MALL NEIGHBORS SEEK ESCAPE FROM A 'SLUM'

Westmere residents want nearby vacant houses demolished

CHRIS CHURCHILL BUSINESS WRITER
Section: Business,  Page: D1

Date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011

GUILDERLAND -- Residents of a residential neighborhood near Crossgates Mall in Guilderland are asking the shopping center to demolish vacant homes it owns there.


Crossgates, owned by Syracuse-based Pyramid Cos., in recent months has removed tenants from the approximately 15 homes it owns in the Westmere section of Guilderland, in a neighborhood that sits between Western Avenue and the mall.


Neighbors, in a letter sent to Pyramid this week, say the vacancies "have changed our community from a well-kept residential neighborhood into a suburban slum."


The letter, noting that many of the homes are dilapidated and deteriorating, asks the mall to demolish the homes "and create and maintain green space areas in their place."


Pyramid bought the properties as it prepared for a never-realized expansion of the mall in the 1990s. Michael Shanley, a principal at the company, last month told the Times Union that Pyramid decided to empty the properties so it could evaluate what to do with them.


Shanley could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


The letter, signed by 13 residents of the neighborhood along Western Avenue, follows a meeting held earlier this month to develop a resident response to the vacancies and condition of the properties.


"We're letting them know that we're paying attention and that they need to address our concerns," said Judith England, a Gabriel Terrace resident who signed the letter.


England also said residents plan to attend an upcoming meeting of the Guilderland Town Board. The letter, meanwhile, asks Shanley to meet with neighborhood residents as a group.


The empty homes have led some residents to speculate that Pyramid again wants to expand the mall or otherwise develop the land. Rumors of a plan for a new hotel have circulated in the neighborhood for months.


Shanley insisted there's no truth to the talk. And Supervisor Ken Runion said Tuesday that Pyramid has not presented or discussed a development plan with the town.


Runion has received a copy of the neighbors' letter to Pyramid, and said he largely agrees with their position on the future of the vacant houses.


"The best solution there is for the buildings to be leveled and the properties converted to green space," he said.


Reach Chris Churchill at 454-5442 or cchurchill@timesunion.com.