take. You know, accepting the occasional cash inducement
for performing favors.
This past December 5th, I sat down at the microphone in front of
the Common Council and told our elected representatives that the
people of my neighborhood absolutely did not want the empty lot on
Holland Avenue located next to McDonald’s Slophouse to become
designated as a "highway commercial" zone.
You see, this is the middle of the City of Albany. It is not part
of some hopeless automobile slum like Colonie or Guilderland. While
Holland Avenue may, at first glance, resemble some suburban nightmare
like Wolf Road or Route 9, it is still fixable. With proper planning,
Holland Avenue could be remade into a decent city street.
Everyone who lives nearby understands what "highway commercial" means.
More traffic, more noise, more pollution, less safety and the undermining
of neighborhood small businesses. You don't need a masters degree
in planning to see that.
Besides, the Common Council is clearly engaging in what is known
as spot zoning, or spot rezoning, which is illegal in New York State.
I told our elected representatives that most of my neighbors were
very upset by this action. I could not find a single person along
the upper part of Morton Avenue or in the streets behind who wanted
it. Over and over, I heard variations of the same question, “Why
are they doing this to us?”
I answered my neighbors by saying that I couldn’t answer that
question, because I didn’t know.
And you know what? One neighbor after another gave me a knowing
look and said, “We all know why,” or “Hey, they’re
not in office for their health,” or the more direct “They’re
lining their pockets, what else?”
I had to listen to a couple of angry rants, such as the lady who
hollered at me, “They don’t give a s--t about us. Them
guys are looking’ out for number one.” Or the guy who
yelled, “You know what we are? We’re cows. That’s
all we are. All they wanna do is milk us.”
After hearing all this, I thought that I was being very mild and
tasteful when I duly reported to the members of the Common Council
that my neighbors firmly believed that their elected officials were
being paid for their votes in favor of the illegal spot rezoning.
I then added that it appeared to me that this vote would turn out
to be a referendum on the personal integrity of each of the members
of the Council.
You could hear a nanobyte pin drop in the Chamber.
Now, just for the record, I never actually said that I personally
thought that they were on the take over this issue. In fact, I would
be very surprised to find out that any of these folks were accepting
wads of cash for their services. If anything I would agree with county
legislator Tom Monjeau, who chatted with me in the doorway of the
Chamber shortly after I made my startling revelations.
“I don't know anything about the Common Council,” he
I know that over at the County nobody is dumb enough to accept envelopes
under the table. But some of my fellow legislators have their “little
things” going. I suspect it’s the same with the City.”
That being said, I fully realized that this subtle differentiation
would become obscured, and I would be branded as that guy who shocked...
SHOCKED! ...the Council by accusing the whole bunch of being bribe
takers. Indeed, from what I’m hearing, that is exactly what
Jimmy Scalzo of the 10th Ward, the Council member who led the spot
rezoning effort, has been angrily saying about me to his supporters,
and to just about anyone else.
I’m a big boy, I can take it. But that still doesn’t
answer the question, why are they doing this to us? I’ve heard
Mr. Monjeau wonder why out loud on several occasions. “Accusations
of corruption aside,” he said, “there’s got to
be a motivation for this, or at least a cover. What is it?”
First Ward Council member Dominick Calsolaro has no
questions. In early January, he overheard me discussing this pressing
question with several people as he was passing by. He stopped, turned,
flashed his eyes, bared his teeth, and said, “They did it for
one reason. The Mayor told them to.”
It appears that once again, Dom has got it right. I have in my possession
a copy of an interesting letter written by Peter Lynch, the lawyer
working for the developer, Thomas Burke. This is the same Peter Lynch
from the suburbs who would not give his proper address to the Common
Council, even though the thirty or so citizens of Albany who spoke
passionately against the spot rezoning on December 5th were required
to state their addresses.
This is the same athletic Peter Lynch who, along with my spouse,
ran in the 10K Turkey Trot foot race on Thanksgiving morning in downtown
Troy. (This was Lynne’s first 10K, she finished dead last to
great applause.) She spotted Lynch’s unmistakable hairdo, and
he made a point of warmly saying hi to her.
A week and a half later, in the Common Council chambers, Lynch again
spoke to Lynne, somewhat deprecatingly, “I’m proud of
you for running in that 10K.”
“You’re a runner, Peter,” said Lynne. “Don’t
you understand what this rezoning means to runners? Because of the
cars, it’s hard enough to run safely in my neighborhood. Pedestrian
fatalities are on the rise everywhere.”
Lynch hemmed and hawed. Lynne asked, “So where do you run?”
He said, “Um, I run all over.” Lynne pressed him. “Where
do you live?” she asked. “Do you run where you live?”
“What is this, an interrogation?” and Lynch turned away.
So much for a direct appeal to common sense.
The letter from Lynch is dated December 2nd, and it is addressed
to Patrick Jordan, Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of
Albany. For those of you who don’t know, the Corporation Counsel
is the lawyer who is on the city payroll. The Counsel and his/her
assistants dispense legal advice to the city as needed.
Please understand that the Corporation Counsel is appointed by The
Now, let me stop here to explain that the actions taken during the
two Common Council sessions in December turned out to be the contents
of a political toilet bowl, a toilet that was scheduled to flush
at the end of the year and no sooner. And yes, the stink was incredible.
These two December meetings would be the last time The Mayor could
count on controlling the Council. A new, more independent Council
was taking over in January, and it appeared unlikely that this new
Council would tolerate such nonsense as an illegal spot rezoning
that no one wanted. No one, of course, except those who stood to
make money from the deal. Time was running out for The Mayor.
So, The Mayor had to get his spot rezoning through the Council while
his obedient lame ducks were still sitting in the Chamber. But there
was an apparent complication.
In any development proposal, the City has to follow the environmental
laws, specifically the State Environmental Quality Review Act, known
as SEQRA. In most cases, SEQRA is easy to sidestep.
But the sidestepping procedure takes a little bit of time. Usually,
two Common Council meetings is not enough time.
That’s where the letter comes in. Peter Lynch, lawyer for
the developer, is seen in the letter instructing the Corporation
Council on the exact procedure which must be followed so that The
Mayor’s servants on the Common Council can get this spot rezoning
approved in the time allotted, and avoid challenges and lawsuits
over the SEQRA issue. (For now, I am reserving judgment on whether
or not Lynch’s advice is correct or not.)
This letter arrived three days before the first Common Council meeting
in December. Lynch’s advice was followed to the letter.
Now, Common Council member Jimmy Scalzo, who did the
actual dirty work to shove through the spot rezoning, is no more
of a lawyer than I am. He not only broke courtesy and precedent by
his actions, he followed a precise procedure as he pushed it through.
He did it haltingly, but he managed it properly.
No way that he did all that without precise instructions. No way.
He must have been coached by The Mayor’s appointees on the
Corporation Counsel, who in turn were coached by the lawyer for the
developer, Peter Lynch.
So this letter plausibly demonstrates that Dom Calsolaro has it
absolutely correct. The Mayor instructed Jimmy Scalzo to give this
favor to the developer, and Jimmy obeyed.
Fine. But this begs the question: why does The Mayor want this illegal
spot rezoning so badly? Why is he defying common sense and public
opinion? What’s his motivation?
Perhaps my neighbors have already figured out the answer.
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