By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — After months of negotiations, Clifton Park has offered the Shenendehowa Central School District $1.1 million for a 34-acre plot of surplus land.
District and town officials held a press conference Tuesday to discuss terms of the deal, which includes a pledge from both the district and the Town Board to formally collaborate on the planning process for the parcel through a new joint committee that will meet on a regular basis. The committee members will be finalized at a later time, Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett said at Tuesday’s announcement.
The land, which is vacant, is located off Maxwell Road in Clifton Park, adjacent to Shatekon Elementary School and Arongen Elementary school. It is heavily wooded.
The deal is tentative. The school board will discuss it at its Sept. 25 meeting and would move to accept the bid at a board meeting on Oct. 10. Conversely, the town expects to approve the sale contract at its board meeting on Oct. 2.
The deal will then be put to a referendum for public approval on Dec. 5. District residents will also be able to vote for or against the district’s planned multimillion-dollar capital project at that time.
If the sale is approved by voters, the land would only be used for public purposes, such as a park.
The parcel was the subject of an April referendum, in which town residents overwhelmingly rejected the district’s proposal to sell the land to BBL Construction for about $2 million. That vote came after months of harsh campaign rhetoric, with many residents expressing a desire for the land to go to the town and others insisting it should be sold to BBL, which had plans to build a ShopRite store on the parcel.
After outcry over the school board’s perceived lack of transparency in dealing with BBL, the board launched negotiations to sell the land to the town, with the intent of being more open with residents during the process.
As soon as the new deal is approved, Barrett said, the town will move quickly to begin the planning process for the land and will utilize the same process used for other long-range town projects, such as the Town Center Plan and the Western Clifton Park GEIS. The planning process, he added, would include community groups and public meetings.
“We have an incredible opportunity for a more engaged partnership and collaboration on issues and important opportunities — important to both entities and also extremely important to the people we serve, not only in Clifton Park, but also greater Southern Saratoga County,” Barrett said.
Possibilities for the land, Shen Board of Education President Bill Casey said, include a nature lab for the school district’s science classes somewhere on the parcel. Other factors, such as signage for paths and trails, will be part of the planning discussion as well.
Casey called the deal with the town a win-win situation. The district, he added, has also been considering more than just the price of the land since negotiations with the town started earlier in the summer.
“The other piece that we’ve talked about is not only what’s the price we get, but what’s the value added? And we can look very selfishly. What’s the value added to the district? Or, what’s the value added to the community?” he said. “This is a wonderful property. People want to access it. They want a park someplace. They want to walk through it. They want clear trails.”
Casey said the $1.1 million from the town could go toward securing land in Halfmoon for a new elementary school, but he added that the district needs analyze projected elementary school enrollment before committing to anything.
State Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, also indicated at the press conference that he would be interested in working with the two bodies to secure state funding to improve the land.
Susan Burton, vice-president of Friends of Clifton Park Open Space,said she is optimistic that the public will vote in favor of the sale in December.
Friends of Clifton Park Open Space, which has for months advocated that the land be sold to the town, was instrumental in getting residents to turn out for what became a record number of voters in the April referendum. The group also applauded the Town Board and the school board for their decision to tell residents about the deal prior to approving it.
“We’re happy. Now we have to get out the vote again, which was a daunting task before, and I think this will be easier for us,” Burton said.