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March 7, 2014


No soccer site near cemetery

Board members: Proposed use is not allowed on land
Times Union
Updated 9:50 pm, Thursday, March 6, 2014



Taking pains to praise the project, Zoning Board of Appeals members rejected a plan Thursday to build a soccer complex next to Memory Gardens cemetery.

After a series of emotional meetings, the board voted to reject the variance that would have enabled Afrim Nezaj to build four outdoor soccer fields and an 86,865-square-foot indoor dome.

The cemetery's board and people whose family members are buried there opposed the recreation center as intrusive, while Nezaj's backers said the sound of children playing would have been muted by distance and trees.

In the end, the board said its decision was not based on any of those issues. Instead, members said they are bound to follow the rules laid out for granting variances from allowed zoning. Commercial and office buildings are allowed on the property at 969 Watervliet Shaker Road, but a large outdoor amusement use is not.

"I wish it could go through," said board member David Rosenthal. "Maybe this isn't the right place for it, but I hope we can find a place for it."

Another member, Karen Gorman, said she is a soccer mom who appreciates Nezaj's facilities. Her father died 1 ½ years ago, she said, so she also sympathizes with cemetery visitors who shared their apprehensions.

"I see both sides of the story," she said. "I think it's a great use, but I don't think it meets the criteria."

Susan Coleman, who owns the land, sought the variance so she could sell it to Nezaj.

Board members said the application fell short in two ways: The property is not unique so that it's difficult to develop in other ways, as the law requires, and the owner did not demonstrate she could not otherwise get a reasonable return. Board Chairman James Campbell said the law would allow a golf course or park, so the Town Board might want to take up the issue of whether the zoning should be changed to allow a large amusement use.

Nezaj's Afrim Sports Inc., owns two other soccer centers in Colonie. After the vote, he said he is still committed to providing more places for youths to play.

"We need fields, and I am going to do all I can to build more fields," he said.

This past weekend, he said, there were 14 outdoor soccer games played in the region because some local teams are in leagues that begin play in March. Snow had to be shoveled off existing fields to make them usable.

He said he would talk to the Town Board about changing the zoning or finding another site. He said a developer has expressed interest in buying his complex on Albany Shaker Road for an unspecified new use. He would have sold the property if allowed to build the new facility, he said.

Cheryl Rebhan, president of the board of directors of Memory Gardens, said she was glad the board rejected the plan.

"It was a very good decision. It was a very hard decision," Rebhan said. "I think the soccer arena would be a great idea, just in a different venue."


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