County planners say no to NXIVM

Board says school would not be in compliance with commercial zoning laws according to the the Saratoga County Planning Board.

Times Union/September 18, 2003
By Dennis Yusko

Ballston Spa -- Lawrence Benton, director of the county Planning Board, said Wednesday that the 67,000-square-foot facility proposed by Colonie-based NXIVM (pronounced NEX-ee-um) is a private training center, which would not be authorized for a commercial district in the town.

In addition, drivers leaving the proposed site's parking lot would be unable to see the 300 to 400 feet north required for safety, Benton said. NXIVM applied to build 184 parking spots.

The county board must inspect any land-use activity proposed within 500 feet of a county or state road. The proposed site -- at the intersection of Woodin and Stone Quarry roads -- is near Crescent Vischer Ferry Road, a state highway, Benton said.

He recently relayed the county board's concerns in a site plan review delivered to the Halfmoon Planning Board.

Benton recommended NXIVM conduct multiple traffic studies of the driveway and Woodin Road area, and submit a report on the potential impact of the project on existing roads to the town.

"The ball seems to be in the applicant's court," Benton said.

Daniel Hershberg, NXIVM's engineering consultant, refused to comment on the zoning issue. He said traffic studies by Creighton Manning Engineering of Albany are almost complete. The studies had to be done in the fall to assess the impact on traffic while public schools are in session, he said.

NXIVM also is considering alternative access to the proposed site, he said.

Company President Nancy Salzman of Clifton Park said in June that NXIVM's classes would run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily for 100 to 150 people at a time.

Over 100 Halfmoon residents have signed a petition opposing the proposed NXIVM school.

"I think it's just a poor spot for any business," said Gregory Mayo, who lives with his family about 100 yards from the proposed site.

NXIVM, located at 455 New Karner Road, Colonie, is an international multimillion-dollar-a-year business program that empowers executives to advance in their fields, its leaders said.

They said the Executive Success Programs, or ESP, instruct people in "rational inquiry," a mathematical approach to improving business and personal skills that was invented by Halfmoon resident Keith Raniere. Classes can cost thousands of dollars and last more than 10 hours for up to 16 consecutive days.

Salzman said in June that ESP classes in the proposed complex would offer "an education that isn't provided in traditional schools."

The Halfmoon Planning Board has tried to determine the nature of NXIVM's operation, said Steven Watts, board chairman. He said the board would be reviewing the issues raised by the county.

"It appears it is an educational institution and that may not be appropriate," he said. The board will review NXIVM's updated plans when they are presented, Watts said.

Students held an unauthorized groundbreaking on the site this summer, he said.

If the Halfmoon Planning Board rejects NXIVM's proposal on zoning grounds, the company could request an interpretation of uses in commercial districts from the town's Zoning Board of Appeals, Benton said. If that fails, NXIVM would have the options of requesting a use variance from the Halfmoon Zoning Board of Appeals or petition the Halfmoon Town Board to amend the district or zoning, Benton said.

NXIVM filed two federal lawsuits in August against social movement expert Rick Ross, The Cult Education Institute, a former ESP student, a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist. The suits claim the former student turned over a confidential manual to Ross and that his Web site falsely characterized ESP as a cult.

The suits, which ask for $10 million in damages, seek to force Ross to remove any mention of ESP from his Web site.

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