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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, February 9, 2006
For second time
Planning board rejects two-acre rezone
By Holly Grosch
NEW SCOTLAND The towns planning board on Tuesday night again voted unanimously not to rezone the northeast quadrant of town to prevent building lots smaller than two acres.
This time, there were two new voting board members who had been appointed last month by the Democratic majority on the town boardElizabeth Stewart, who was defeated in her run against Supervisor Ed Clark, and water committee member Jo Ann Davies.
In November, the planning board, which then included now-councilman Douglas LaGrange, had passed the same unanimous recommendation on to the town board after the Northeast Neighborhood Association submitted a petition requesting two-acre zoning.
On Tuesday, the planning board was reviewing a proposed law local forwarded by the town board, which called for the same scenario: re-zoning the medium-density residential zone (MDR) that is above and abuts the old D&H railroad bed to a residential two-acre zone.
Currently lots of 22,000 square feet are permitted in an MDR zone.
Also rolled into this proposed local law is rezoning the industrial designation above the Route 85 commercial corridor.
The bill proposes switching the small piece of industrial land north of the D&H railroad to R-2, and the industrial designation south of the vacant railroad bed to commercial to match the acreage to the south.
The planning board unanimously recommended, for a second time, that the MDR zone not be changed, stating that there was still no justification no changes in the topography, soil, or water supply to provide a reason for spot zoning.
Also, the planning board on Tuesday night recommended rezoning the industrial area in the routes 85 and 85A commercial corridor because the railroad no longer exists, but board members had a different vision for the land than the bill proposed.
The industrial area north of the railroad bed should to be rezoned to MDR, the planning board said. And, the town board should consider both residential and commercial zoning for the industrial land to the south, the board said.
The planning board did not offer a recommendation as to what type of residential zone should be considered for the land touching the existing commercial plot.
The town hall was packed. Planning board member Cynthia Elliott was the first to speak. She and planning board members Chuck Voss and the boards chairman, Robert Stapf, were the most vocal leaders of the night.
"I’m in favor of keeping open space," Elliott said. Based on her 30 years of experience as a land surveyor, she said, she sees time and time again that rural towns with larger-lot zoning are the ones that have more urban sprawl.
"The smaller lots will actually be better for open space," Elliott said. She said it allows for housing to be clustered and then keeps the surrounding area open.
With two-acre lots, homeowners maintain only about 40,000 square feet, Elliott said, so there will be one-and-a-half acres of brush and then another house, with this pattern repeating itself.
"Bigger lots don’t give us what we want," Elliott said. While this might not be what the public wants to hear, Elliott said, looking out into the audience, in the long run she thinks people will actually be happier with smaller lots.
Also, in Columbia County, she said, she has seen how the larger-lot zoning has affected farmers. Smaller lots allow farmers to sell one small lot off of their property. But requiring them to sell at least two acres or even larger lots for development, will take larger chunks out of their farm land and their livelihood, Elliott said.
"I’m a property-rights person," Elliott said.
"I don’t want to use spot zoning to cut people out of the marketplace," she said.
Zoning should not be based on the desires of current public pressure, but instead based on what the land can host, Elliott said.
Chuck Voss, a certified planner, said he takes a professional and practical standpoint when it comes to zoning. As a land-use planner, he said, he depends on documents for guidelines. Based on the towns current comprehensive plan and the towns zoning ordinance, which is only six years old, so it is considered current, Voss said, the MDR zone designation fits the guidelines.
The town is now reviewing the comprehensive plan and "we may see some changes," Voss said. (See related story.)
"I think it would be premature to make any zoning changes...." He went on, "We should wait and go through the comprehensive planning process then review our zoning. Zoning decisions should be based on the comprehensive plan."
No new information has been brought forward to support a re-zone initiative, Voss said. If the petitioning citizens proved with an environmental impact study that the landscape or water supply has changed since the Krumkill, Hilton, and Font Grove road area was zoned MDR, then there would be some justification, Voss said.
Board Chairman Stapf said that, regardless of how the town zones this area, the Kensington Woods housing development of 282-units is proposed as a planned unit development, which is a zoning overlay permitted in the towns law. If approved, the PUD would be a special zone laid on top of whatever the area is zoned.
Under the regulations of New Scotlands PUD ordinance, lots within a PUD can be 10,000 square feet in size, Stapf said. So, even if the MDR is rezoned to two-acre lots the PUD and Keningston Woods housing development could still exist as an overlay, Stapf said.
About a third of the land in the bill deals with the Kensington Woods site, Stapf said. The other large landowners in this area are the Donatos, the Genovesis, and the Cooks. Anthony Genovesi and Robert Cook have fiercely opposed the rezoning of their land.
This area of town has the potential for public water and sewer, Stapf said. There is a healthy well on the old Tall Timbers property, which was tested over 72 hours and pumped 400 gallons a minute, Zoning Administrator Paul Cantlin has stated.
Others join in
Stapf had drafted before the meeting, a letter to send back to the town board expressing the planning boards view. After hearing from a few board members that they shared his thoughts on the bill, he pulled out the letter and asked all the board members to give feedback on how they would like the recommendation letter to be adjusted.
Elliott said that she would like to tell the town board that the reason the industrial area is being considered for a rezone is because there has been a change to that land, the railroad is defunct now and this change warrants a zoning change.
Kevin Kroencke said he agreed with Vosss sentiment, that he hasnt seen anything to warrant changing the MDR zone. If new information were brought to him, such as data showing that the land no longer has the water, he would consider rezoning. But he hasnt seen any change in terms of the lands alignment with the 1995 comprehensive plan, Kroencke said.
Board member Lorraine Tuzzolo offered just one sentence of comment, "I think it should stay the way it is."
Jo Ann Davies said that she has reviewed and read the zoning laws and master plan and that she could not detect anything that warrants two-acre zoning. Under the comprehensive plan, this area is designated a good location for a hamlet, she said.
Of course sprawl and water is a concern, Davies said. In this case, the town might have the opportunity to work with the Masullo Brothers of the Garrison Development Group to tap into that currently used underground water supply at the Kensington Woods site which could provide water to residents or commercial businesses outside of the proposed development, she said.
Stewart said she has concerns for runoff going into the aquifer. With smaller lots, there would be more condensed construction, and also more pavement and concrete, which are impermeable surfaces, she said.
"I don’t want the aquifer tainted at all," Stewart said. Which zoning, MDR or R-2, will better protect the aquifer" she asked.
Stapf said he did not have any major concerns for contamination, and that water permits would be addressed by each developer in the approval process for building permits.
The boards legal counsel, Louis Neri, said that, regardless of how the land is zoned, water tests and state or county approval for water and sewer service will have to be secured for anyone to develop the land, regardless of its zoning.
From trout to topography
Onesquethaw watershed to be studied
By Holly Grosch
NEW SCOTLAND Using a regional approach to understand ground-water supply as part of a state effort to protect the Hudson River, the Onesquethaw-Coeymans Watershed Council, is developing a management plan for the local Onesquethaw watershed.
This not-for-profit council has received a $36,000 state grant as part of $1.3 million designated this year for 45 communities estuary projects.
The underground water and reemerging creek runs over 52 square miles from the Helderbergs in Berne through New Scotland and eventually into the Hudson River, said Fred Realbuto, the chairman of the seven-member board of directors of the watershed council.
The objective of the management plan is to identify the important and critical natural resource and to protect it, he said of the watershed.
In order to save something, you have to know what youve got, he said.
The Onesquethaw-Coeymans Watershed Council was formed eight years ago with a collection of interested parties, including the Albany County Water Committee, Trout Unlimited, the Albany County Natural Resources Department, and the Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy, Realbuto said.
The council is a nonadvocacy group that is dependent on grants and contributions from its membership, Realbuto said.
Realbuto is a stakeholder from the Audubon Society of New York State, which has a hawk sanctuary in South Bethlehem and offers public access to the Onesquethaw creek. From the Audubon Societys perspective, Realbuto said he would like the states Department of Environmental Conservation to continue to restrict the draw from the watershed.
The Onesquethaw Creek diversion dam on Wolf Hill in New Scotland takes a million gallons a day during the summertime out of the watershed to supply the Vly Creek Reservoir, Realbuto said. He is curious how the diversion affects water quality.
Bethlehem applied to the DEC two years ago to draw more water off for public consumption, Realbuto said, but the DEC turned down the application. Additionally, the DEC has restricted the water draw during May and June so fish can spawn.
Roy Lamberton, a leader of the in-the-works management plan, wrote the grant application to the states Hudson River Estuary Program. Lamberton represents Trout Unlimited on the watershed council.
"The wild trout population is very healthy in the Onesquethaw," Lamberton said. The trout live in the stream all year round and breed in the fall, he said.
"The creek itself is in pretty good shape as far as quality," Realbuto said. The limestone geology offers very little ground cover, and is very permeable, so pollutants in the air or at the surface would easily make it to the water, he said. "So we would know if there is a real problem."
Acid rain is not a problem in the area because the limestone, a base, counteracts the acid, Realbuto said.
The watershed management plan will have two parts, Lamberton said. The first is the state of the watershed as it is now, and the second will be outreach.
The final goal is to produce a document by the end of 2007 with data, conclusions, and recommendations, Lamberton said.
The Capital District Regional Planning Commission is in charge of the first part, Lamberton said. This phase will occur through 2006, he said.
The commission will look at geological GIS layers (geographical information system), soil, how land use is effecting the water, land-use regulations, agriculture, and natural and human effects including waterfalls and dams.
There will be bio-diversity studies, and studies of native plants, unique habitats, how sensitive certain areas of the watershed are, and natural water and human influences, Lamberton said.
One example of human influence, Lamberton said, is that various groups, municipalities, and businesses along the creek have state permits to discharge treated sewage water back into the tributary. There will be an inventory review of these permits, assessing the quantity of treated water entering the watershed, where, when, and how much, to analyze what is normally a relatively safe relationship, Lamberton said.
Some data sampling has already been completed, Lamberton said. The DEC has done sampling of the invertebrates that live in the stream, and the watershed council took photos of historic sites and old buildings along the stream.
After gaining a quantitative scientific understanding of the state of the watershed, the council will then consider some recommendations for action, Lamberton said.
Perhaps a better vegetative buffer along the stream can help, and the council will then recruit volunteers to plant native species along the creeks bed. Or the watershed council may want to encourage towns to incorporate building setbacks from the stream into their zoning ordinances, Lamberton said.
The second phase to completing the management plan involves outreach in 2007 where the information gathered will be taken to the towns of Berne, New Scotland, Bethlehem, and Coeymans, Lamberton said. The information will be presented to planning boards, conservation boards and to other interested groups like landowners associations and farming groups, Lamberton said.
This second part will depend on members of the watershed council and other volunteers, Lamberton said.
While there will be analysis of how the water diversions are affecting the stream, Lamberton said, the basic understanding that the watershed is important to the surrounding communities water supply remains firm; with that understanding, there should be an understanding of that water and how best to use it, Lamberton said.
The Onesquethaw watershed is a very complex system, Lamberton said. Water goes through the Clarksville Cave, over a number of waterfalls, and travels underground, goes across countryside, hills, the cliffs of the Heldebergs, and then over flat plains. It collects runoff along the way, from farms to the Selkirk train yard, Lamberton said.
The hope is to identify what might be affecting the water quality, but nothing is preconceived, Roy Lamberton said.
Extensive studies and management plans have been completed for southern Hudson River communities like Ulster county where the higher density population has created the potential for more pollution. This will be one of the first Hudson River tributary watershed-management planning studies this far north, Lamberton said.
For 2006, the state has designated $1.3 million in grants for Hudson River estuary projects. The money has been dispersed to 45 community projects with the mission of enhancing public use and enjoyment; cleaning up pollution; promoting environmental stewardship and education; and preserving the natural resources of the Hudson River, tributaries, and watersheds.
The Hudson River Estuary Action Plan was developed in 1996 and has since provided more than $370 million to clean, protect, and restore the Hudson River.
The grants this year were allocated based on five categories: interpretation and education projects; community habitat conservation and stewardship; open-space planning inventory and acquisition; watershed planning and implementation; and river access including boating, fishing, and swimming.
The Onesquethaw-Coeymans Watershed Council has received grants in past years for education, Lamberton said.
This year in The Enterprise coverage area, besides the council receiving $36,000 for watershed planning and implementation, the Hilltowns Natural Area Alliance received $4,500 for conservation and stewardship of the E.N. Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville.
The preserve consists of almost 2,000 acres of open space and has a biological research station. The alliance will be identifying critical habitats, creating GIS maps, and assessing current land-use polices in the towns of Renneselaerville and neighboring Berne.
New committee wont update master plan
By Holly Grosch
NEW SCOTLAND Many people, including some members of the towns newly-appointed master-planning committee were surprised to learn last week they wont be the group that updates the comprehensive land-use plan for New Scotland. Rather, they will over the next four months, review the 1994 master plan and tell the town board what sections, if any need revision.
The committee met for the first time last week and talked about their approach and mission. Under the advice of legal counsel Louis Neri and professional planner Chuck Voss, it was decided that this committee of 8 will not be making specific recommendations back to the town board on how to update the plan. The group is just the first phase, an umbrella group, that will review the plan and report back to the town board about which sections of the plan need to be changed, why and where, but not how.
"There’s one more step in the process than I realized," said committee member Paul Cantlin. The discussion really broke down the committees task to less than what he thought he was charged with, Cantlin said.
"How specific should we get"" he asked. If this committee is just saying whether or not the master plan needs to be revised, then who will be looking it over and making the recommendation on exactly how to change it, Cantlin asked.
"It could possibly be the same group," committee Chairman, Douglas LaGrange said.
Neri said that the final review committee, by law, has to have at least one planning board member, and he said he was not sure if elected officials were allowed to be on the committee.
In all the towns he has worked for in the past, Voss said, the town-board members served only as liaisons to the comprehensive-plan committee, and were not voting members.
Neri outlined the town boards three options: update the comprehensive plan itself, have the full planning board do it, or appoint a second comprehensive-plan committee.
Councilman Richard Reilly said on Wednesday night that the report from this first phase committee will help the town board determine the scope of the second committee.
Voss said he envisions the final review committee having up to 12 people on it, representing a broad spectrum of community interests, including town planning and zoning officials and also agriculture and business interests.
The current committee has eight members, all of whom are already town officials: town board members Richard Reilly and Douglas LaGrange; zoning-board members Robert Parmenter, William Hennessey, and Adam Greenberg; planning-board members Chairman Robert Stapf and Voss; and Cantlin the towns zoning administrator.
LaGrange said on Wednesday that he thinks it would be counter productive if the town board does not appoint many of the same people to the second committee.
Stapf said another issue the current committee has to deal with is that it doesnt have a budget.
The committee decided to break down its overview into chapters to tackle a few each month.
There are some editing changes that need to be made, town engineer R. Mark Dempf pointed out, such as there is a section of the plan that says New Scotland has one water district while now, 11 years later, there are more. The question is whether or not substantial changes are needed or just editing changes.
At the next committee meeting, Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall, the officials will be discussing chapters 1, 3, and 4 of the plan.
Chapter 1 is an introduction, which includes a summary of surveys and public meetings from the 1990’s and discusses the process by which the master plan document was formed. Chapter 3 entitled "Environmental Considerations," addresses topography, geology, watersheds, agriculture, and land development suitability. Chapter 4 is about groundwater resources.
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