New hamlet plan would maintain small-town character

The Enterprise — Sean Mulkerrin
Making a point: Adam Greenberg, third from the left, answers a question about the hamlet zoning plan that was presented at a special town meeting on Thursday. Listening, from left, are town clerk Diane Deschenes, councilmember William Hennessey, supervisor Douglas LaGrange, and town lawyer Michael Naughton. 

NEW SCOTLAND — A decade after a grassroots uprising against a big-box proposal for the center of town, a zoning plan has been developed that would maintain the area’s small-town character, while fostering mixed-use growth.

 A draft of the hamlet zoning plan — two years in the making — was presented to the town board at a special meeting on Thursday, Nov. 30.

The two hour-discussion on the 43-page plan focused the technical details in the plan.

Councilman William Hennessey said that the town board needs to submit the plan to the Albany County Planning board for its approval, which the town board intends to authorize at its Dec. 13 meeting. After a 30- to 60-day period, the town will receive the county’s decision, and if it is allowed to proceed, the town can schedule a public hearing for the plan to allow residents to weigh in. After that, the board can vote to codify the plan into law.

The plan proposes new zoning for the hamlet of New Scotland, which is currently zoned as commercial. The hamlet is bounded by the town of Bethlehem to the east, the village of Voorheesville and railroad to the west, the Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail to the north, and commercial and medium-density residential districts to the south of Route 85. 

Its stated purpose is: “To provide standards that will preserve the physical beauty of the Town of New Scotland and promote its small-town character while supporting mixed-use growth in a thriving, walkable community.”

“The goal here is to incorporate commercial use in our district, in a mixed-use arrangement,” said Hennessey at the Thursday meeting.

The plan ascribes specific “character areas,” or sub-districts, to the hamlet:

— Beginning with a concentrated hamlet center that will have the character of a traditional village development, including a central area for greenspace. It will be mostly commercial space, but could also include multi-family housing that is incorporated into mixed-use development, which would have commercial space on the ground level. In the plan, this area covers the corner of routes 85 and 85A, extending to Falvo’s Meat Market to the north and extends past Stewart’s to the east.

Retail space has recently been approved next to Falvo’s. 

— Radiating out from the hamlet center, south of route 85 and extending west across Route 85A to the railroad tracks and north a few hundred feet past Falvo’s, is the hamlet-expansion area, which is currently zoned for commercial use, and will now include mixed-use land use to incorporate more housing.

“Incorporating mixed-use development is important for this area and for the town,” said Hennessey, “so that we don’t encourage suburban sprawl.”

— The development area extends north to the rail trail and crosses over to the west of route 85 to the proposed LeVie Farm housing development and extends east to existing, developed land. This area would include more residential space than commercial.

“It [the plan] preserves open space — it allows for that hamlet, small village-type feel to it, while preserving the land that’s already there — the natural resources,” said Daniel Leinung, who is a member of the hamlet development district-study committee, the town planning board, and who won a seat on the town board in November, which he will assume on Jan. 1.

“That’s what this is all about — better planning,” he added.

The big box

The genesis of the plan begins nearly a decade ago, with a big-box proposal. 

In 2008, a developer created controversy when it became interested in hundreds of acres of land at the intersection of routes 85 and 85A, which were zoned for commercial development but had only ever been used for agriculture. 

Cazenovia-based Sphere Development proposed building a Target-anchored shopping center there. The area is comprised of cornfields and woodlands and includes the former Bender melon farm.

Representatives of the Sphere Group told The Enterprise at that time that a parcel of land that large, zoned as it was, served as a beacon to developers.

Hennessey told The Enterprise, the town board said at that time that there needed to be appropriate planning for that district, because the zoning code allowed that development. “The zoning was too loose,” he said.

After two failed attempts, and a change in board members, the town board successfully passed a law, which limited the size of large-scale commercial development at the intersection.

“The town’s response to the big-box was a square-foot restriction. And, ever since then, we’ve said, ‘If not that, then what?’” Thomas Hart told The Enterprise. Hart is a member of the hamlet development district study committee as well as a member of the town’s planning board.

“We’ve come a long way from the big-box concept without any structural organization to it, towards a more hamlet kind of structure that is characteristic of the town,” he said.  

“The biggest thing is, we have clarity on where we want to move forward with this entire area,” Hart said.

The plan

The plan lays out permitted uses and development standards that would be allowable in the sub-districts in order to preserve New Scotland’s small-town, rural character.

There are design standards for new residential housing as well as standards of re-use for existing buildings; circulation standards, meaning the hamlet should be designed to incorporate vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle use; street standards; street lighting; parking; and open space.

The idea behind the development standard is a trade-off: Developers must preserve open space, but in exchange they are allowed to build more condensed developments, which makes for a more pedestrian-friendly arrangement.

There are design standards for the quality of materials used for the front facade of the building and the amount of window space or openings on each story.

Street design includes: Lower speeds, requiring sidewalks, encouraging bike paths, on-street parking, allowing for alleys for garage access, trash, and recycling

Open space includes: Requiring a percentage of land in each development application to be set aside for open space or recreation and requiring setbacks from streams to protect water resources.

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