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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 2, 2009

NS4SED forum favors size-cap law

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — Size-cap buttons flooded the American Legion Hall in Voorheesville last night as New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development held a forum to discuss the increasingly divisive issue of a potential retail development.

“We are a town of neighbors,” said Daniel Mackay, a founding member of NS4SED, as he opened the forum.  He went on, “I know this issue has strained us in certain ways.”

The group formed about a year ago to oppose plans made public by Cazenovia-based Sphere Development for a shopping center, to be anchored by a 137,000-square-foot Target store, on the old Bender melon farm, at the corner of routes 85 and 85A.  The land is currently used for farming, but is zoned for commercial development.

Many of the six panelists presenting last night, said that the traffic generated by a project of that size and the road infrastructure that would need to be created would be a prohibitive factor for the development.  Sphere first proposed a 750,000-square-foot mall, but later scaled back by half because, representatives from the company said, of community input.

It’s a nice piece of land, said the night’s first speaker, Jeffrey Baker, a lawyer who lives in Clarksville.  He went on to say that the lack of water and sewer lines at the site can be solved, but, he said, “Your fundamental problems are the roads.”  Malls aren’t built on two-lane country highways like routes 85 and 85A, he said.

Large retail centers usually locate as close as possible to major traffic interchanges, said Liz Kormos, a later panelist.  Kormos, a member of NS4SED, co-chaired a now-defunct committee the town board appointed to revamp New Scotland’s zoning.  Stores like Target want to be in high-volume traffic areas or densely populated areas, she said, because there will be more shoppers.

The volume of traffic on that stretch of Route 85 is 5,000 cars on an average day, said Peter Van Keuren of the state’s Department of Transportation last year.  Along Route 85A, he said, the figure is 8,600.  On an average day on Central Avenue in Colonie, near the intersection of Wolf Road, where there is a shopping mall and a Target, there are roughly 44,000 vehicles, he said.

Local architect Robert Mitchell, another NS4SED member, presented an “analysis of traffic to be generated by the Sphere proposal” last night, which predicted that Route 85 would need to be widened to two lanes each way to accommodate nearly doubled traffic during peak hours.  Since Mitchell’s projections showed that the four-lane road would encroach on several parcels in the Toll Gate area of Slingerlands, including cutting through part of the old print shop that has recently been turned into upscale apartments, a woman from that neighborhood asked what effect a historic district might have on the process. 

Mackay, who is the director of public policy at the Preservation League of New York State, answered that there are more than 160 years of architectural history in Slingerlands and that it is a district eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.  That designation heightens the review process before a project with impacts as wide reaching as a retail development is approved, “It can really slow things down,” he said, “ and turn things off.”

Traffic was a thread through several of the discussions last night, but during the two-hour forum all six of the panelists raised dozens of issues, many of which have been written about in The Enterprise’s opinion and news sections over the last year.

Based on the capacity of the meeting room, which is 172, Christine Galvin, a member of NS4SED’s steering committee, estimated the number of people in attendance at roughly 180.  Officials there included Supervisor Thomas Dolin, councilmen Douglas LaGrange and Richard Reilly, Councilwoman Margaret Neri, planning board member Chuck Voss, Voorheesville Mayor Robert Conway, and Albany County Legislator Herb Reilly.

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