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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 8, 2011

Roundtable talk: Mapping New Scotland’s future

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — Visions of the commercial zone’s future varied from keeping it as it is — mostly open fields — to building a village-like development as nearly 100 residents discussed their desires for the controversial area at a public forum last Thursday.

The roughly 200 acres, once the Bender melon farm, at the intersection of routes 85 and 85A came into sharp focus three years ago when Cazenovia-based Sphere Development had plans to build a Target-anchored shopping center on the site.  In 1971, MLF Enterprises bought the property, which is zoned to allow for commercial development, for about $525,000.  When Sphere was planning its development, the asking price for the property was $4 million.  Nothing has been built on the land, which is sometimes used to grow corn.

Many of the residents who attended Thursday’s workshop expressed the hope that the land would remain in its current state.  Many also said that they would like to see a quaint looking retail and housing development on the land.  Some had more fanciful ideas, including a botanical garden or a brewery that would grow its hops on the land.

The workshop was hosted by the town and the Capital District Transportation Committee since it is creating a master plan for the New Scotland hamlet area, which includes the commercial zone.  Michael Welti, a professional planner with Behan Planning Associates, ran the forum.  He worked on similar issues for the town in 2008, at the height of the controversy over the prospect of building a Target on the old Bender melon farm.

Last year, the CDTC gave the town a $42,500 grant to study transportation and land use in that area — New Scotland contributed $12,500, for a total study budget of $55,000.  It hired Behan Planning Associates as the planner.

Thursday’s forum was the first meeting meant to gather public input — the committee conducting the study, made up of town residents, people who own land in the study area, and representatives from various county offices, plans to have a draft plan by next spring.

Vista campus progresses

Not far from the study area, primarily in the neighboring town of Bethlehem, work on the Vista Technology Campus has begun with the first phase of the 1.4 million square-foot project to be completed by the end of next year, according to Jonathan deForest, executive vice president of BBL Construction Services.

Planning for the project has been underway for eight years, he said this week, and the first phase of construction will include a 65,000 square-foot ShopRite grocery store, a bank, a restaurant, and a couple of office buildings.  The primary use for the site is office and technology businesses, deForest said, and they will make up 80 percent of the tenants.  The other 20 percent of the space can be filled with anything, he said, including retail and residential uses.

Those at Thursday’s meeting who wanted to see development in New Scotland’s study area favored small-scale businesses mixed with housing.  Many of them wanted to cluster the development on a piece of the land and leave the rest open or use it for agriculture.  Several people favored the idea of encouraging agriculture as the primary use for the land.

Many residents say that they’d like to increase the town’s tax base.  The American Farmland Trust has conducted Cost of Community Services Studies across the nation over the last several years, comparing the cost in services used by residential development, commercial and industrial development, and working and open land.

“In every community studied, farmland has generated a fiscal surplus to help offset the shortfall created by residential demand for public services,” according to the report.  The median cost per dollar of revenue raised by each class is 29 cents for commercial and industrial, 37 cents for working and open land, and $1.19 for residential development, according to the report.  (For more on this, go to www.AltamontEnterprise.com and look under “Archives” for May 14, 2009.)

One large housing development to be located just outside of the study area, called Kensington Woods, has been approved; a senior housing development located in the study area is currently being built; and two housing developments related to the Colonie Country Club on Route 85A, one for 19 lots and the other for 35, are in the planning process.

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