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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 4, 2008

Allow time for meaningful planning

Illustration by Forest Byrd

Sound planning takes time.

Last month, the Commercial Zone Advisory Committee in New Scotland asked the town board for a two-month extension of a building moratorium so it can finish its review. We urge the board to grant the extension — and more.

The six-month moratorium was adopted in May, prohibiting commercial building over 30,000 square feet in its commercial district, most of which is located near the old Bender melon farm. The now-vacant farmland is at the heart of rural New Scotland, where its two major thoroughfares — routes 85 and 85A — intersect.

The Sphere Group of western New York wants to develop the 179 acres of farmland into a 750,000-square-foot mall.

After Sphere’s plans were made known, residents, spurred by a grassroots group, rallied for a moratorium — 2,200 signed a petition calling for one. Their idea was to align the town’s zoning law with its comprehensive land-use plan. New Scotland last went through the master-planning process in 1994, but many of the plan’s tenets were not codified into law.

A crowd of more than 800 gave the board a standing ovation in May when it passed the moratorium. Since then, a committee of citizens appointed by the board has worked with a hired consultant, Michael Welti of Behan Planning Associates, to review the zoning with the goal of making recommendations to the town board.

Welti made the case to the town board in August for a two-month extension to the six-month moratorium. Without the extension, the moratorium would end in mid-November.

“We’re butting up against the end of the moratorium,” said the committee’s chairwoman, Roz Robinson. She said the committee’s work is taking time because, for instance, there is no definition of a mixed-use zone in the town’s plan.

Welti said that there will be a cap on the size of any retail plazas and that mixed-use zones, which allow both commercial and residential development, will be described in the committee’s report.

An essential session for public input has yet to be held.

The town attorney made a wise observation: “A two-month extension doesn’t give you much time,” he said.

Albany County’s planning board, which has had considerable experience with local municipal planning, had initially recommended a year-long moratorium. That’s still a good time frame.

If the town were to extend the moratorium for six months instead of two, there would be ample time to gauge public reaction and make adjustments accordingly. If the work were finished earlier, the moratorium could always be lifted.

While the moratorium means a delay for the developer, there are no drawbacks for the town. As we’ve written before, the town, not a developer, needs to control New Scotland’s future. New Scotland needs to regulate growth so that it is palatable to the majority of the town’s people. It needs laws in place that ensure the shared vision will be a reality. A short period of time now, halting development, will ensure a sensible plan for the decades to come.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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