Owners of Bender melon farm say they were left out of process

Bender melon farm

The Enterprise — Andrew Schotz
History for sale: Maura Mottolese said that the hamlet plan affects mostly the Bender melon farm but its owners were not involved in the process. She herself was on the Capital District Transportation Authority Committee that began the process of the hamlet plan.

NEW SCOTLAND — Owners of the old Bender melon farm say they weren’t informed about a new hamlet plan that would affect their land. At its monthly meeting on Dec. 13, the town board got pushback from a representative who had served on the committee that started the process to rezone the land.

Maura Mottolese, who referred to herself as a representative for the owner of the Bender melon farm, addressed the board on the issue of notification.

She did not return calls from The Enterprise this week.

The New Scotland assessment roll lists 306 Maple Road, LLC as the owner of the property. The full-market value is $749,700, according to the assessment roll. The property is listed for sale for $4 million.

James Murphy is listed on The New York State Department of State Division of Corporations Entity Information as the selected entity with the address of 306 Maple Road, LLC.

In 1971, MLF Enterprises bought the 179-acre property for about $525,000 and 10 years later, MLF transferred the property to Murphy; Rebecca Freeman; Thomas Mottolese, who died in 2015 and was Maura’s father; and Richard Esmay, who died in 2016. MLF dissolved in 1974, according to the Department of State’s Division of Corporations.

A decade ago, Sphere Development had wanted to build a Target-anchored mall on the farmland. A grassroots movement opposing the plan led to a size-cap law and to the recent development of a hamlet plan.  

“I want to go on record, we would have appreciated [notice], since it’s our land that is being affected,” Mottolese told the board. She said she would have liked to “have been involved in the process, have a seat at the table.”

Councilman William Hennessey said that the board has held numerous open meetings, one of which was specifically for large landowners who would be affected by the hamlet plan.

He told The Enterprise this week that the meeting of large landholders took place on Dec. 8, 2015. It was set up by the consultant to the project, AECOM. Hennessy said that over 20 invitations went out, but those who attended were representatives for Baltus, Long Lumber, O’Rourke, and McCaffrey.  

According to the New York Department of State: “The state statutes do not require that individual notice be given to property owners whose lands are affected by the proposed zone change.”

Supervisor Douglas LaGrange told The Enterprise later that he was surprised that Mottolese had asserted she had no idea what was happening, since her investment property has been at the heart of so many issues in the town, like the big-box store, size-cap law, and the hamlet plan, in which she was involved.

Mottolese said that the hamlet plan affects mostly the Bender melon farm but its owners were not involved in the process.

The area is currently zoned commercial, with certain permitted and special-use permit allowances for other uses and residential uses.

The hamlet plan provides specifics for design elements that are not in current zoning as well as having proposals for allowed uses and layouts.  

After the big-box controversy, an advisory committee was appointed to develop recommendations for changes to the town’s zoning law to encourage appropriate, viable, and sustainable development

In 2010, the town received a grant from the Capital District Transportation Administration committee to hire a planner and develop a concept master-plan design for the hamlet.

The report that was produced recommended that the hamlet area be rezoned to encourage mixed-use development.

In 2012, the town adopted the so-called size-cap law, that prohibited the development of retail space exceeding 50,000 square feet of gross leasable area.

With all of those lessons learned, the town produced the current hamlet rezoning plan, which seeks to “preserve the physical beauty of the town of New Scotland and promote the town’s small-town character,” according to the plan.

The intent is to allow for “mixed-use development in a sustainable, walkable community setting,” as opposed to a large big-box retail-shopping center.

At the Dec. 13 meeting, Mottolese said that she was part of the CDTA committee in 2010 that began the process of the hamlet plan, but since then she had not heard anything about it and she claimed that the other landowners who would be affected by the plan did not receive any notice about the plan.  

“Without rehashing the last 10 years, I think that this [hamlet planning] has been an incredibly open and transparent,” LaGrange said at the meeting. He also said that the town posted notices on its website as well as other places, like The Enterprise. Additionally, The Enterprise wrote stories about the unfolding planning process.

Mottolese told him that she hadn’t heard anything about meetings, and claimed there had been no notice. She said it’s not her requirement to check the town website every day to see if people are changing the zoning of her property.

The town offers a notification system, which anyone can sign up for, for free, to be notified electronically about meetings, news, or events.

“If I didn’t get a phone call from someone I knew in town, I wouldn’t have known about this; you’re making significant changes to the people that it’s going to affect the most,” she said.

Mottolese asked town attorney Michael Naughton if giving notice to neighbors meant giving notice to the surrounding towns.

Naughton said it did.

He then told her that there is a public hearing scheduled on Feb. 14 for the hamlet plan.

“So, there will be no notice for that [hearing] sent out to the owners whose land your proposing to change zoning on?” Mottolese asked.

Naughton told her, “We follow all the laws about notices.”

There is no local law or regulation that requires the town to provide written notice to property owners who own lands subject to a proposed zoning change, Naughton told The Enterprise in an email after the meeting.

Naughton also wrote that, in March 2017, the town enacted a law, which requires notices to owners of property adjacent to a project requiring certain permits or approvals, but there is an express exemption in the law for all rezoning or amendments of the zoning law — except those that relate to a “specific project.”   

This would not preclude the town from mailing, on a voluntary basis, a notice to landowners with properties in the proposed hamlet zoning area regarding the February 2018 public hearing, he wrote.

He said he plans to discuss that with the town’s representatives.



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