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UAlbany's neighbors feel out of the loop

Albany -- Some fear quality of life will suffer as tech facilities move in

By KENNETH AARON, Business writer
First published: Saturday, November 30, 2002

When Michael Miller starts telling his rugby buddies about how the various nanotechnology projects at the University at Albany are going to be bad for the neighborhood, they have a message for him.

Shut up.

He knows that news of new research-and-development centers being opened by International Sematech and Tokyo Electron Ltd. is great from an economic development standpoint. But he's afraid that traffic will crawl to a halt in front of his home at 273 Fuller Road, which is separated from the project near the corner of Fuller and Washington Avenue Extension by a stand of trees.

Miller is worried that his house will be worth less as a result. And he's not too happy that construction has pushed several of the neighborhood's field mice into his attic, either.

While most of the Capital Region revels in the glow of promise brought by Sematech and Tokyo Electron, both of which have announced research-and-development projects worth more than $700 million at UAlbany's Center for Environmental Sciences and Technology Management, neighbors of the complex have concerns.

"My big issue is the quality-of-life thing," Miller said. "No one's actually approached the people that live here, that are actually going to be affected."

Don Reeb, a retired UAlbany economics professor who now is head of the neighborhood's McKownville Improvement Association, said residents frequently were overlooked because the mix of different municipal jurisdictions makes communication difficult. While CESTM's land is in the city of Albany, its neighbors live in Guilderland.

"It would be nice if somebody would tell somebody what's going on," said Reeb, who is personally satisfied that the university is taking environmental concerns to heart.

Guilderland town Supervisor Kenneth Runion said turf issues have been a hot topic for years. Crossgates Mall, for example, is in the town yet has regional effects. But it falls under local control, he said.

"What it does is it raises again what people have been talking about for years: We need to get involved more with regional planning," Runion said.

He suggested that because the project involves the state university, Guilderland residents who have concerns should contact their elected state legislators -- Sen. Neil Breslin or Assemblyman John J. McEneny.

UAlbany officials could not be reached for comment on the process.

Many of the McKownville group's members have peppered Reeb with questions about the project, and their concern ranges from mild curiosity to demands that work stop.

Most, though, would be satisfied with inclusion in the loop.

When the state held a public hearing two weeks ago to discuss a $50 million grant toward the project, about 70 people showed up and 20 spoke. None identified themselves as neighborhood residents, and only one person said anything remotely resembling a word of caution about the project.

Afterward, one neighbor, Don Csaposs, said he might have attended if he had known there was a meeting. While the state placed a legal notice in the Times Union alerting citizens of the hearing, Csaposs would have preferred a more personal approach.

"Three hundred high-paying jobs plunked down into this area is, in a global sense, never going to be a negative," said Csaposs, who lives at 20 Norwood St., which is off Western Avenue. "But if we bring 300 new, highly paid jobs into the area and in the process marginalize a long-standing neighborhood that is the home to several hundred residents, that is neither stressed or depressed ... we have negatively impacted some folks."

Between Sematech and Tokyo Electron, more than 500 new jobs are expected.

For the most part, those who are grumbling about the project now are looking to have their own concerns managed.

"Work with us," said Miller, the Fuller Road resident. And at the very least, he asked that Fuller Road be repaved, saying: "It's a mess."