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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 9, 2009

Board divided on size-cap law

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — A law framed by the town’s planning board will likely head for review by the county planning board while a law favored by a vocal citizens’ group is left behind.

Councilman Richard Reilly presented Local Law B, an amended version of the planning board’s recommendations on Local Law I, to the town board on Monday.  Most notably, it includes an 85,000-square-foot cap on a single large retail business and a 250,000-square-foot cap on a shopping center.  He has the support of councilwomen Peg Neri and Deborah Baron.

Local Law I had been produced by Elizabeth Kormos and Michael Naughton, the two remaining members of a formerly five-member committee called the Commercial Zone Advisory Committee, appointed by the town board to advise it on updating New Scotland’s zoning in the commercial district.  The town had instituted a moratorium on large-scale commercial development after Cazenovia-based Sphere Development made public its plans to build a 750,000-square-foot shopping center to be anchored by a Target store on the former Bender melon farm, near the intersection of routes 85 and 85A.  The company later scaled back its plans by half due to community reaction, the two managing partners at the firm said last fall.

The contentious bill, drafted by Naughton and Kormos and supported by the citizens’ group called New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development, had capped the size of a single retail store at 50,000 square feet and a shopping center at 100,000 square feet.  After the town board sent the draft to the planning board for review, it was rewritten and included new definitions.

A flaw in Local Law B, Supervisor Thomas Dolin said last night, is that it would permit a big-box store since there is no provision restricting common ownership of buildings in the commercial zone, which means that, for example, Lowe’s could have a garden and equipment store in one area and a tools and fixtures store nearby.  “I don’t want to say that Mr. Reilly intended this,” Dolin said.

Councilman Douglas LaGrange, at the workshop meeting on Monday, presented an amended version of Local Law I, which Dolin supports.

“I couldn’t go beyond 60, 120,” Dolin said as he and Reilly debated about square footage limits.  “I can’t go that low,” Reilly responded. 

Each was willing to concede 10,000 square feet — Dolin adding to the initial 50,000-square-foot figure and Reilly coming down to 75,000 square feet, leaving a 15,000-square-foot gap.

“I don’t mind compromising with people,” Baron said to Dolin earlier in the meeting.  “I guess you’re saying you don’t like to compromise.”

“Not when it comes to zoning, no,” Dolin answered.  “It has to be based on facts.”

Reilly also often called for the zoning law to be rooted in data and facts.  He arrived at the 85,000-square-foot size limit, he said yesterday, through looking at CZAC reports and because he wanted to stay below the threshold for the standard size of Target-type stores, which run from 90,000 to 140,000 square feet.

The 50,000-square-foot size was a result of research done largely by Kormos.  Dolin felt that he could go up to 60,000 square feet, he said yesterday, because the planner that the town hired to work with CZAC, Mike Welti, wrote in a report that it would be an acceptable maximum cap.

When asked why he wouldn’t agree to go high enough to meet Reilly’s figure, Dolin said, “The majority never offered 75.  Mr. Reilly did, but the other two didn’t.”

Both Baron and Neri said this week that Reilly’s Local Law B offered a solution that would be acceptable to a broad range of residents.

“When you boil it down to its elements, people want appropriately sized commercial development,” Neri said this week, but added that in New Scotland, “It’s always a balancing act.”  She cited the fact that the town’s commercial area falls over a large tract of land that has no infrastructure.  “It’s a struggle,” she concluded.

“In order to develop a commercial base on that property,” long-time planning board Chairman Robert Stapf said this week of the old Bender farm, “somebody is going to have to spend a lot of money to develop infrastructure,” which includes, water, sewer, and road improvements.  “In order to develop those things, you need a commercial base… You’re going to need an anchor to cover the costs.”

Speaking at Monday’s meeting of the planning board’s report, Dolin said, “The majority report of the planning board is a blank check.”  A 5-to-2 vote sent the recommendations on to the town board while dissenting planning board members Charles Voss and Kevin Kroencke sent their own report to the town board.

“The idea of giving Bob Stapf a blank check to plan the future of this town — it’s not going to happen.  Trust me,” Dolin said to fierce applause on Monday.

“The town board is the one that establishes the laws,” Stapf responded through the Enterprise yesterday. “The town board is the one that makes the rules and the planning board follows out the rules,” he said.

“It’s a cap on what the planning board can entertain on its own,” LaGrange said of Local Law I, meaning that a developer with plans for a large-scale development could introduce his plans via the Planned Unit Development application, which goes to the town board rather than the planning board.

“The planned unit development regulations are intended to provide for new residential, commercial or manufacturing uses in which economies of scale, or creative architectural or planning concepts may be utilized by the developer,” according to the town’s zoning regulations.  A variety of standards — including at least a 25-acre plot of land and residential density requirements — are listed for PUDs.

“In light of the process over the last year… I don’t have the confidence in the PUD process that you do,” Reilly told LaGrange on Monday.  “This past year just exemplifies the planning board being better prepared,” he said earlier in the meeting, of the planning board’s being better equipped to deal with land-use issues than the town board.

Both bills, however, give the same amount of discretion to the planning board in some respects since they both classify small retail businesses as being under 10,000 square feet and list them as permitted uses in the commercial zone.  Large retail businesses — up to 50,000 square feet in to Local Law I and up to 85,000 square feet in Local Law B — would need a special-use permit, which requires a public hearing.

While town officials may disagree, Dolin said at the close of the meeting, there is regard among them.  He went on to inform the board of the death of Stapf’s father, extend condolences, and give the hours of the wake — which was held in the funeral home of Reilly’s father.

When all is said and done, Baron said last night, “I hope we can all be friends,” she said of the community.  “People don’t want a big box,” she said.  “You want to be able to go away and come back and still recognize the town of New Scotland.”

The New Scotland Town Board will vote on what version of the zoning law to send to the Albany County Planning Board at an upcoming meeting.

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