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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 18, 2008

Views vary on size cap for commercial zone

By Jo E. Prout

NEW SCOTLAND — In the wake of three resignations from the Commercial Zoning Advisory Committee, the two remaining members submitted a draft of a law that includes a retail cap size of 50,000 square feet — popular with vocal residents. Two resignees submitted individual reports to the town board favoring no cap at all, with a minimum set at 125,000 square feet, if needed.

Last week, the board indicated it would consider reports from anyone.

Elizabeth Kormos, a real estate broker, and Michael Naughton, an attorney, the two remaining members of the five-member CZAC, gave their report and law proposal to the board last week.

A Sphere Development representative this week called their report “self-serving.” Sphere Development, of Cazenovia (Madison Co.), proposed a large-scale retail development for the town’s commercial zone — at the intersection of routes 85 and 85A — with a 137,000-square-foot Target store as an anchor.

“The Kormos-Naughton report was very professional,” said Supervisor Thomas Dolin. “It was detailed. It was authoritative. The conclusions were substantiated by the data they included.”

Their report stated that the population level within a five-mile radius of the commercial zone in New Scotland would have to double to support a national retailer like Target.

The Kormos and Naughton report also said that nearby regional-drawing stores, like those in Colonie and Guilderland, had over-saturated the market.

The report proposed a 50,000-square-foot cap on retail stores in the commercial zone, with the entire retail area capped at 100,000 square feet.

“That’s what the data substantiate — it’s economically feasible,” Dolin said. “I think the town residents would be comfortable with that level of development. The road systems can only support that level. I appreciate Ms. Kormos and Mr. Naughton taking the time to prepare and forward a report.”

Sphere managing partner Gregory Widrick said that, to date, “No feasibility study has been done by a disinterested party. It’s the same old thing we’ve been saying for a year. You’ve got a one-sided report.”

Kormos was accused of having a conflict of interest while serving on CZAC because she made a smaller-scale proposal for the same commercial area two years ago.

“That’s self-serving information,” Widdrick said.

Last week, Kormos said, “I did not do this analysis two years ago. It’s all brand-new analysis with verifiable sources, with published articles and published studies.”

Other views

Former CZAC Chairwoman Roselyn Robinson, who resigned from the committee earlier this month, said that she submitted a report to the town board because “I’m not quite sure what the status of CZAC is. I assumed it was defunct, but I didn’t know.”

Robinson said that Dolin seemed ready to act on the basis of the Kormos and Naughton report, but that Behan Planning representative Michael Welti had “made it plain that we hadn’t reached consensus yet.”

The committee was appointed by the town board this spring after it enacted a six-month moratorium on commercial building. The moratorium was then extended three months to March 1, 2009. The board last night set a public hearing for Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m. to consider a second extension of the moratorium for another six months. If enacted, the new moratorium would end Sept. 1, 2009.

Robinson’s suggestions did not support building caps, but suggested that the town could use 125,000 square feet as a marker.

“I have never been a proponent of caps as they can hamstring planning and zoning boards, and caps are not referenced in the comprehensive plan….Building caps of approximately 125,000 square feet would fit” in the commercial district, she wrote.

“We must be aware that a cap, alone, will not avoid a regional draw. A 50,000-square-foot Crate and Barrel or Bass Pro Shop would clearly be regional draws. We must not consider a cap as the ‘be-all and end-all,’ but one of many potential planning tools,” Robinson wrote.

Cynthia Elliott, a member of the planning board and a former member of CZAC who also resigned, said that she had prepared maps for the September CZAC meeting, but that she wrote her own conclusions and gave them to the town board last week. Elliott is a land surveyor who works primarily in Columbia, Greene, and southern Rensselaer counties.

“They’re in a tough spot,” Elliott said about town board members. “It was fairly cordial of them to accept everyone’s information. If there’s a member who decided he’s made up his mind and doesn’t want to see all the information…that is kind of silly. I think everybody should see the information.”

At recent meetings, board member Richard Reilly said that he would either not read or not seriously consider a report submitted by Kormos because of the conflict-of-interest charge. Kormos has said that she had no more of a conflict than any other member of CZAC.

Elliott’s report compared maps of Stuyvesant Plaza in Guilderland and Delaware Plaza in Delmar because of the similar sizes and local residents’ familiarity with the shopping centers. Neither has as much landscaping, Elliott said, but both are similar to the type of development she would recommend for the commercial zone.

“I believe that the town should not restrict proposals that may come forward, strictly based on size,” Elliott wrote. “If a cap is required for square footage of a single building, let it be no less than 125,000 square feet, as it is clear the area shown can sustain this.”

“That sounds reasonable to me,” Widrick said. “That sounds logical. The town should listen to them,” he said of Robinson and Elliott. He said that he would support that size cap because “you would need enough leasable area to support high-infrastructure [like] roadway development and sewer and water.”

“Everything’s negotiable,” Elliott told The Enterprise this week. Of the 27 towns in which she works as a surveyor, “None have caps on square footage for buildings,” she said. “When we go before planning boards, things are not etched in stone.”

She said that boards should have flexibility, particularly if a developer has a “great building and a great design.” As an example, she said that a developer might want to add a third floor, but that the town’s emergency services might not be able to service a third floor. The town can tell the developer that it needs a fire truck, she said.

“It’s kind of a give and take,” she said.

She said that the Kormos and Naughton report offered market analysis, but that hers showed “what the land will sustain.”

Elliott wrote that she supports a minimum requirement of 30 percent of green space in the commercial zone. The town’s comprehensive land-use plan says that 25 percent of green space is desirable, she wrote.

“I have learned that the land never lies to us. It will tell you what it can sustain. Hopefully, we will listen to the land in commercial zone #1 as we move forward,” she wrote.

Drafting law

Robinson questioned why Naughton would draft a law for the zoning.

“We’re paying the planner $16,000 to do that,” she said.

She described her report as more of a brief memo.

“If they read it, I think it would be great,” Robinson said of the board members.

Dolin said that he asked Naughton to draft a law with the report.

“I encouraged him to do this because time is running out. He is a lawyer who is very familiar with commercial development. I was concerned that, with the CZAC paralysis, we were going to be stalemated and the moratorium was going to be expired.”

“I think the residents are frustrated with the lack of progress in changing [the zoning],” said Dolin, who took office Jan. 1. “I felt it was time that I exerted some leadership and I attempted to, at least, see that a proposed solution or law was presented to the public. It may not be perfect, but, at least, it’s a starting point. I intend to ask Mr. Welti to add his input to Mr. Naughton’s proposal.”

Dolin said that the troubles with the zoning advisory committee have been fluid.

“It’s a little disorganized as to how we’re going to proceed. I didn’t want it to stop the progress. I’m committed to getting some change in the commercial zone as soon as possible,” Dolin said.

He said that, in his year on the board, he has been frustrated by the speed at which things are accomplished.

“It seems to take forever to get anything done here. People expect more,” he said. “They’re tired of procrastination. This is taking too long. I’m not going to let the resignations from CZAC stop the process.”

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