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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 18, 2007

New Vista, Tech park plan raises concerns

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – The town has concerns about Vista Technology, which plans to build a quarter of its 440-acre campus in the northeast corner of New Scotland.

Town officials reviewed the massive draft environmental impact statement this week and were concerned with the absence of analysis on New Scotland, said Supervisor Ed Clark.

"We want to make sure we account for every possible impact," he told The Enterprise.

The campus will be located at the end of LaGrange Lane, and will mostly be in the neighboring town of Bethlehem, with an estimated 24 percent of the building space in New Scotland, Clark said.

Plans call for 15 to 20 buildings containing 1.4 million square feet of commercial space. The space will predominately be for offices, research facilities and labs; production will be extremely limited, with no large-scale waste.

The statement says that this fits with New Scotland’s comprehensive plan. The plan states that New Scotland has a "general desire to promote commercial and industrial developments in Town," has a preference for "office park development over heavy manufacturing," and that "light industrial, warehouse and office uses should be sited together on select, environmentally suitable land under a multi-use industrial park category."

Zoning changes in both Bethlehem and New Scotland are needed in order for the tech park plan to move forward.

The Vista plan calls for rezoning parts of New Scotland from a residential zone with minimum two-acre lots to a mixed economic development district.

"It’s not a zone that currently exists in our town," said the new zoning board chairman, William Hennessey. The town board would have to enact a law to create it.

"We have to look at that area of town and the impacts of the proposed zone change," Hennessey said.

"No adverse impacts and several positive impacts are anticipated to result from a requested zoning change for portions of the Project area in the Town of New Scotland," the impact statement claims.

Any changes that have to be made, specifically the zoning changes, Clark said, are subject to public hearings and debate.

"We are certainly not doing anything to obstruct the implementation of the plan," he said.

"Traffic is the most immediate impact," Clark said of what he considers to be a large concern with the project.

According to the DEIS, "Impacts related to traffic in the Town of New Scotland are not anticipated, since the Applicant proposes that sole access to all developed portions of the site will be from the Town of Bethlehem" No access points from the Town of New Scotland to the Project will be proposed."

The entrance to the tech park will be from within Bethlehem by the Slingerlands Price Chopper, where the state’s Department of Transportation will construct the Slingerlands bypass.

Clark said that he finds it hard to believe that New Scotland will not see an increase in traffic.

He said that, in his opinion, New Scotland "will bear a significant portion of the population increase" that the impact statement has projected.

The statement reads, "This study assumes that in-migration will fill the 4,090 new jobs created directly onsite by the Research and Office use buildings." It goes on to say that the growth "equals an annual average increase of 409 new jobs" in the 10 years from 2009 to 2019. The United States Census, the statement says, "calculated that the average household size for New York State is 2.6 persons."

The DEIS estimates that the project will add "10,630 new residents to the Albany area between 2009 and 2019."

"New Scotland will be attractive because of the Voorheesville school system," Clark said.

School district impact

The impact on the school district is another huge concern to the town, he said. The project will have a "significant impact on the school district," Clark said.

The report itself claims, "The Project is expected to result in positive impacts to both the Bethlehem and the Voorheesville School Districts."

Whether the impact will be positive or negative, Clark said, will take "elaborate analysis."

Several years ago, Alan McCartney, then Voorheesville’s superintendent, said that it takes the tax revenue from a $300,000 house to cover the costs associated with educating one child, Clark recalled.

Many studies have shown that undeveloped land or farmland does not add to the tax burden while residential development adds significantly.

Kevin Kroenke, who serves on both the Voorheesville School Board and the New Scotland Planning Board, said that he heard a similar presentation a few years ago, and added that "property taxes do not cover all the expenses for educating a child."

After reviewing the impact statement with Clark, other town officials, and both the town and project attorneys, Kroenke told The Enterprise that one of his biggest problems was the claim of positive impact on the town, "but no discussion of how."

The impact statement claims that the Bethlehem School District will see a "$2.5 million average annual contribution" from the project.

The reality is, said Kroenke, "people will move into the Voorheesville School District."

One of the reasons that Voorheesville is such a good school district, is because of its small size, Kroenke said.

Bethlehem, a large suburb adjacent to the city of Albany, has a school district with about 4,000 students, while Voorheesville, in a still partly-rural town, has about 1,200 students. Many parents prefer to send their children to the smaller district, said Kroenke.

With the increased enrollment, though, Kroenke told The Enterprise, "You lose the thing that makes you what everybody seeks."

Kroenke said that, in recent years, the district’s enrollment numbers have been on the decline, and the district expects it will continue to drop for the next year or two. Enrollment is expected to bounce back up, he said, "right about the time the park is supposed to start creating jobs."

"I’m not certain there’s anything we can do, other than voice our concerns," he said.

Other concerns

"The Project is not anticipated to result in significant visual impacts from Thacher Park," the statement reads.

The state park runs along the Helderberg escarpment with clear views all the way to the city of Albany.

The buildings in the tech park "will not be very tall," Clark told The Enterprise. That, coupled with the surrounding treeline, he said, is why the park would possibly not be visible from Thacher Park.

Clark also explained that the requirement for utilities wouldn’t pose a problem for New Scotland.

The water district boundary would need to be extended and the Bethlehem sewer district would have to be extended into New Scotland, the statement said.

Clark said that all the utilities will be provided by the town of Bethlehem, even to the portion of the park in New Scotland.

Bethlehem will hold a public hearing on the tech park at its town hall on Jan. 24, Clark said. He expects that Saratoga Associates, the engineering firm which prepared the impact statement, will have representatives at the meeting, prepared to answer questions.

"I plan to go," Clark said of the public meeting, and urged concerned residents to also attend, and bring their questions and concerns.

"It’s a matter of significant interest," he said of the project. "New Scotland is definitely interested in Vista."

Clark said that the town has a responsibility to get its questions answered, and he is preparing a document of the town’s concerns to submit to the hearing officer.

The relationship between the towns of New Scotland and Bethlehem, Clark said, is "amicable and problem-free right at the moment."

Hennessey is new chair, Von Ronne leaves zoning board

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – Ronald Von Ronne has spent the last 20 years serving his town on the zoning board of appeals, but now, he said, it’s time "to pass the football on to the new guys."

William Hennessey, a consulting engineer who has served on the board for four years, will succeed Von Ronne, who has been the chairman of the board since the mid-1990s.

Hennessey was appointed in a unanimous decision by the town board at last Wednesday’s meeting. Todd Britton, an alternate for the zoning board, will become a regular board member.

"I’m sure that the board will do very well with Bill’s leadership," Von Ronne said of his successor.

Von Ronne worked for 27 years for Main Care Energy in Albany, he said. He started with the company washing trucks, and, when he retired in 2000, he was president, he said.

The greatest satisfaction of being on the zoning board, Von Ronne said, "is serving the residents of the town."

"We don’t set policy. We don’t make laws," Von Ronne said of the zoning board’s function. "We are an appeals board," he said.

It is the responsibility of the zoning board to "interpret the law and try to satisfy the town’s requirements and the applicant’s request," Von Ronne said.

Working with the town and its residents, said Hennessey, is what he likes most about serving on the zoning board.

"Everyone on the board would have been able to do the job," Hennessey said of his new position. "I’m excited about the opportunity to help the town."

The zoning board does its best to "negotiate" each application "to the advantage of both parties," Von Ronne said.

New Scotland is not the "mature town" it once was, Von Ronne said. "There’s a lot of new people, young people in town " They should have a chance to run the board," he said.

The town will benefit from "fresh ideas and fresh leadership," he said.

"I have the utmost respect for all the previous and current members of the board," Von Ronne said.

He worked often with the building department, he said, and the staff there were "always immensely helpful."

Hennessey said that Von Ronne "brought a tremendous amount of experience to the board and he will be missed."

"Well occupied"

When asked what he thought Von Ronne would do with his free time, Supervisor Ed Clark told The Enterprise, "I think he’s well occupied."

Von Ronne and his wife, Judith, run a small ski camp for children with chronic illnesses at Paul Newman’s Double H Ranch at Lake Luzerne.

This year, the Von Ronnes are working with about 100 instructors and 150 students, he told The Enterprise. The program is free for the children and their families, he said.

"It’s a wonderful thing he’s doing there," said Hennessey of Von Ronne’s ski instruction.

The mountain is not open to the public, but, "solely open to the children and their families," Von Ronne said. It has its own snow-maker and "everything the big mountains have, just on a smaller scale," he said.

The Von Ronnes have four children: Mikko, Shannon, Anthony, and Krista.

Anthony Von Ronne owns a paint-ball emporium in Delmar. Though he has not played before, Von Ronne said that, now, "Maybe I will."

He also hopes he might enjoy some traveling with his wife.

Von Ronne’s ancestors are from Italy, and, after his daughter was married there a few years ago, he "fell in love with it" and plans to return, he said.

He was "amazed" by the similarities between Italy and the United States, he said, and "impressed" by the differences.

When asked how many meetings he had called to order in his time with the zoning board, Von Ronne laughed, and said, "It’s quite a few, I bet."

"Everybody has to move on eventually," he said. "I think, in this case, it’s good for the town."

Candidate selection

"I don’t think there was any doubt that we would pick someone on the board to serve as chairman," Clark told The Enterprise this week.

Before the Jan. 10 town board meeting, Clark said he called the board’s most senior members – Hennessey and Adam Greenberg – and asked them if they would serve as chairman if selected, and they both said yes. Hennessey was chosen by the board.

In 2007, the zoning board of appeals is budgeted $10,757 for salaries for its five members and one alternate.

The town will advertise that the alternate position is available, and interested candidates can submit resumes, Clark said.

‘It’s not necessary to have an exact time frame," Clark said of the task of finding an alternate to replace Britton. "We will have a full board, even without an alternate."

He said that, generally, when the town is reviewing candidates to fill a board position, the town board likes to meet with the candidates, and discuss their views.

Individual town board members like to meet with candidates to see how their views might compare with those of the applicant, Clark said.

Town board members, responsible for selecting planning and zoning board members, "try to get an impression of how the person represents the population in the community," Clark said.

Hennessey has lived in New Scotland for 11 years with his wife and their four children: Casey, Michael, Conner, and Mary.

He graduated, with his engineering degree, in 1984 from Manhattan College. He has been working on his own since 1993, he said, and currently works out of his home.

His children are involved in various sports, he said, citing the Pop Warner football league and Pine Bush Little League as examples. He has been coaching St. Matthew’s Catholic Youth Organization basketball for four years.

Hennessey has filled in for Von Ronne as chairman on multiple occasions when Von Ronne was out of town, he said.

Hennessey said that applications for individual residential construction involving additions are frequently heard before the zoning board.

"An appropriate variance is negotiated or approved," he said. "We try to work out matters in a favorable, as opposed to an adversarial, way."

Working out ways that residents who have a problem can find "an alternate method" is a lot of what the zoning board does, Von Ronne said.

Von Ronne told The Enterprise that Hennessey’s engineering experience and knowledge proved helpful both to him and to the rest of the board.

Von Ronne was "very astute at maintaining his objective stance on matters," Hennessey said. "We’ll remain good friends."

Hennessey said that he feels confident with the abilities of the board members. "We work well together," he said.

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