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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 28, 2009

County planners turn down New Scotland zoning proposal

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — A proposed law setting limits on development in the commercial zone, which was sent to the Albany County Planning Board last month, met with disapproval last Thursday.

“The ACPB has serious concerns that Local Law B establishes significant square footage size caps for retail businesses and is silent on regulation of development density within the Commercial Zone,” the board’s response says.  The proposed law included size limits for individual retail stores of 85,000 square feet and shopping centers of 250,000 square feet, larger than the caps included in the first law drafted to govern the town’s sizable commercial zone.

The size-cap issue has been debated for several months following initial upset after Sphere Development proposed a retail mall at the intersection of routes 85 and 85A in New Scotland’s commercial zone.

“The consequences of multiple shopping centers with retail businesses occupying 85,000 square feet, each with a significant regional draw, at or near the proposed development caps, is unacceptable in terms of cumulative impacts to state and county highways, local law enforcement and other public health, safety and emergency response considerations, community character and regional and countywide impacts,” it says.

In a 3-to-1 vote to disapprove of the proposed law, Michael Asbury voted to approve the law with significant modifications to keep it on the table, he said.  The major issue was density for that still rural area that lies at the corner of state highways and boarders suburban Bethlehem, since its development could impact traffic, the sheriff’s department, and other county or intermunicipal functions, Asbury said.

Both he and the planning board’s chair, Michael DeVall, pointed to the board’s creation under Section 239 of the state’s General Municipal Law as giving the board a narrow focus in looking at planning issues — its charge to members of county planning boards is to “perform planning work… and… study the needs and conditions of metropolitan, regional, county and community planning in such county or counties… covered by constituent municipalities.”

DeVall named some of the same concerns as Asbury, including traffic on Route 85, the concerns expressed by the town of Bethlehem, and the possible impact on the county sheriff’s department, although he said he would have sided with the majority had he voted — DeVall only votes in the case of a tie among the four voting members of the planning board.

“We’re not so interested in local issues,” DeVall said this week, but added that the impact of Local Law B would affect an area much greater than the town of New Scotland.

“I voted to modify simply because I’d like to keep it on the table,” Asbury said this week, adding later, “The need for further study was the point of modification.”

The board’s response advised the town to complete a Generic Environmental Impact Statement.

“The development of this commercial zone along with the proposed adjacent residential development under the name Kensington Woods will result in potentially significant cumulative impacts to, among other things, infrastructure, public safety, and community character of the entire area and adjacent communities,” it says before adding that a GEIS would set up a framework for assessing growth and development.

“I think we should evaluate it,” said Councilman Richard Reilly, who wrote Local Law B, when asked if the town should undertake a GEIS.  Last May, Reilly said, he had suggested conducting a traffic study — either study, he pointed out, is a significant expense.

When asked if he planned to rework Local Law B, Reilly said he hadn’t yet decided, but said, “Density is something I’m more than willing to take a look at.”  How the town will address that issue needs to be discussed, he said.

Councilman Douglas LaGrange and Supervisor Tom Dolin had favored another, more restrictive, law with smaller size allowances.

“Doug and I are working on a draft law that would… contain the caps of 50 and 100,000 that we had been proposing,” Dolin said yesterday, referring to Local Law C, which died in a 3-to-2 vote last month at the same meeting that Local Law B was sent in a unanimous vote for review by the county planning board.

Since the board’s disapproval of Local Law B, the public hearing that the town had scheduled for June on the proposed law has been cancelled.

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