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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 16, 2012

After years
Cap may come

NEW SCOTLAND — A cap on the size of retail development, glacial in its pace and proportion, is again before the town, having reshaped the political landscape over the last four years.

The town board is considering a bill that would cap the allowable size of new retail construction at 50,000 square feet for a single store and 100,000 square feet for a shopping center in an effort to keep out big-box development, which was a possibility in New Scotland’s commercial zone several years ago.

When plans for a Target-anchored shopping center became public in 2008, the town board split in its view of future development in town, with three members perceived of as favorable to large-scale development and two members vocally opposed to big-box development. In the two town board elections since then, the three members who favored development were replaced with candidates who supported a size cap. All five of the sitting board members campaigned on the issue.

While it was once a core issue in shaping the town’s development, the size cap has become less central since the town has gotten a grant to study the commercial zone and expects to enact new zoning code to govern future development when that grant committee, together with Behan Planning Associates, makes its recommendations this spring.

“What the town clearly wants, even as an interim measure, is that nothing too big is going to come,” said Councilman Daniel Mackay, who is sponsoring the bill. After starting a group called New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development with other residents in response to the Target proposal, he won a seat on the town board in 2009 on a platform of controlled commercial growth.

Earlier this year, when he had a slim majority on the town board, not enough to pass a law that would likely require a super majority vote, Mackay thought that the town could do without a size-cap law since the grant committee had started its work and he expected a new zoning code.

“In a futile effort to get the fourth vote last spring, I was actively speculating… whether we could get to best zoning practices” without a size cap, Mackay said this week. The November election, which brought two candidates supportive of a cap to the board, confirmed the town’s will for a cap.

His most recent version of the size-cap bill, Local Law C, differs from its last incarnation in a few key areas. It would apply to the whole of the town’s commercial zone, which is split into two areas — one at the intersection of routes 85 and 85A and the other several miles away near the intersection of routes 85 and 443. The previous version had differentiated the two areas and only applied to the intersection of routes 85 and 85A, which is where the Target had been proposed.

The town’s new attorney, Michael Naughton, pointed out that it would be simpler for the law to apply to the whole of the commercial zone, Mackay said this week. “The other commercial district in town is no more suitable for ‘big box’ development than the hamlet at the intersection of NYS Routes 85 and 85A. There is no reason to distinguish the two districts,” says a memorandum that accompanies the bill.

The purpose and finding of the proposed law relies heavily on a report submitted by the remaining members of a fraught committee, called the Commercial Zone Advisory Committee, that was named in the wake of the Target proposal and charged with making recommendations on bringing the town’s zoning code into line with its comprehensive plan. The committee, essentially, dissolved amid accusations of conflicts of interest before completing its work in 2008 — members of the committee had been starkly divided on land-use philosophy.

Naughton was one of two remaining members on that committee who submitted a report to the town after its three other members had resigned. Two of the members who had resigned also submitted reports to the town.

Asked if relying on the CZAC report would undermine the legitimacy of the proposed law, Mackay said that the report is the most recent in long line of town sanctioned work and public commentary that calls for temperate development. “I think there’s a clear pattern… of where the community wants development to go,” he said.

Another significant component of the current bill is its handling of subdivision. Each lot as it is currently marked on the tax map is unable to be subdivided for retail development if that lot already has or is seeking the maximum allowable amount of retail development. Land can be subdivided for other uses, including residential, office, or manufacturing, Mackay stressed.

The proposed law will be the focus of the town board’s Feb. 29 meeting, Mackay said. He hopes to have a public hearing by late April or early May and expects to have zoning recommendations based on the grant committee’s work within six to nine months.

— By Saranac Hale Spencer

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