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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 5, 2009

First volley on size cap divides planning board

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — Official discussion started Tuesday on a controversial law that would cap the size of new retail buildings in town at 50,000 square feet and new shopping centers at 100,000 square feet.

After first defeating the bill all together, the town board, in a surprising 3-to-2 vote on Jan. 14, sent Local Law I to the town’s planning and zoning boards for review.

Tuesday night’s planning-board meeting culminated in a workshop session during which the seven members were to discuss the law.  Chairman Robert Stapf opened the session by asking members to divulge any possible conflicts of interest each may have, an allusion to the resignation of the majority of members on the Citizens’ Zoning Advisory Committee.  The committee had been named to advise the town on zoning issues that were highlighted when Cazenovia-based Sphere Development proposed a mega mall on the former Bender melon farm.  Three of the members quit after a conflict-of-interest charge against co-chair Liz Kormos went unanswered.  The two remaining members, Kormos and Michael Naughton, submitted the size-cap law, which is supported by a local citizens’ group.

Most planning board members took the opportunity, instead, to recite résumés of community involvement.

Following the introductions, Cynthia Elliott recapped the town board meeting that had two votes on Local Law I — first voting it down and then, after strong community input, voting to send the bill to the planning and zoning boards for review.  She concluded, “I also question… how it came to us as a planning board,” meaning that the second vote may not have been legal.  She called on the town’s attorney, L. Michael Mackey, to tell the planning board if the vote was, in fact, legal.

“It was legal,” Mackey said yesterday.  The deciding vote at the town board meeting was cast by Democrat Deborah Baron, who usually votes in a bloc with fellow Democrats Rich Reilly and Peg Neri.

“People change their minds for whatever reason…” Mackey explained.  “Sometimes it’s at the next meeting.  Sometimes they just need to hear more… Certainly they have a right to do that.”

Elliott could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Cursory discussion of the proposed law followed with the planning board’s lawyer, Louis Neri, who is married to Councilwoman Neri, taking an active role.

“Does this Local Law I… encourage development?” he asked the board.  “That’s the first thing you’ve got to ask yourself.”  Neri said, if the town were to “work under the dictates of the comprehensive plan,” it would want to encourage development.

“I ran for supervisor and the biggest appeal from people of the town was to lower taxes and get some commercial development,” planning board member Elizabeth Stewart said during her introduction.  Later, she said that she had recently been to a beachside resort area that had a hotel.  “It had boutique stores, it had restaurants,” Stewart said.  “It had everything you would need.”  The development also had an attractive brick Target store, she said, adding that she doesn’t actually shop at the chain store — one of which is in Sphere’s plans for the Bender melon site.

“We’re not a resort community… We’re a bedroom community,” planning board member Chuck Voss responded.

Of the law, Stapf said, “There’s no reason for caps on these things,” implying that other controls can be used that could help to preserve open space. 

Later, Neri told the board that, if the town were to put a cap on the size of commercial developments, thus discouraging developers, the result would be a push for residential development that would put a strain on the school district — he mentioned the possibility of 50,000 homes.

Towards the end of the session, dismissing studies on the effect of big-box stores on local businesses, which have been cited over the course of the big-box controversy in New Scotland, Stapf said, “We don’t have any other stores in our community.”

After Stapf asked board members to e-mail him their comments on the proposed law, which will be discussed at another workshop meeting on Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. in Town Hall, Voss asked, in regard to the recommendation the planning board is expected to give the town board, “Is there such a thing as a majority/minority report?”

Other business

In other business at the Feb. 3 meeting, the board:

—         Voted unanimously to grant a special-use permit to Sherri Calabrese so that she can keep 10 to 15 chickens on her agriculturally-zoned property;

—         Set a public hearing on Charles Carrow’s senior-housing complex on New Scotland Road for the next meeting, March 3;

—         Voted unanimously to allow the building inspector to renew Alex Grossjohann’s building permit for a third time so that he can erect a fence around the in-ground swimming pool he recently built;

—         Voted unanimously to send Paul Hite’s area-variance request to the zoning board of appeals with a favorable response;

—         Set a public hearing for April 17 on Walter Gibbson’s special-use permit application to build a recreational pond;

—         Heard David Moreau present a pre-application sketch plat for a subdivision encompassing three parcels on Youmans Road; and

—         Voted unanimously to grant a request from the developers of Kennsington Woods for an extension to March 30 to provide information for the review of its environmental impact statement.

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