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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 6, 2010

Zoning changes to be tweaked

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — Crossgates Mall may get its own special zone. Mixed use — in which residences and businesses share a building — may become better defined. And Guilderland residents who work at home may have clearer guidelines for when they need a permit.

On Tuesday, the town board extended a public hearing on these issues so that the zoning review committee, which is updating the town’s zoning, can fine-tune its recommended revisions.

Concerns with the drafts include: confusion over what constitutes a minor home occupation; the risk of overdevelopment under the new definition of mixed-use buildings; and the maximum square footage allowed for a regional shopping center.

The biggest problem posed by the draft was that it would make Crossgates Mall non-conforming under the definition of a regional shopping center, which states that one million square feet is the maximum space allowed; Crossgates is currently 1.6 million square feet.

Peter Barber, chairman of the zoning board of appeals and a member of the zoning review committee, said that a prior town board, under Jerry Yerbury’s administration, had considered passing a local law to cap regional shopping centers at one million square feet. Crossgates had challenged the bill in 1999, and was successful. The law was never passed.

However, the zoning code was changed to reflect the verbiage of that bill. The zoning review committee, reading the code, assumed that the cap was one million square feet, and carried that forward in its draft.

On April 28, the town board received a letter from Robert L. Sweeney, Crossgates Mall’s attorney, stating that, if the board were to adopt the draft of the new zoning code, the mall would become non-conforming, which would have “major repercussions on existing tenant leases and financial commitments,” he wrote.

“We don’t want to make anything non-conforming. If the draft were adopted into law, the value of the mall would decline,” Barber said. The committee may recommend a special zoning category just for Crossgates, Barber said, since he does not believe there are other parcels in town that could even accommodate a shopping center of more than one million square feet.

For that reason alone, the draft must go back to the zoning review committee for revision, but there were other concerns raised by board members and the public that will be addressed as well.

Mixed Use

Supervisor Kenneth Runion said he the definition of mixed-use buildings could trigger an intensive wave of development along Western Avenue. A mixed-use building is one in which residential and non-residential uses are permitted together. For example, the top floor of a business could be turned into apartments.

“The way the law is written, there are only restrictions placed on sideyards. We run the risk of having extra levels added to business buildings for use as apartments,” said Runion.

Home Businesses

At a town board meeting on April 6, when the board decided to set a public hearing, Republican councilmen Warren Redlich and Mark Grimm voiced objection to Minor Home Occupations — which, by definition, have no external effects on a neighborhood — requiring a permit.

The purpose of adding the “Minor Home Occupation” definition was to streamline the permit process, which currently requires any home business, minor or not, to get a special-use permit. Obtaining a special-use permit involves several visits to the planning and zoning boards, and can mean an eight-to-12-week delay in certification.

The zoning review committee’s draft puts home occupations into three categories: Minor Home Occupation, Home Occupation I, and Home Occupation II. Minor Home Occupations would require only simple paperwork, and Home Occupations I and II still require a special-use permit.

The Minor Home Occupation Certification form asks for the name of the property owner, the property address, phone number, tax map number, and a brief description of the home business. The business owner must sign the form, certifying that he or she is operating within the guidelines of the Minor Home Occupation category.

Redlich and Grimm thought the conditions of the Minor Home Occupation were so restrictive that, if taken literally, the law, as it is written, would require anyone who does any work at all in his or her home to get a permit. For example, Redlich said that, if taken literally, a person who sold one item from their home would need a permit.

Several members of the audience spoke out at the public hearing on Tuesday and said they felt the permit requirement for a Minor Home Occupation was an invasion of privacy, and a way for the government to find out what people were doing inside their own homes. Grimm echoed that sentiment.

“This is unwarranted government intrusion. I object to the government’s reach into the home. It is none of the town’s business,” Grimm said. He was cited for not applying for a special-use permit for his home business in July 2008, after which he suggested changing the rules for home-occupation permits, stating that the law was “not hospitable” for business owners.

Don Reeb, a McKownville resident, spoke in front of the planning board last Wednesday, and submitted a letter to the town board on Tuesday, stating he thought the increased ease of application would make it easier for people to violate the zoning law, and that certain portions of the proposal were too broad.

The general consensus of the town board on Tuesday was that the zoning review committee should add a section to the code describing what does not constitute a home occupation, rather than just a definition of a Minor Home Occupation. Redlich said he would be satisfied to see that addition.

“In our other meetings, I was trying to get a clarification on what doesn’t need a permit,” said Redlich.

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