Wilford asks fellow planners to look at ‘impact potential’ of rezone at village center

— From Albany County Interactive Mapping

But there’s an abutment: In order to avoid spot zoning, the applicants seeking to rezone 120 Park Street from central business to light industrial say that 120 Park Street abuts a light industrial zone on the other side of the railroad tracks. The village of Altamont, according to one planning board member, does not allow spot zoning.

ALTAMONT — The planning board at its monthly meeting reviewed and offered comment on a zone-change application for 120 Park Street that recently came before the village board, which will hold a public hearing on the proposed rezone on May 7.

JNT Development is asking that the property at 120 Park Street, adjacent to the Altamont Free Library and behind the village post office, be rezoned from central business to light industrial to allow for apartments to be built on the 1.6-acre site owned by Timothy Coughtry; according to the town of Guilderland assessment rolls, the parcel has a full-market value of $217,330.

In December 2018, Jeff Thomas, owner of JNT Development, proposed a three-building mixed-use development that would consist of 26 one- and two-bedroom apartments and 3,600 square feet of commercial space.

On the current application for a change of zone, JNT Development lists as the proposed use of the property, if the rezoning is granted: “Multi-family residential.” Commercial space is no longer part of the proposal.

Multi-family buildings are allowed in just two of Altamont’s residential zones but have restrictions — RSC: Resident Senior Citizen, which is housing specifically for residents over the age of 55; and R-10M: Residential Multifamily, minimum lot of 10,000 square feet, which has a restriction that says: no more than 65-percent of all structures on a proposed parcel or lot shall be multiple-family units. The light-industrial zones do not have the restrictions of the RSC and R-10M zones.

“Under the existing zoning, the attorney for the village board determined that a mixed-use development was not permitted, and apartments are not permitted [in the central business district],” Donald Zee, the attorney for JNT Development, told The Enterprise. “And apartments are what we think are appropriate for the village.”

A rezone from central business to light industrial would allow for apartment buildings to be constructed on the parcel, provided the project obtained a special-use permit and underwent a site-plan review by the planning board.

Chairman Tim Wilford told his fellow planning board members that, when considering rezoning 120 Park Street from central business to light industrial, their focus should not be on the specific project presented by JNT Development.

Rather, Wilford said, “the first focus is our village map” and what the rezone would mean for areas surrounding 120 Park Street like the library and Orsini Park.

He asked that the board members look at the allowable uses in a light-industrial zone because, even if the village board approves the rezone, JNT Development’s project could never happen and then the village would be stuck with a new zoning district that allows: single-family detached homes; multi-family homes; automobile wreckers; car washes; landscape businesses; veterinary hospitals; light industrial and manufacturing uses; and warehousing.

“So when you when you look at that,” Wilford said of the rezone, “you have to think of the [long-term] impact potential.”



Spot zoning

Connie Rue, the board’s alternate member, in written remarks read by board member Deborah Hext said that the rezone is an example of spot zoning. “As I understand it,” Rue wrote, “spot zoning should not be allowed for the benefit of a single owner or a single development interest, if the intended use is not calculated to serve the general welfare of the community.”

According to Rue, JNT Development made the claim that there are several parcels zoned light industrial abutting 120 Park Street. The legal definition of abutting, according to Rue, “When it comes to properties, means the properties must be contiguous and there is no intervening land between the abutting parcels.”

Her reading of the zoning map, Rue said, was that there was just one property near 120 Park Street, “and it does not abut the property in question, as it is on the other side of the railroad property.” If the properties are not abutting, then it is a case of spot zoning, Rue said.

Zee disputes Rue’s claim that 120 Park Street doesn’t abut land that is zoned light industrial. He claims that the railroad tracks don’t have a zoning district; therefore, 120 Park Street abuts land zoned light industrial across the tracks.

Three parcels of land on the opposite side of the railroad tracks from 120 Park Street are zoned light industrial and, of these parcels, just one can barely make the claim that it abuts 120 Park Street (see map).

Comprehensive plan

Incorporating the comprehensive plan into the discussion, Wilford said that one of the plan’s eight major goals was economic development, encouraging retail and commercial development in the village.

The central business district, he said, tries to further that aim.

“There’s very little that says that we desperately need more apartments,” Wilford said, adding later, “And apartments isn’t a goal.” One of the comprehensive plan’s eight major goals was housing; a specific objective called for the establishment of “zoning that allows for multi-family units.”

Zee said Thomas owns several commercial buildings with vacant storefronts. Thomas owns the Altamont Corners shopping plaza on the corner of Altamont Boulevard and Main Street; recently, the Subway sandwich shop in the plaza shut down.

“We think by advocating for this type of housing, we would help generate a need for more commercial users and uses,” Zee said.

Although Wilford asked the board to think about the rezone in broader terms than the proposed project for 12o Park Street, members wanted to make sure that the village board also heard about site-specific issues that, the planning board felt, should be taken into account when considering rezoning the parcel of land.

Traffic was brought up repeatedly, with board members expressing concern over increased traffic as well as a number of extra vehicles entering and exiting past the library. The deed for 120 Park Street has a right-of-way provision through the parking lot of the Altamont Free Library, a restored train station located alongside the tracks.

Board member Wayde Bush brought up his concern about supplying a new development with water and sewer. Superintendent of Public Works Jeffrey Moller told Bush that sewers shouldn’t be an issue but the water main on Park Street would probably have to be replaced.

Paul Miller, chief of the Altamont Fire Department, said he was concerned that a new water main may not have enough capacity to supply a sprinkler system to the building while simultaneously providing enough water should the fire department have to hook up to a hydrant.

Environmental review

In addition to offering its opinions both broad and narrow about rezoning 120 Park Street from central business to light industrial, the planning board went through the Short Environmental Assessment Form of the State Environmental Quality Review Act for the proposed rezone. The SEQR process is a series of questions that are asked about a proposed project in order to determine if the project would have a significant adverse impact on the environment.

If, after the SEQR review is completed and the lead agency determines that the project would not have a significant adverse impact on the environment, then a “negative declaration” would be made and the project would be allowed to proceed without stringent environmental review.

A “positive declaration” would not kill the project; it would start a new process of approval. The new process would require that the project’s applicant submit an Environmental Impact Statement that “concisely describes and analyzes a proposed action which may have a significant impact on the environment,” according to the state.

At the March 25 meeting, the planning board did not have to make any kind of declaration; it only had to highlight which of the 20 questions on the Short Environmental Assessment Form that the village board needed to take a closer look at when it ultimately makes a decision on rezoning 120 Park Street.

Some questions that the village board will have to consider on May 7 include:

— Is the proposed action consistent with the adopted comprehensive plan;

— Is the proposed action consistent with the predominant character of the existing built or natural landscape;

— Will the proposed action result in a substantial increase in traffic above present levels;

— Will the proposed action connect to an existing public or private water supply;

— Does any portion of the site of the proposed action, or lands adjoining the proposed action, contain wetlands or other waterbodies regulated by a federal, state, or local agency;

— Would the proposed action physically alter an existing wetland or waterbody?

— Does the site of the proposed action contain any threatened or endangered species of animal; and

— Is the project site located in the 100-year flood plain?

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