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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 20, 2005

Residents petition for 2-acre zoning, as a major subdivision comes before the town

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — A petition signed by about 170 New Scotland residents was handed to the town board last Wednesday, requesting that the northeast quadrant of town be rezoned to permit no less than two-acre lots; the petition is in retaliation to the Kensington Woods subdivision proposal, which has a much higher density.

Kensington Woods is a 286-lot subdivision for 267 acres of land around Hilton Road. It includes land that was previously referred to as Tall Timbers which was at one time a golf course and then later mined. Various development plans for this area have come before the town on and off for 20 years, but this the largest yet.

The current Kensington Woods proposal uses much more land than just the old golf course which is at it’s heart. The plan has been submitted by Lansing Engineering on behalf of Garrison Development Group and has lots ranging in size from 9,000 to 40,000 square feet. The homes will range in price from $300,000 to over a million dollars.

The center of the proposed development has a collection of pre-existing ponds on 18 acres, one section of the development’s 104 acres of open space.

The Garrison Development Group is proposing a cluster plan.

According to the town’s zoning administrator and building inspector, Paul Cantlin, this current land plan is too dense to qualify for a cluster under the town’s zoning ordinance.

Mary Beth Slevin, the attorney representing the project and the Masullo Brother Builders, told The Enterprise that she postponed attending the October planning board meeting with intentions to come before the board in November so her clients would have time to reevaluate their approach to clustering.

At the town’s request, she and her clients are taking another look at "how we define clustering," said Slevin.

A cluster does not allow a developer to create any more units than allowed by zoning under a traditional subdivision but the developer can crowd the houses together which will create more open space and, as a result, make smaller individual lots, Cantlin said. But the total density, the total number of lots for all the acreage can’t be more, he said.

Cantlin along with the town engineer and planning board chairman, did some math calculations and figured out that if this development had about 240 units — rather than the proposed 286— it would qualify for a cluster.

The density equation for a cluster design involves subtracting from the total acreage of the sight, the acreage that can’t be developed — for example, roads, areas for well-head protection, the area of land for the water tank, ponds and wet lands, Cantlin said.

Development proposal

The proposal includes three main types of lot clusters.

In the 47 acres reserved for Estate Lots, the most expensive, there are 36 single-family homes proposed at $750,000 to over $1 million per house. Each of these lots will be at least 40,000 square feet, and have 175 to 200 feet of road frontage.

Executive Lots are to be at least 15,000 square feet with 100 to 120 feet of frontage. In the Executive level, 117 units are proposed for 58 acres. Of the 117 units, 83 are proposed to be single-family homes, Cantlin said.

The Kensington Woods project includes a large number of condo-like residences.

Zones 3 and 4 on the cluster map include townhouse-like developments where there are shared walls, between units, Cantlin said.

The developers are calling the smallest lots, of 10,000 square feet, Carriage and Villa lots, which will occupy 44 acres of the 267.

The Villa and Carriage lots range in price from $300,000 to $500,000 per unit. This is the cheapest housing currently offered by this development.

Cantlin said that the Carriage and Villa lots will have two-family units but the Carriageslots are a bit higher-end than the Villas.

Most of the green space is reserved for the outskirts, to the northeast and southwest of the development.

The 47.7 acres of open space to the southwest will, at the top of this area, contain the development’s water tank; the well for the properties already exists in this area.

In the northeast open space, consisting of 30.6 acres, the sewer plant will be built.

Supervisor Ed Clark said that the developers are proposing their own water and sewer system.

Slevin said that, after construction, all the infrastructure would be dedicated to the town.

Cantlin said that the town would then treat this area as its own separate water and sewer district.

One of the additional reasons Kensington Woods would be a benefit to New Scotland is it will develop a major water resource for the town, Slevin said.

Last year the applicant did a pump test of the well, Cantlin said, which pumped out a couple of million gallons of water. The well pumped over 400 gallons a minute for 72 hours, he said. That aquifer could supply the whole commercial area, Cantlin said.

Re-zoning request

Kensington Woods is in a medium density residential zoning district and abuts the old, now abandoned, D&H rail line. Houses are proposed to both the west and east sides of Hilton Road, which comes off of Route 85A and serves as a through road to Krum Kill. The northeast side of the development runs along Font Grove Road.

To the north of this Medium Density Residential district is a large Residential 2-acre zone and, to the south, is an Industrial and a Residential-Agricultural zone.

The petition was organized by the Northeast Neighborhood Association. Association President Robert Griffin, of 1025 Krum Kill Road, said that they want the whole northeast quadrant, east of the railway bed to be rezoned to permit lots of two acres or more.

The association is requesting that the town board switch the MDR designation to R-2.

Griffin said the association wants the two-acre zoning to include the part of Font Grove Road and Hilton Road that were excluded from the last rezoning.

The Kensington Woods development would occupy a little less than half of the MDR zone that is north of, and along the abandoned railway bed. The rest of the MDR that is north of the railroad follows along Font Grove Road and includes large chunks of land owned by Robert Cook and Anthony Genovesi.

The MDR zone passed over the railroad bed, but the petition does not include this area.

Cook is very much against this type of rezone, he said. He sees the association’s petition as a very "sneaky way to get rid of Tall Timbers." Cook, a man in his senior years, said, that the same group of people tried the same kind of "stunt" in 1995 to stop a different development plan for the same property, only the town board at the time was smart enough not to rezone, Cook said.

Cook correctly stated that most of that quadrant is already two-acre zoning. He said of the petition signed by 170 people did not include the names of the large landowners on Font Grove Road. The association leaders didn’t ask him, he said, because they knew "I wouldn’t be in support of this," he said.

The people who would be most affected by the rezone of the medium density residential district are the large landowners, Cook said. He said that it would be difficult to get public water and sewer to two-acre lots, unless developers were to build only million-dollar houses, to afford the expense.

With this type of rezone, Cook said, developers "can’t build houses people can afford."

Rezoning to two acres is basically telling the majority of the population that it is too bad for them, there is no place for them in the northeast quadrant of town, Cook said.

A man in favor of the petition stood up at the town board meeting last Wednesday and said that he didn’t think it was correct for Cook to say that the zoning doesn’t affect the 170 people who signed it; an area of high-housing density will affect the school and traffic, he said.

Bill Cadge, who lives on Fisher Boulevard, said that, if the town wants to see what a disaster high-density is, they should look at his street — there is traffic and pollution, he said.

David Moreau, who owns about 100 acres on Youmans Road, and often speaks at town board meetings on behalf of landowner’s rights, said that if petitioners want to require new residents to own two-acre lots, each of them then should have to own that much land as well.

Moreau recommended the town board take a look at the petition and see how large the petitioners’ lots are.

"What for"" came a defensive call from the audience.

Moreau also stated that, if the town is going to start rezoning one section, then it should really be considering other zoning all over town, including what he believes to be the inappropriate commercial designation to the land he owns on Youmans off New Scotland Road.

Councilman Scott Houghtaling said that he is not willing to give up commercial space in that area. The town wants to add more commercial space in town rather than take some of it way, he said.

While considering the zoning of the northeast quadrant of town, Houghtaling said he would also like to address commercial space for the tech park that is proposed on the Bethlehem-New Scotland border.

About 20 percent of it is in the town of New Scotland, Houghtaling said.

This is in the area of town where jurisdiction is disputed between Bethlehem and New Scotland because of varying town and tax lines.

On to the planning board

The town board decided to pass the petition request to the planning board for a recommendation, but first Councilman Richard Reilly limited the scope.

There are three sections of MDR zones north of Route 85A, Reilly pointed out. He said he is excluding from the rezone consideration the piece along Route 155, since, at first glance on the petition there are not signatures from that area of town. And, Reilly also pulled out and exempted the sliver of MDR zone that is in the top northeast corner of the town’s border with Bethlehem and Guilderland.

Reilly said that he considers a rezone to be a very public debate, and, because of the large number of petitioners, the discussion of a rezone is something that the board should follow through with. But this in no way means the board is agreeing to it, Reilly said.

This was unsettling to Cook. He said that he can’t understand why the town board is even giving the association’s request consideration. Rezoning to two acres is just going to lock up the land for rich people, he said.

The Kensington Woods development is giving New Scotland a chance to grow, he said.

"Where are we going to put people," with more modest incomes, he asked.

"You have to be pretty selfish" to only permit million-dollar homes, Cook said, looking over at the petitioners.

Councilwoman Andrea Gleason backed up what Reilly had said. "We represent the people in the town," she said, adding that it’s her job to represent everyone and, with a petition like this, whether or not she agrees with it, it is worth discussing and holding public meetings on, she said.

For rural character

The Enterprise called a number of people whose names appeared on the petition. One of the individuals whose name was on the same line as his wife’s said that he never heard of the petition, he didn’t sign anything, and that he didn’t even know what the northeast section of town was; he lives on Hilton Road.

Another petitioner, Andrew Carnell of Font Grove Road, said he signed the petition because, with the proposed development, some of lots are less than half an acre. "The concept of putting a home on less than half of an acre, will really change the character of the area," he said.

Carnell went on to say that he would have no problem with a housing development popping up around him as long as it is "something that’s not quite as dense...I think two-acres lots are fine," he said.

The high density will ruin the rural character, he said. Kensington Woods would "turn an area traditionally under-populated to a very populated area," he said.

When asked his response to criticism of the petition, that two-acre lots would only allow for wealthy residents and expensive houses, Carnell naturally sneezed and then responded, "I’m allergic to those kinds or statements." He went on to say, "I think that statement is just kind of silly."

"I don’t think two acres is very large," Carnell said. While two-acre lots would certainly limit those with really modest incomes, the lots would not be exclusively for the rich, he said.

Up and down Font Grove Road currently, there are nice modest family homes with at least two acres, Carnell said.

The power of the association

Slevin was the attorney that previously represented Tower Ventures, which wanted to put a cell tower on Font Grove Road, so she has had to deal with residents from the Northeast Neighborhood Association before.

She said her clients have been working with the association and reached out to its members early on, starting the dialogue even before submitting plans to the town.

The developers are proposing housing options that don’t currently exist in New Scotland, Slevin said.

The town is familiar with her client because it built the "successful" Weathersfield development which, Slevin said is a large asset to the community.

She said her clients would like to start construction on Kensington in the next building season — spring.

Cantlin said that he was told the total construction is expected to take five years to complete.

Slevin said that it hasn’t yet been decided in what phases construction would proceed.

There is a demand in the area for all the types of housing, and that this why they went with a mixed approach, Slevin said.

The Enterprise asked if a two-acre rezoning would stop the development of the land surrounding Hilton Road altogether, or if the developers would be willing to revamp the project to accommodate the two-acre lot requirements.

She said that, while she is aware of the petition, her clients have not looked at it yet. "Right now, it’s just that — a petition," she said, highlighting its current lack of weight.

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