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Group envisions a better Albany
"Stakeholders" asked to consider city's needs in a variety of areas
By PAUL GRONDAHL, Staff writer
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First published: Sunday, November 19, 2006


ALBANY -- More than 100 neighborhood activists turned out Saturday morning, each more than willing to present an idea or two on how to make Albany a better place.

Members of a task force created by Mayor Jerry Jennings called the Re-Capitalize Albany Committtee listened for a few hours and offered mostly noncommittal answers. They stressed that they were in a preliminary phase of their work.

"If economic development doesn't work for everybody, it doesn't work for anybody," said Joe Rabito, city Planning and Development commissioner.

"This is a city of neighborhoods," Rabito added. "It's critical to bring all of the stakeholders together to get more input."

Subcommittee chairs of the 52-member panel gave an initial status report on its broad look into the areas of schools, neighborhoods and economic development at the seventh annual Neighborhood Works conference.

It was held in First Lutheran Church Hall, and was sponsored by the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations and the Neighborhood Resource Center.

The task force is expected to make its recommendations to the mayor early in 2007.

Meanwhile, the participants came to advance a variety of agendas: from strengthening code enforcement to protecting the Pine Bush; pushing improved public library branches to making the city more bicycle-friendly; creating more affordable housing to building condominiums for seniors in pedestrian-friendly city neighborhoods.

The gathering had a tone of conviviality rather than confrontation.

There were representatives from most of the city's 30 neighborhood associations, which stretch from downtown to uptown, from impoverished to affluent addresses.

"I live in one of the poorest neighborhoods and we're not well represented today," said the Rev. Joyce Hartwell, a music impresario who lives in West Hill.

"I've gone to a lot of meetings in the last five years and all we've done is plan and study," she said.

Michael Tucker, director of the Harriman Research & Technology Park, said he was committed to producing workable recommendations "that don't just sit on a shelf."

The question-and-answer period was occasionally interrupted by applause. Attendees clapped when Julie Elson, who lives in the New Scotland Avenue/Woodlawn neighborhood, offered what might be called a baby-boomer boomerang scenario that drains local resources going and coming.

Elson described that she was a state employee, nearing retirement age, and is considering joining her cohorts relocating to North Carolina or Florida "to spend our New York state retirement benefits before returning to Albany when we need long-term care."

Elson made a plug for building conveniently located, no-maintenance condos for seniors at the Harriman State Office campus, which is being re-visioned as a research and high-tech park.

"I'd rather not leave Albany," Elson said. She and her husband have two children, ages 17 and 20, and they'll soon be both retired and empty-nesters.

Rabito said there are several hundred units currently "going from concept to completion" in downtown Albany that would fill the bill for Elson's requirements.

Other concerns raised included a need to expand public transportation for the large percentage of city residents (variously estimated 25 to 50 percent, based on different surveys) who do not own a car and must commute from the inner city to the suburbs for work.

Paul Grondahl can be reached at 454-5623 or by e-mail at

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