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Albany leaders question redevelopment plan

ALBANY -- Current and former members of the Albany Common Council were among those questioning a plan in the county legislature to address vacant properties.

They joined about one hundred other people at the Albany Public Library on Washington Avenue Wednesday at a meeting of the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations.

Legislature Majority Leader Frank Commisso presented a pamphlet outlining something called the Albany County Redevelopment Program, a program to that would be created and up and running, according to Commisso, in about one year.

Commisso said developers have expressed interest along with the local director of Habitat for Humanity. In January the county legislature defeated a proposal to create a "land trust" that would have turned some properties over to non-profit groups to rehabilitate and then sell to new owners.

On Wednesday night, Albany Common Council member Dominick Calsolaro suggested elected leaders abandon consideration of a county convention center and use some of the remaining Convention Authority funds - more than 60 million dollars - to fix up abandoned buildings and lots. Council President Carolyn McLaughlin agreed.

"Why don't we think about using that - asking for that money?" McLaughlin asked a panel of invited guests, including Commisso and County Executive Dan McCoy. "

All they can say is no but you have no because you ask not.

Former council president Shawn Morris urged Commisso to let the public be more involved with the process.

"There are so many models for public involvement in decision-making that you have absolutely leaped over," Morris said. "I think that you really have to take a step back and not say "the public's involved" after all the decisions are made, because that's not involvement."

Joining McCoy and Commisso on the panel were Michael Yevoli, the city's Commissioner of Development and Planning and Jeff Jamison, the head of the Division of Buildings and Regulatory Compliance.

Part of the problem with the hundreds of vacant properties is a weak housing market. Another is the condition of the properties.

"There's 305 properties in Albany County that are foreclosed on," McCoy said. "202 in the city of Albany. As of April 1st of 2013, we took back 68 properties alone in the city of Albany. Now most of these properties...are in disrepair, where if they went to auction we're not gonna get anything for them."