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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 5, 2006

Vista Tech Park poised to join Empire Zone

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — New Scotland is poised to have its first Empire Zone, a state-designated economic development area that encourages growth through tax incentives.

An application to the state is in the works for the 440-acre Vista Tech Park at the end of LaGrange Road, with 20 percent of the land in New Scotland and the rest in Bethlehem.

The application organized by Albany County’s economic development office has been backed by New Scotland’s town board, Bethlehem’s town board and the county legislature. The state gave preliminary approval at the end of 2004, said Sean Maguire Albany County’s senior economic development planner. He administers the county’s Empire Zone program, which started in 1998.

Vista Tech Park

The Vista Tech Park has been in the works since March of 2003 when the county’s executive office dedicated $1 million to its development. That summer, BBL Development Group was chosen by the county through a bidding process to develop the acreage into a technology campus.

William Herbert, the vice president of development for BBL, told The Enterprise last week that he plans to come before New Scotland’s planning board with an official proposal before the winter is through. So far, his company has done many studies over 2005, he said, such as environmental review.

Fifteen to 20 buildings are proposed with 1.4 million square feet of commercial space. A few of the buildings will be three or four stories high — the limit in Bethlehem which does not permit high rises, Herbert said.

The campus also will include park elements. BBL is interested in being part of a regional walking path, running through the town of Bethlehem along the Normanskill, Herbert said.

Entrance to the tech park will be from within Bethlehem by the Slingerland’s Price Chopper. The state’s Department of Transportation is constructing a highway bypass within Bethlehem; there will be no major road construction in New Scotland.

The entrance to the tech park is a long way away from the New Scotland border, Supervisor Ed Clark points out, so no road construction is planned for Route 85 in New Scotland, but there are buildings and internal roads within the campus in New Scotland’s jurisdiction, Clark said.

Herbert said that, right now, his company is moving forward with the possibility of just the one main entrance into the campus. The roads within New Scotland will really just be drives, he said.

There are three possible building sites in New Scotland, offering 200,000 to 300,000 square feet of commercial space, Herbert said.

"The town of Bethlehem will drive it predominantly," Clark said of planning, since most of the proposed project is within their boundaries. Of biggest interest to Clark is what businesses will occupy the park, what will be going on in the park, and what kinds of waste disposal will there be, Clark said.

Herbert said the tenants will be determined by the market; he anticipates a mix of leasing and selling the buildings. While the facilities will be built to suit, they are marketing to technology firms that are just getting started in the area.

The uses will predominately be office, research and lab; production will be extremely limited, Herbert said, with no large-scale waste.

"Clean technologies," he said, such as the computer industries, will occupy the park.

Some will be single-tenant buildings while others will be multi-tenant buildings. "It really depends what comes to us," Herbert said. Some companies have already expressed interest, but he is not able to divulge their names yet, he said.

It will take 12 to 14 months for the state to construct the bypass, Herbert said, and BBL plans to start on the construction of the tech park very shortly after that.

So far meetings with both municipalities, following a very careful planning process, has been straightforward and have gone fairly smoothly, Herbert said.

Empire Zone

The county’s current application to the state is to expand the boundaries of the existing Empire Zone, to include the Vista Tech Park.

This New Scotland location will be the eighth area in the county to be part of the Empire Zone, Maguire told The Enterprise.

The program started in Albany County after military reductions eliminated arsenals in the area; some of the first designations were lands once used by an arsenal in Watervliet and the army depot in Voorheesville and Guilderland Center, Maguire said.

Now, the focus has been switched to urban revitalization and targeting technology business, he said. "It is looked at as a jobs program," Maguire said.

The old industrial model is being replaced by a more modern technology model, Maguire said, of economic planning.

While some people have been skeptical of Empire Zones after revitalization projects in cities have not resulted in the yield of anticipated jobs, the Vista Tech Park is new development, not revitalization with additional costs for the town or county.

Albany County’s Empire Zone annual report shows that the total amount of capital investment made by zone-certified businesses throughout that year, not including operating expenses, was $51 million, some in the form of real property, renovations, new construction, and business acquisitions.

Annually, the county evaluates the existing Empire Zone areas to see where its not performing, looks around to find other opportunities for economic development, and talks with mayors and supervisors for feedback; that’s how the proposal for the Vista Tech Park as an Empire Zone came to fruition, Maguire said.

The tax incentives tied to the Empire Zone are performance-based, Maguire said. Once land is designated as an empire zone, the only benefits that a company located within that zone is entitled to are sales-tax refunds for the material for construction, Maguire said.

But the Empire Zone can give businesses tax exemptions and real property and business tax credits. One such break is sales tax exemptions on the purchase of property or services used by the business.

Once a business locates in an Empire Zone, it can apply to the Albany County Zone Administrative Board to become a "certified business." To qualify a cost-analysis is applied. For every dollar that the state puts into it, the public has to get back $15, Maguire said, which can be in the form of salaries.

Once certified, the company will become eligible for state tax credits; rate reductions through National Grid, formerly Niagara Mohawk; and rate reductions for some telecommunication services, Maguire said, all because of tariffs with New York State.

The designation lasts until the county’s zone administrative board revokes it, but in practical terms, the Empire Zone designation for one area has a life of 10 years until the benefits are used up, Maguire said.

The zone administrative board is made up of resident volunteers, county executives, city and town government representatives, and local business owners, Maguire said.

In no way does the county force these economic-development programs onto municipalities he said; it’s very much a joint effort with input.

Built into the Empire Zone initiative is a county tax abatement program, Maguire said. But, so far, that component has not really caught on too much, he said. Only the Northeastern Industrial Park in Guilderland has applied for the 485E tax abatement.

Additionally, a local government can also choose to offer a small abatement incentive. For the Vista Tech Park, New Scotland and the school district chose not to opt in to that, Maguire said.

The idea with abatement, Maguire said, is that by offering to abate property tax, the community benefits in other ways. The county or town sees its investment return when the new business creates more jobs for residents, he said.

Supervisor Clark told The Enterprise that the town is in support of creating a state Empire Zone within its boundaries because the state incentives to develop a particular area will bring in high tax production and "provide real property taxes for the community." And it "doesn’t cost us anything," Clark said.

This Empire Zone at the Vista Tech Park will provide state tax breaks but New Scotland will still get all its property taxes, Clark said.

The New Scotland Town Board in December passed a resolution supporting Albany County’s application appealing to the state to expand and include New Scotland territory in the Empire Zone.

New Scotland mulls master plan

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — The process to review the town’s comprehensive land-use plan began on New Year’s Day with new council member Douglas LaGrange being assigned as the leader.

LaGrange told The Enterprise that he plans to have a committee of eight to 12 residents up and running in a few months.

The comprehensive-plan committee will start the process of considering the town’s zoning and planning future by first reading and reviewing the 1994 comprehensive plan, he said.

The 1994 plan, which may or may not have been approved, LaGrange said, should be updated every five years.

"It’s not that we want to take the plan and start all over...I don’t anticipate wholesale changes," said LaGrange.

"The town already has one heck of a plan" to start from and, as a result, LaGrange said, he thinks the update can be done in a timely manner.

"Over time, most municipalities review their comprehensive plans...see what additions and subtractions can be made" to adjust development to community desires, he said.

This time around, the goal is to have a final document that the town board adopts, and is widely distributed, LaGrange said.

LaGrange, a previous member of the Residents’ Planning Advisory Committee and the town’s planning board, said that planning board members should be given a copy of the town’s comprehensive plan along with zoning ordinances when they take their posts, something he did not receive when he joined the board.

And this is where the Residents’ Planning Advisory Committee fell short, LaGrange said: The committee didn’t know about the 1994 comprehensive plan until too far into the process, so the recommendations are often repetitious to the already-existing plan. This bothered some of the planning board members who were authors of the original master document, LaGrange said.

"It’s too bad that all that hard work was done to propose many of the same things," LaGrange said of RPAC. It’s important for town officials to be aware of the documents, so the first thing the new committee is going to do is review them.

Members will compare the old master plan and the Residents’ Planning Advisory Committee’s report to see where there is overlap, where there are conflicting visions, and then, from there, the committee will get more input from the public, LaGrange said.

One of the criticisms of RPAC had been that there were more people from the Voorheesville area who submitted opinions and feedback than from the southern more rural side of town.

`LaGrange, a Feura Bush farmer, said that connecting the southern side of New Scotland where he lives to town government is something he will offer as an elected official.

People on the southern side "tend to know me better," LaGrange said and now he sees it as his responsibility to spread news to his community. "They expect that of me," he said, "to be notified."

Everyone’s participation is necessary for a new comprehensive plan to be formed, LaGrange said. The plan will address zoning districts and the specifics of those zones. Public hearings and information sessions will be held.

The planning board as a whole will have substantial review and say over the final plan, LaGrange said.

With recent pressures on the routes 85 and 85A quadrant and Hilton Road, the "obvious focus is from that area," LaGrange said. While the town-wide land-use plan will be done on a whole, encompassing the entire town, the focal point will be the northeast quadrant LaGrange said.

"The formulation of the committee will be similar [to RPAC], but not the same," LaGrange said. Many of those committee members have already done their part, he said. There may be some people who overlap — those who have taken a very big interest or have an expertise in planning, LaGrange said.

And "Of course, Bob Stapf — I certainly would like to see him be a part of it," LaGrange said of the planning board chairmen who was also one of the authors of the 1994 plan.

Ultimately, all the comprehensive-plan committee members will be picked by and appointed by a vote from the whole town board. The board will collect names from each other and names from Stapf and choose from an "ambitious list" of people, he said.

While LaGrange is considered the liaison to the committee from the town board, in this case, he will also be an active member of the committee, he said. He’ll act as a conduit and also take initiative on a lot of things, much like previous board member Scott Houghtaling did for the water committee, LaGrange said.

While some RPAC members and planning board members have not gotten along in the past, LaGrange said, from his experience, he has seen how "those things can be put aside for the good of the effort." So he doesn’t see a problem in casting known opponents on the same committee.

"Everyone isn’t going to say, ‘Amen,’ and go home," he said. Differing of opinions, LaGrange said, "That’s what develops a plan."

Neri abstains

Supervisor Ed Clark and LaGrange, both Republicans had in November, after being elected called into question the ethics of a town board member having a spouse who is the attorney for the town’s planning and zoning boards. They changed their minds by the Jan. 1 reorganizational meeting and voted in support of appointing Louis Neri as legal counsel.

His wife, Democrat Margaret Neri, assumed office as a town board member on Jan. 1.

Directly after Margaret Neri’s election in November, Clark stated that he saw both Neris holding posts as a conflict of interest. As a town board member, Mrs. Neri organizes and votes on the budget, makes appointments, and oversees her husband’s part-time job, including compensation, Clark had said.

She’ll be "voting on matters of significance to her family’s interest," Clark had said.

LaGrange in November had questioned Louis Neri’s ability to be impartial and accused him of acting in a partisan manner during a planning-board meeting to further his wife’s political career during her campaign.

On Sunday at the reorganizational meeting, Mrs. Neri recused herself from voting on her husband’s yearly appointment, saying she was doing so to limit any image of impropriety.

The other four board members voted unanimously to appoint him.

After the meeting, Mrs. Neri told The Enterprise that this would be the "only time" she sees a potential conflict, and the "only instance" where she plans to abstain.

Clark told The Enterprise directly after the meeting that there was "nothing to be gained by opposing" Neri’s appointment.

With Peg properly abstaining, the vote would have been two to two, dividing us politically, Clark said; and the law states that, in ties, the incumbent would continue in his post.

Clark added that, since Mrs. Neri abstained from voting, he now doesn’t think there will be a problem in the future with both of the Neris being town employees.

The only other time Clark said he can foresee a conflict arise is if during budget sessions, there is a motion for a change in the planning and zoning board attorney’s salary; Clark would expect Mrs. Neri to abstain from voting then as well, he said.

"I wasn’t comfortable with spouses in the positions" that the Neris are in, LaGrange said on Monday. But, he went on of Lou Neri, "he’s up to speed with the issues facing the planning board."

The most recent opinion issued by the office of the state’s attorney general regarding a town member with a spouse as a government employee on an appointed board was in 1996. The case involved a town-board member whose husband chaired the board of assessment review in the town of Clinton.

James D. Cole, an assistant attorney general, wrote in the informal opinion: "We have distinguished between types of actions determining whether spouses serving the same governmental unit have disqualifying conflicts of interest." He went on to say that a town board member can vote on things related to the department that her husband is involved in but "recusal is necessary" when the vote has to do with the individual spouse’s compensation, or other terms and conditions of their employment.

"I certainly could have made a good argument not to have Lou there," LaGrange said this week, but LaGrange said he’s not positive he could find someone to do a better job for the town. "I think he can be a tremendous asset to the town," LaGrange said.

Michael Mackey, the town’s attorney, is one person who has been able to separate politics from his job, LaGrange said. He hopes Neri follows Mackey’s lead. Mackey is involved in New Scotland’s Democratic party.

By appointing Louis Neri and being co-liaison with Democratic councilmen Richard Reilly to the zoning and planning boards, LaGrange said he’s showing that he’s not partisan and that he can do "the right thing for the town."

Reilly had previously been the town board’s sole liaison to the planning and zoning boards.

Clark said that he assigned co-liaisons to the planning and zoning boards this year, because two council members expressed interest in the position.

It’s a matter of interest not workload, Clark told The Enterprise, and both Reilly and LaGrange told him they consider the town’s planning board at this juncture to be the most important institution besides the town board, and that they are both very interested in continuing to go to the meetings and represent the town.

The rest of Clark’s town council liaison assignments, include:

— Deborah Baron: senior programs, school, and libraries;

— Clark: highway, assessing, building, audit and finance, and town properties;

— Neri: water, economic development, and the historical associations.

— Reilly: youth and recreation, parks, village inter-municipal relations, and public safety committee.

Other appointments

The New Scotland Town Board on New Year’s Day also:

— Renewed Cynthia Elliott’s membership to the planning board for another six years;

— Reappointed William Hennessey to the zoning board of appeals for another four years;

— Appointed Ronald VonRonne to continue on as the zoning board chair;

— Appointed Todd Britton to continue as the zoning board of appeals alternate member. When the town law to allow for alternates was adopted in April the town board stipulated that the position would have to be renewed each year.

— Announced that it is now accepting applications to fill a vacancy on the planning board left by LaGrange and is also considering applications for a planing-board alternate at the same time. The board intends to conduct interviews on Jan. 27.

— Appointed R. Mark Dempf to continue as the chairman to the water committee, a volunteer position with no pay.

The other water committee members are: John Arnason, James Coffin, Robert Cook, Anthony Genovesi, Jo Ann Davies, Katy O’Rourke, Thomas Ozimek, and Kevin Phelan;

— Re-appointed Liz Kormos to chair the senior advisory board.

Other members include Andrea Gleason, June Alberts, Chad Hemphill, Kevin Jobin-Davis, Joe Pofit, Beth Stewart, Denise Stringer, Norma Walley;

— Named the members of the board of assessment review: Chairman Paul Nichols, John McKenzie, Andrew Barothy-Langer, Roselyn Robinson, and Deborah Corbari.

— Declared Kevin Schenmeyer as dog-warden captain and Nicholas Geary as a dog warden; and

— Designated The Altamont Enterprise and The Spotlight as the official newspapers of the town of New Scotland for placing legal notices, such as the notice of public hearings.

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