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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 19, 2012

Size-cap at last?
By Tyler Murphy

NEW SCOTLAND –– After two years and two failed attempts, the town board is preparing to vote again on a local law limiting the size of large-scale commercial development in the area of routes 85 and 85A, following a public hearing on the issue scheduled for May.

Hundreds of acres of land near the intersection is zoned for commercial development but has only ever been used for agriculture. A public controversy on how to use the land began in 2008 after Cazenovia-based Sphere Development proposed building a Target-anchored shopping center near the site. The property, the former Bender melon farm, has been owned by a group of investors since 1971.

A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on May 9 at the town hall. town Councilman Daniel Mackay said a vote on the bill was possible following the hearing.

One of the law’s authors and supporters, Mackay, said the proposal made in 2008 could have led to the development of 1.5 million square feet for commercial retail, more than 15 times larger than the maximum square footage allowed under the proposed law.

“That is a scale that would have overwhelmed town street networks, infrastructures, and it was badly located for people to access. Other commercial zones are not like our commercial zone; it’s not off the freeway. You’re driving through neighborhoods that would not be able to sustain traffic on that scale,” said Mackay.

Mackay said the proposed law would limit single retail stores to no more than 50,000 square feet of space and limit the total size of retail development per property parcel to 100,000-square feet.

He explained the 100,000 square feet restrictions limit the size of aggregate storefronts sharing a single location, such as strip malls. “The intention here is to make certain the proposals brought forth in the town of New Scotland fit the scale of the local community,” he said.

A difference Mackay highlighted in the law being proposed next month and the law defeated two years earlier was the ability of landowners to subdivide their property for non-retail purposes.

“This law will prevent big box retail coming to New Scotland and allow large landowners to subdivide for other purposes,” he said.

The hearing over the proposed law is scheduled for May 9 at about the same time a study advisory committee will be releasing its proposed draft plan, which will redefine and update the zoning laws in the town.

The committee was formed in the wake of the 2008 Sphere Development controversy and began creating a draft plan after receiving feedback from a public workshop at the end of 2011. Many residents at the workshop expressed a desire to keep the area more rural and specifically a number of them commented on the area of routes 85 and 85A, asking that it remain as open land or be used for a quaint, village-like development. Though the plan’s details have not yet been released, the committee reported some public recommendations would be implemented by designating conservation areas near the intersection of routes 85 and 85A.

However, town Supervisor Thomas Dolin said it may take up to a year before the committee’s recommendations could become law and the bill being put forth May 9 would act as a “temporary, stop-gap measure.”

“The problem is, until we get the linkage report from the committee and enact legislation as a result of the study, it could be another year just to get all that done. In the meantime, we have a very substantial exposure under the current commercial zoning laws that would permit big-box development,” said Dolin.

A similar proposal was put before the board in March 2010 but was defeated by a 3-to-2 vote, in favor of the law, said Mackay. He said landowners filed a petition the day of the 2010 public hearing against the law, which then required the board to pass any legislation by a super majority of four votes.

The petition required at least 25 percent of the affected landowners signatures to require a super majority. Mackay said the Bender melon farm property is owned by investors who signed the petition, and that group alone represented nearly enough acreage to satisfy the petition’s requirements.

“I think they may have been a number of signatures, but the Bender melon farm represents a very significant portion of the disputed acreage,” he said.

After the bill was defeated, Mackay said, supporters of the law “had two choices, wait until next election cycle and seek to elect more size-cap supporters or retool the proposal to get more votes.”

About a year later, in April, 2011, Mackay said, he and others were prepared to present the law to the board again but decided against it because of a lack of support and unwillingness to make concessions.

“It was clear some of the compromises we were proposing to attract another vote were not acceptable. Rather than make further compromises to the size cap we made a strategic choice to wait,” said Mackay. In the last town election, size-cap supporters were victorious.

Mackay now believes the law has enough supporters on the board to pass it with a super majority. He expects a petition objecting to the law to be filed again. Maura Mottolese, the lawyer who represents the owners of the Bender melon farmer property, did not respond to phone calls made this week.

“There has been a lot of debate and discussion and this is the final opportunity for the public to voice their opinions,” said Mackay of the public hearing.

A full electronic copy of the proposed law titled: Local Law C of 2012, can be found on the town’s website, townofnewscotland.com.

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