District voters OK sale of Shenendehowa parcel to Clifton Park

Adriane Wilders signs for her ballot at Gowana Middle School to vote on the land-sale referendum Tuesday.

PHOTOGRAPHER: ERICA MILLERAdriane Wilders signs for her ballot at Gowana Middle School to vote on the land-sale referendum Tuesday. PHOTOGRAPHER: ERICA MILLER

By Kassie Parisi

Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — This time the yays have it.

On Tuesday, residents of the Shenendehowa Central School District approved a deal that allows the district to sell 37 acres of undeveloped land to the town of Clifton Park for just over $1 million.

The final vote, which was 2,723 to 535, gives the district the green light to sell the land for $1.1 million. It came eight months after residents soundly rejected a sale for more money to a developer.

“The vote, and the margin, reflects that the community believes in what we’re trying to do as a school district,” District Superintendent Dr. L. Oliver Robinson said after the vote.

Robinson added that the $1.1 million could go toward looking for property to be used by the district for another school. Voters also approved a $22 million capital project for the district Tuesday night.

The vote puts an end to a months-long process regarding the land’s fate. The parcel off Maxwell Road adjacent to Shatekon Elementary School is heavily wooded. Now that the sale to the town has been set in stone, state law requires that the land can only be used for public purposes, such as a park.

The road to the sale was anything but smooth. Last January, thousands of residents expressed anger over the district’s decision to sell the land to BBL Development for about $2 million, with hopes from the developers to build a Shop Rite on the space.

Ultimately, so many people signed on to a petition demanding that the district hold a referendum on the matter that a vote on whether or not to approve the sale was held in April. The sale was soundly beaten down by a vote of 5,442 to 2,323.

The months leading to the vote were filled with colorful and often divisive campaigning over what path would be best for the district and the towns that comprise it.

After the April vote, the Board of Education re-evaluated its options, and decided to enter into negotiations with Clifton Park, which had previously attempted to secure the land before the district opted to sell to BBL.

A purchase agreement between the two bodies, finalized in writing in October, had to be approved by voters before any sale could be completed. The sale contract includes a memorandum of understanding between the town and the school board, in which they pledge to work together to plan future use of the land.

That memorandum also states that the town will select a professional consulting firm to assist with the planning process, and that public meetings be held as the plans develop. According to the agreement, Clifton Park will contribute $300,000 to $500,000 toward the planning efforts.

Bill Casey, president of the Board of Education, said that the school board is unified in accepting the results of the referendum, which he noted had “overwhelming results.”

“In a year, this shows the value of public participation and listening to the public,” he said after the vote. “There’s no sour grapes on this. It’s ‘Let’s move forward.’”

The Friends of Clifton Park Open Space, a group of advocates opposed to development of the land instrumental in getting the original petition for a referendum off the ground and getting voters out for the April vote, were pleased with the outcome.

“We thank the voters of the district for this outcome,” the group said in a press release. “We compliment their foresight to see beyond today by taking this proactive step to keep our district a great place to live, work, and play.”

“We’ll begin the process of executing the land purchase agreement with the school in the near future,” Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett said after the vote. “The vote is in. The parcel was the subject of two referendums, and the people of this community have spoken loud and clear.”

While there isn’t a closing date set, the planning process for the land will utilize the same process used for other long-range town projects, such as the Town Center Plan and the Western Clifton Park GEIS. In October, Barrett noted that community groups and public meetings would be included in the process as well.