Voters turn out for controversial referendum

Residents of the Shenendehowa Central School District vote Tuesday on a referendum to sell school-owned property for development
 MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHERResidents of the Shenendehowa Central School District vote Tuesday on a referendum to sell school-owned property for development MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

Kassie Parisi

Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — Many voters leaving polls for a referendum Tuesday morning expressed concerns about the impact of a controversial land deal on green space in the town and criticized what they saw as a lack of transparency in the sale process itself.

The referendum began at 7 a.m. at Gowana Middle School in Clifton Park, where residents of Clifton Park and Halfmoon weaved between school buses and students to cast votes either for or against the school district’s plan to sell 32 acres of undeveloped land to BBL Construction for development.

While a majority no vote by residents would stop the sale to BBL, it would not keep the Shenendehowa board of education from conducting another request-for-proposals process to sell the land. The school board voted in December to sell the land to BBL, but town open space advocates, who were angry at the lack of public input on the decision, collected enough signatures on a petition in January to force the referendum.

Joe Conroy, a resident of Halfmoon, voted no. He said that, while he would like to see the 32 acres turned into a park eventually, he didn’t see the sale to BBL as enough of a guarantee that a park would happen, despite the company’s promise to donate around 17 to 19 acres of the land to either the town or another open space group to use as a park.

The school district, which accepted BBL’s bid of $2 million for the land, has said it intends use the money to purchase land for a new elementary school in Halfmoon, but Conroy said that $2 million ultimately would probably not be enough to cover those costs.

Katie Payne, of Clifton Park, voted to approve the sale. She said she felt it was important that the district make the deal now, while possibilities, including a potential park, are still on the table.

“It is the district’s land,” she said.

Suzann Smart, a 30 year resident of Clifton Park, saw the vote as an opportunity to actively protect green space while it exists.

“We need more green space. The town deserves to have green space,” she said.

Some voters said they voted no simply because they didn’t want to see another grocery store in town. BBL and ShopRite have both confirmed, should the sale go through, that there is a possibility of a ShopRite being developed on the property.

Maryann Lazarus, a Clifton Park resident, said  new commercial development, such as grocery stores, can bring positive things to communities, including employment opportunities for residents of all ages. But, Lazarus ultimately voted no to the sale “just to be safe,” citing concerns over having a grocery store so close to the school campus.

In a recent letter to the community, district Superintendent Oliver Robinson criticized what he called “accusations and misinformation” being used in the respective “vote yes” and “vote no” campaigns leading up to Tuesday’s vote.

“As a school district, we do not ever tell people how to vote. That is your right to decide; that’s democracy,” Robinson said in a written statement.

Voting, which is being held in the gymnasium at Gowana, ends at 9 p.m. tonight.

The Daily Gazette will update this story as details become available.