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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 6, 2008

Route 20 corridor study
Will Western Turnpike stay rural or be developed?

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Keeping the rural landscape along the four-mile stretch of Route 20 that connects Princetown and Guilderland is a challenge.

About a year ago, when the first meetings were held to gather public input for a study on land use and transportation in that area, most people wanted the road to stay the same, Melissa Barry said during her presentation of the plan last week. 

“It’s not realistic to think that way,” she said in a phone interview this week.

Zoning laws and economics have to be taken into account, she said.  Most of that area is zoned for rural agricultural use.

The study recommends maintaining most of the zoning, Barry said, but would allow for some cluster development, with mixed commercial and residential uses.

“There’s a very strong sentiment that people want to maintain the rural character of that part of town,” said Donald Csaposs, Guilderland’s grant writer who worked on the Route 20 plan.  He added that there might be a demand for “basic, neighborhood-scale services” in the area.

Guilderland Town Board member Warren Redlich would like to see commercial spaces, like offices, west of town hall, he said.  Unlike further residential development, they would contribute to the tax base and create traffic flow opposite of the already congested direction.

“I see what he’s saying,” Csaposs said, commenting as a private citizen.  “If you want to talk purely theoretically, that sounds pretty good.”  He added that, while encouraging traffic to flow west on Route 20 in morning and east in the evening would benefit Guilderland, “Folks in Duanesburg might not take kindly to that.”  Csaposs pointed out that it would create traffic in that town from workers further west.

Early in the last century, that stretch of Route 20 catered to tourists traveling by automobile to cabins, eateries, and motels along the highway.

“I just want to encourage it,” Redlich said of the pattern.  “Right now it’s illegal,” he added, referring to the zoning designations in that area.

After being asked about peoples’ desire to keep the road as it is, Redlich said, it “could be done in such a way to preserve the viewshed.”  If commercial uses were allowed, the zoning code could require large setbacks and low rooflines, he said.

“I don’t have that impression from the people I speak with,” Redlich said of keeping Route 20 as it is now.  “I don’t want the Bumble Bee Diner to stay the same,” he said by way of illustration.  “The Bumble Bee Diner is suburban blight.”  The once-popular eatery has sat vacant for years.

As far as the mixed-use, cluster development idea mentioned by Barry, Redlich said, “As long as it’s reasonable.”  He added, “That gets messy.”

A mixed residential and commercial development has to be big enough to sustain itself, he said, and quoted a developer of the Glass Works Village, a mixed-use development with 195,000 square feet of commercial space and up to 310 living units slated for 56 acres on Route 20 near the Guilderland library; the developer said Glass Works could be no smaller or it wouldn’t be viable. 

“So, that’s tricky,” Redlich concluded.

The scale of a mixed-use development, in the Dunnsville area for example, would likely be smaller than Glass Works, Barry said this week, though she was hesitant to commit to a size since no analysis has yet been done.

“What’s old is now becoming new again,” said Richard Kietlinski, a Princetown councilman, of the village-style development idea at last week’s meeting.

“That’s very much a favored planning technique nationally,” said Csaposs, commenting again as a private citizen, adding that, although something may look good conceptually, it won’t necessarily work in every area.  “There is no infrastructure at Dunnsville Corners,” he said of the prospects for development there and asked, “What’s the level of market demand for it?”

The most immediate step for the towns to take from the study, Barry said, is to adopt the “access-management” guidelines, which involves allowing fewer curb cuts onto Route 20, largely by encouraging businesses to share driveways and to connect parking lots behind buildings.

“Everybody wants everything to stay the same,” Redlich said on Tuesday, pointing out that the two presidential candidates in this year’s election touted the idea of change.  “Right now, the world’s changing a lot,” he said, “and you’ve got to change with it.”

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