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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 28, 2008
While melon farm waits
By Jo E. Prout
NEW SCOTLAND Commercial development in New Scotland’s northeast quadrant got a green light last week when the town board adopted a law to allow the Vista Technology Park to proceed. The light is still yellow for the commercial district at the old Bender melon farm as the committee reviewing zoning there asked for a moratorium extension.
The board last Wednesday adopted a Mixed Economic Development District for the Vista project. At the same meeting, the Commercial Zone Advisory Committee asked the board for a two-month extension of a building moratorium so that it can finish its review.
The Vista project covers land in the towns of Bethlehem and New Scotland, with the bulk of the project in Bethlehem behind the Slingerlands Price Chopper complex.
The MEDD zoning “is not designed to encourage retail development,” New Scotland Supervisor Thomas Dolin told The Enterprise. “The Bethlehem portion of the district permits very little retail.” Dolin said that retail in the district would support the office-use population. A coffee house, a restaurant, or a hotel could be permitted with the zoning, he said.
“It’s been authorized. It’s up to the developer. The developer is actively soliciting tenants,” Dolin said. “We really were just a small portion of the Vista project.”
Now a sparsely populated area, which had been for residential use with two-acre minimum parcels, the newly-zoned district will be 43 acres and could see office buildings as large as 300,000 square feet and as high as 60 feet. Bethlehem is providing the infrastructure for the 450-acre campus, such as utilities, water, and sewer, and all the access points are from Bethlehem via the Route 85 bypass.
The park is located in a depression in the ground, according to the draft environmental impact statement, and the area that projects into New Scotland is surrounded by ravines and wetlands, which will be protected by a conservation easement.
Asked why the law passed unanimously without public outcry, while a large commercial development on the former Bender farm drew crowds in protest, Dolin said, “I assume they feel that the proposed use is appropriate.” The distinction that most people see between the two uses is that it is “better to have office buildings” because of traffic demands and hours of operation, he said.
Since the land to be used for the Vista project is surrounded by deep ravines, he said, “There would never be any roads” from New Scotland to the land.
“We’re fortunate for Bethlehem to have included us in this project,” Dolin said. “Otherwise, it’s questionable if it would ever have been developed” because of the lack of access to it from New Scotland.
“That’s a fact,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be beneficial to the taxpayers.”
Behan Planning Associates planner Michael Welti told the town board last Wednesday that it should begin the process to extend its six-month moratorium on commercial building over 30,000 square feet in its commercial district, most of which is located near the Bender melon farm.
“A two-month extension doesn’t give you much time,” said town attorney Michael Mackey.
The six-month building moratorium was instituted in May, after the Sphere Group proposed a highly-unpopular but legally permissible retail plaza on the site of the former Bender melon farm at the intersection of routes 85 and 85A. The Commercial Zone Advisory Committee has worked since then to redefine town zoning to match the town’s comprehensive master plan created 14 years ago.
Albany County’s planning board had initially recommended a year-long moratorium.
Welti said that there will be a cap on the size of any retail plazas, and that mixed use zones will be described in the committee report. Youmans Road, he said, to give an example of a mixed-use zone, has many residences, but the road is zoned for commercial use.
“There is a clear preference for smaller enterprises,” Welti said.
Resident Robert Prentiss told the board earlier that he supported the advisory committee’s work. He said that the size of retail and wholesale buildings should be capped at 50,000 square feet.
“We don’t want a big-box retail store in New Scotland,” Prentiss said.
Committee chair and local resident Roz Robinson said that the committee’s work is taking time because, for instance, there is no definition of a mixed use in the town plan.
The next committee meeting is Monday, Aug. 25, Robinson said. On Sept. 17, the committee will hold a workshop, she said.
“We’re butting up against the end of the moratorium,” Robinson said.
Mackey said that the current moratorium ends in mid-November.
New civil servant
The town board agreed to advertise for a part-time internal control officer. The new position would be an Albany County Civil Service post. The board said it would encourage a certified public accountant also working for the town of Coeymans to apply.
“It’s an experiment,” said Dolin.
The town would hire the officer for two days per week, for six hours per day, Dolin said. “It will be as needed,” he said.
According to the Civil Service job description, the internal control officer would evaluate accounting and administrative practices to improve efficiency.
“I think we’re overdue,” said board member Margaret Neri.
In other business, the board:
Adopted new water rates for the Font Grove, Swift Road, and Feura Bush water districts;
Set a public hearing about the adoption of a law to prevent lower assessments on converted condominiums for Sept. 10 at 6:30 p.m.;
Approved a bond anticipation note renewal for $3,384.40 to pay for the water district service van purchased in 2004;
Approved Highway Superintendent Darrell Duncan’s request to purchase a front-end loader from the state contract for $128,000. The town had budgeted $130,000 for one, Duncan said.
The board also approved Duncan’s request to purchase a mower for $5,860;
Agreed to increase the budget for the Heldervale sewer extension from $180,000 to $300,000;
Approved a 10-month contract with Pollard Disposal Service for $27,299 per month. The contract has a fuel-increase rider that states that, for every 10 cents more than $5 per gallon of gasoline Pollard must pay, the town agrees to pay an additional $6 per day.
The board said that the cost, for up to 23 pick-up days per month, could reach $151 per month.
“I personally think that’s fair,” said board member Deborah Baron; and
Appointed Tim Willis of New Salem to the town water committee.