Dominick Calsolaro

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Council backs $2M for renewal

Albany council votes to borrow cash despite worries over demolitions

Published on 05/21/2012 by the Times Union written by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST, Staff writer

ALBANY — The Common Council on Monday night backed borrowing $2 million for neighborhood revitalization despite concerns by some lawmakers, preservationists and community members that more than $800,000 of the money would be steered toward demolitions with little public input.

The bond, which like all borrowing needed a super-majority of 10 votes, passed 12-2 — with only council members Dominick Calsolaro and Barbara Smith registering votes against it.

Planning Commissioner Michael Yevoli billed the plan as a way to jump-start neighborhood revitalization, for which there's no money in the city budget, by stabilizing and demolishing properties in key locations likely to attract redevelopment.

Of the total, an estimated $850,000 would go toward demolition, while an estimated $550,000 would go toward stabilization. The rest would go toward other projects, including infrastructure improvements in the so-called Education District, the city's new name for the student-heavy sections of Pine Hills.

"We're only talking about 20 buildings that are going to be stabilized and 30 buildings that are going to be demolished," said Councilman Anton Konev, who represents sections of Pine Hills and the area around 526 Central Ave., a city-controlled property bring marketed for redevelopment that would receive money to remove buried fuel tanks and contaminated soil. "This is a start. It needs to happen now."

But Calsolaro and the Historic Albany Foundation protested that Mayor Jerry Jennings' administration has not provided enough specific information about how the buildings to be demolished would be picked and who will get final say over how the money is spent.

Yevoli countered by vowing to supply monthly and quarterly reports.

For weeks, Calsolaro has been demanding a list of the buildings that could be targeted by the city, but Yevoli said his office could not provide one, in part, because it could jeopardize the city's negotiations with private landowners and drive up the prices of some properties.

Instead, Yevoli's office provided a map without exact addresses that showed potential sites of interest to the city.

"I can't give that to my constituents," Calsolaro said. "We want to have a say about what's going on in the neighborhoods that we live in."

Historic Albany Executive Director Susan Holland acknowledged that some buildings may need to be demolished, but said the mere fact that the cost to fix them may exceed the cost to demolish them should not alone be used a criteria for doing so.

But ultimately, three of four council members who represent Arbor Hill, West Hill and the South End — the city's most blighted neighborhoods — led forceful defenses of the measure.

"When I say blocks, I've got blocks and blocks of abandoned buildings," said Councilman Ron Bailey, who represents parts of Arbor Hill and West Hill and said the boarded-up buildings contribute toward the crime that also troubles the neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, South End Councilman Lester Freeman noted that a block of the city's Sheridan Hollow neighborhood was used earlier this year on Jeopardy! as an image in a clue about urban blight. "We have become a symbol of that," Freeman said, calling the bond the start of a way out. "Let's move forward."

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