McKownville Improvement Association
McKownville property and the State University of New York at Albany

      view of the SUNYA campus c.1995The State takeover in 1961 of the land owned by the Albany Country Club to build a new campus for one of the four University centers of the State University was a landmark event in the history of McKownville. The neighborhood was considerably changed by the rapid metamorphosis of a rural club and golf course reserved for the recreation of the Albany rich, into the site of what was then said to be, for a short time, the world's largest poured concrete structure, intended for the higher education of the children of ordinary citizens of New York.

The McKownville Improvement Association was active in keeping residents informed as to the intentions of the new University, and was quick to invite one of the senior University officials to speak at a public meeting, on 21 May 1963. The Assistant to the University President, Colonel Walter Tisdale spoke on the building activities and the plans for student and faculty growth. As part of his presentation, it was reported that he assured the meeting that the University had no plans to take over any houses of McKownville, for faculty housing, or fraternity/sorority accommodation. He was quoted in the report in the Turnpike Record as saying McKownville homes would not be needed by the University "in your lifetime or mine". [but see below, Potter Club] [and also below, house purchases 1965-68]

Effects of the University on McKownville properties
A number of faculty and university staff have over the years since chosen to buy a house and live in McKownville, especially for the great convenience of not having to drive or take public transport to work, but the neighborhood has never become an academic enclave.
Because the campus was designed to provide accommodation for many of the undergraduate students, (even to the extent of having an on-campus "Rathskeller", and a bowling alley, both later closed) McKownville has been affected less than was perhaps first anticipated by the usual student off-campus activities. Only one bar was built in McKownville near the campus on Western Avenue and it was, besides, effectively a replacement for a smaller one on the same site (Vincent's Tavern next to the old Country Club Garage, both demolished in the early 1970's for the Across the Street Pub). Two others also offering bar food already existed (Son's Tavern) or appeared at about the same time (Sutter's) just across the City of Albany line. However, there has never been organized or large-scale off-campus student housing in McKownville or, until very recently, nearby.

Assignment of residential zoning to the part of the University property in McKownville
In 1985, the Town of Guilderland reassessed the zoning codes assigned to certain properties in McKownville. The largest of these areas was the 118 acres in the Town of Guilderland belonging to the State of New York and occupied by the State University. Previously, no zoning code was attached to this land; the Town Board at that time assigned it a residential R-15 code. The Town recognized that it had no enforcement power on the State for this zoning, but explicitly stated that it was acting in order to have such residential zoning legally attached if ever the University were to sell or otherwise relinquish its possession of part or all of this property to private (non-state) owners.

University declined to purchase 1257 Western Avenue 
In 2002 the University considered purchasing from a non-resident developer a 1 acre lot at 1257 Western Avenue, containing a house then in dilapidated condition; this lot is among eleven others east of Knowles Terrace all containing residences and zoned R-10 residential. The tentative plan announced was for a combined classroom/faculty office building. Officers of the McKownville Improvement Association met with the University president to present the Association's opinion that this would be an inappropriate change of use for this residential lot. The University decided not to buy the property. In 2003 the Town of Guilderland purchased the property and condemned the house, which was then demolished, and leased the lot long-term to the McKownville Fire Department.

University purchase of the Holt-Harris property
The University in December 2015 purchased a significant piece of additional property in McKownville, from the heirs of John Holt-Harris, a New York State judge, and a long-term Trustee of the State University of New York at Albany. This consists of 8.7 acres in two adjoining, mainly forested lots each zoned for one single-family residence when they were sold to the University, and each containing one house at that time. These lie east of the upper part of Norwood Street and north of Waverly Place; the forested nature of the area provides a significant screen for the residential neighborhood from the noise, traffic, and lights of the University sports facilities. This property was much earlier, from 1909 to 1920, the property of William Barnes, and where he built his Lodge, later repurposed and used as the University Chapel House until the structure burned in 1985. [A detailed ownership history of this property from 1881]
Judge Holt-Harris was well-known for his views on the value of preserving the natural forested condition of his property, including its service as a screen, for the McKownville residential neighborhood adjacent, from the activities of the University sports area. It can be added that the noise and light from that area were significantly less intense and events causing this less frequent in Holt-Harris' lifetime than they are now.
This sale caused the McKownville Improvement Association to petition the Town of Guilderland to protect it from potential inappropriate use of this property and the Town in February 2016 passed a resolution affirming that the property should not be put to any use departing from the low-density residential zoning assigned to it (news report of this Board meeting and resolution). The McKownville Improvement Association issued a position statement following the passage of the Town Board resolution. The University had the two houses (photos here, and here) demolished in May 2016, claiming that they were in such poor condition as to be not economical to repair. (The University has prior form in the demolition of historic houses; the Woods house nearby was a previous victim).
Since that time, the property has remained unoccupied by any structure, and still sustains the mature forest nurtured by John Holt-Harris during his life. The University has always claimed in communications with the McKownville Improvement Association to wish to be a good neighbor; in this case, McKownville residents, especially those who own houses nearby, firmly express the opinion that the way to be such a good neighbor is for the University to leave the property in its present condition, or at most to replace no more than the two single-family residences which used to be in it, and for which it is zoned, and without removing any significant number of the trees.

The University campus property west of Fuller Road
There is also another part of the original 1961 land taken for the University at Albany that adjoins McKownville, the area west of Fuller Road north of Warren Street, extending north from the Guilderland - City of Albany boundary. The southern part of this area is also forested, and provides a valued shelter and screen from the traffic noise of the nearby interstate highways and Washington Avenue Extension, and the major highway interchange ramps. This area also holds the detention pond for drainage directed from the buildings farther north on this property. Those buildings at first consisted just of the low-rise apartments of Freedom Quad, providing graduate student housing for the University at Albany, and then a single new building was added next to Washington Avenue to contain the Atmospheric Science Research Center (ASRC), and the Albany office of the National Weather Service. The University at Albany grounds maintenance warehouse was also located on this property.
After 1995, the first building of the new Nanotech College was placed next to the ASRC, and then in a few years this college of the University at Albany engineered a divorce from the University it was originally set up to benefit, and was established as a wholly separate State University Polytechnic Institute. More and much larger SUNY Poly Nanotech research and engineering buildings have arisen since, parking lots expanded, part of Washington Avenue relocated to accommodate these buildings, and the University grounds maintenance operation and warehouse expelled. It is now quite obscure which parts of this land remain under the control of the University at Albany, and, of particular concern to residents of McKownville, whether any more of the forested area is threatened with destruction, and to what purpose.

Additional note: the Potter Club purchase, and the consequences for the McKownville Fire Department
When Colonel Tisdale made his statement in May 1963, the University's Faculty-Student Association had already violated this assurance by purchasing two adjacent houses in McKownville (1248 and 1250 Western Avenue) on 24 and 25 May 1962. The Faculty-Student Association then sold these to the Potter Club Alumni Association on 14 September 1964, for $40,000, after being driven to get a State Supreme Court judgement that this was a legally permissible transaction (see the deed, end of page 2). This fraternity applied to the Town in March 1965 for a zoning change for these properties from residential to local business, and was granted this change in early April, intending sale to a Syracuse developer for demolition of the residences and construction of an office building on the site. The developer later announced the intention to lease this building to an IBM data processing subsidiary company. In May 1965 the Town granted a special use permit to allow this not very local business in the property recently granted Local Business rezoning. [clips from the Altamont Enterprise covering these first events in 1965]
All this happened very quickly, despite the fact that the Town officials must have been aware that the McKownville Fire District Commissioners had, after extensive search, identified this site as the only one available in McKownville suitable for a planned new firehouse, and that the Fire District were about to hold a bond issue special election, to authorize purchase, or condemnation, of the property, and the estimated cost of building of a new firehouse. This took place on 15 June 1965, with voters approving the bond issue. The Potter Club and the developer refused the Fire District's offer of $55,000 for the property. The Potter Club then sold it to the Syracuse developer for $67,000. [clips from the Altamont Enterprise covering this interval]
In October 1965, the dispute over the price of the now condemned property was handed to a State Supreme Court commission of appraisal, who returned an opinion in July 1966 that the Fire district must pay $102,000 for the 120 by 200 ft lot. It is astonishing that the appraisal commission thought reasonable a 50% increase in value only 6 months after the sale to the Syracuse real estate speculator, and the Fire District Commissioners expressed the firm opinion that it was "unreasonable and excessive". Nevertheless, the decision was upheld after further appeal to the State Supreme Court. [clips from the Altamont Enterprise covering these last events]
Another special election for a supplement to the bond issue was held 26 January 1967, to cover the additional unanticipated inflated cost of the property, and for an additional fire engine. Voters approved this, perhaps recognizing that there was little choice if a new and adequate firehouse was to become a reality.
So it is the case that the arrival of the University, and the failure by the Town Board to resist a rezoning conversion from residential use, cost the Fire District, and McKownville taxpayers, at least $35,000 more than it ought to have done to obtain a modern firehouse.

second additional note: Faculty-Student Association purchase of houses for new faculty 1965-1968
In 1965, the Faculty-Student Association started purchasing houses, mainly in McKownville, for some of the newly arriving faculty necessary to fill the rapidly expanding academic programs. Eleven houses were purchased in McKownville, and another nearby on Loughlin St (by the cemetery on Fuller Road), and two more farther away in Albany. This also violated the assurances given to McKownville by University officials that they would not do this. The record of a meeting on 16 May 1966 of officers of the McKownville Improvement Association with Mr John Buckhoff an official of the University contains this item:
" Private homes have been acquired by the Faculty-Student Service Corporation on a temporary basis for certain professors, because suitable rented premises could not be found. The Faculty-Student organization continues to pay all taxes due, as it is not an official unit of the New York State Government. It is expected that these homes will be sold to private buyers eventually."
The University (or the Faculty-Student Association) did do this; these houses were all sold, between 1971 and 1974, to become owner-occupied houses again.
These properties included the house at 1429 Western Avenue, on the corner of Waverly Place, sold back to private ownership 13 April 1972. This house therefore cannot be the structure on Waverly Place which the University is recorded as intending to convert to offices in a document dated in early 1974. It must have been the Woods House that was considered for this purpose, and opposed by the McKownville Improvement Association as an inappropriate intrusion by the University into the residential area of McKownville.

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