As activists push back against development, Guilderland to update its comprehensive plan 

Enterprise file photo — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 

Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber talks with other Democrats while waiting for election results on Nov. 5, 2019. 

GUILDERLAND — As development — both residential and commercial — burgeons in Guilderland, the town has started a process of updating its comprehensive land-use plan, said Supervisor Peter Barber this week, estimating that it will take about two years to complete. 

“Over the past year,” Barber said, “people have been asking about it.” 

Guilderland adopted its first comprehensive plan in 2001 and in recent years has done a series of neighborhood studies.

Over the last two years, a groundswell of public activism has resulted in the formation of the Guilderland Coalition for Responsible Growth, responding to a dramatic increase in development projects, and especially large apartment or senior-living complexes, in the town. 

At the same time, Pyramid Management, which owns Crossgates Mall, is proposing a Costco along with over 200 residential units to its property. (See related story.)

Steven Wickham, who chairs the coalition’s steering committee, said he has mixed feelings about the update of Guilderland’s master plan. The idea of an update sounds good, he said, but he wonders what the point is, since, he says, the town doesn’t follow the current comprehensive plan anyway.

Wickham cited as an example the large car wash being built across from Market 32 on Western Avenue in the hamlet, which required two zoning changes. Wickham also said he wonders if the town will use this opportunity to codify what it wants to do and what it is already doing. 

Laurel Bohl was elected to the town board in November, ousting an incumbent, after she spoke for many months as a coalition member at town meetings; she advocated a pause in development to allow for a comprehensive study of what kind of town residents want to see. 

The town board recently approved the first step in the updating process, for the town’s grant writer, Donald Csaposs, to apply for a $25,000 Farmland and Agricultural Protection grant that would be used to protect green space. “That grant doesn’t get offered every year,” Barber told The Enterprise. 

Later, the town will apply for larger grants — each “$100,000 and up” — from entities such as the Capital District Transportation Committee and the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, Barber said. He noted that the process to develop Guilderland’s original comprehensive plan cost “well over a million dollars,” most of it covered by grants. 

The town will begin involving the public soon, said Barber. “You really have to make sure you’re involving the public from Day 1,” he added.  

The form that public involvement will take is not yet clear, according to the supervisor. Barber estimated that the process of updating the plan will take about two years. 

The town will likely hire a planning company to advise it on possible approaches, which could include surveys or forums in various parts of the community such as the library or at meetings of neighborhood groups. 

Barber was not sure if it would involve the formation of ongoing committees, as the 2001 comprehensive plan did. If it did involve forming resident committees, they might focus, he said, on either individual neighborhoods or issues, such as affordable housing or senior housing. 

The update may focus, Barber said, on parts of the plan that need to be changed, or areas that have emerged in recent years, such as becoming a climate-smart community or following smart-growth design principles. 

A first step would be securing competitive grants and having public meetings and resident surveys, to prepare the update’s scope, said Barber in a “Somewhat Frequent Questions” document about the comprehensive plan update posted on the town’s website. 

Possible scoping topics include, according to the document: 

— Providing affordable housing options for all ages, physical abilities, and incomes; 

— Encouraging climate-smart growth, promoting sustainable energy, and protecting water resources; 

— Developing green infrastructure linking neighborhoods to destinations; 

— Protecting farmland, and preserving open space and historic places; and 

— Developing a coordinated multi-modal transportation network including public and non-motorized transit.

The comprehensive plan currently in place includes the Comprehensive Plan Study dating from 2001, says the document on the website. It also includes separate neighborhood and other studies done over the years through 2016, such as the Fort Hunter/Carman Road Neighborhood Transportation Plan of 2003, the Guilderland Hamlet Neighborhood Master Plan of 2007, and the Westmere Corridor Study of 2016. All of the studies are posted on the town website

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