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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 15, 2009

Planning board fails to back moratorium extension

By Jo E. Prout

NEW SCOTLAND — After two votes and a tense discussion with audience members, the planning board here failed this month to return a recommendation to the town board supporting an additional six-month commercial building moratorium.

“It’s merely advisory,” said planning board attorney Louis Neri about the recommendation at the January planning board meeting. The town board does not need a planning board decision to proceed with establishing a moratorium, he said.

A proposed extension would give town officials until Sept. 1, 2009, to align the town’s commercial zoning with its comprehensive plan. Last month, the town board voted for the extension to September. The original moratorium was slated to end in November but pushed forward until March of this year.

A public hearing on the moratorium extension is scheduled for Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

The current zoning would allow large-scale retail centers in the commercial zone at routes 85 and 85A. Many town residents have opposed large-scale commercial centers. The town board appointed a five-member Commercial Zoning Advisory Committee. After a debate over conflicts of interest, three members resigned in November. The remaining two members recommended a 50,000-square-foot cap. The grassroots group, New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development, has called for the same cap.

No recommendation

At last Tuesday’s meeting, planning board Chairman Robert Stapf made a motion to favor the continuation of the moratorium. When the initial moratorium was proposed in May, the planning board had voted, 2 to 5, against recommending it.

Stapf, on New Year’s Day, was reappointed by the town board, 3 to 2, to another seven years on the planning board over strenuous objections from a crowd at Town Hall.

Now, because town funds have been spent pursuing the moratorium, and because advisory boards, a hired consultant, and the public have made recommendations, Stapf said, the town board needs time to sort through all the material it has received.

Stapf said that, before the moratorium was enacted, the concept was “premature,” as no applicant was officially before the town.

“I originally voted against it,” he said.

Now, the situation has changed, he said.

“The town has expended a significant amount of time and money,” Stapf said.

Planning board member Elizabeth Stewart said that she had received a call from a potential buyer for commercial property. The buyer is “hanging on what happens,” she said.

“This is creating a hardship for this particular person,” Stewart said. She said that the moratorium and its extensions were affecting people’s finances.

“I’m not thrilled with September,” planning board member Cynthia Elliott said about the proposed extension. Extending through the summer building season would mean that no pre-construction testing could be done the following fall or winter.

Board member Kevin Kroencke said that the moratorium extension should have been created for six months, instead of three, the first time. The Albany County Planning Board, in May, had recommended a year-long moratorium.

“If we’re going to have a moratorium in the commercial district, it should be a full moratorium,” Kroencke said, referring to proposed plans for a senior housing development at the edge of the town’s commercial zone. The town recently adopted a senior overlay district that would allow senior housing in areas not specifically zoned for similar developments.

“I just don’t feel that’s smart,” Kroencke said.

“Sounds and feels like spot zoning, doesn’t it?” Stewart asked.

Alternate board member Jo Ann Davies said that she supported the current proposed extension so that the consultant could finish his work. Agreeing with Kroencke, Davies said, “I’ve not been comfortable that we’ve eliminated sections of the commercial district from the moratorium.”

Two members of the audience reacted to board member Lorraine Tuzzolo’s comments on the moratorium.

“I disagreed with the moratorium,” Tuzzolo said. “I felt it was an unnecessary thing. You’re going to get the moratorium,” she said to the audience members.

“Go ahead and laugh,” she told the snickering audience.

“Keep it,” said Stapf, advising Tuzzulo to refrain from engaging with the onlookers. “Don’t give it to them.”

The board defeated, 2 to 4, the recommendation for a six-month moratorium extension, with Stapf and Tuzzolo voting for the extension, and Elliott, Kroencke, Davies, and Stewart voting against it.

Kroencke made a motion to recommend a full commercial district building moratorium, with no exceptions allowed for development in the commercial zone. That motion was also defeated, 2 to 4, with Davies and Kroencke voting for the full moratorium.

Planning board member Charles Voss was absent for both votes; he had to leave the meeting for a family emergency.

Other business

In other business, the planning board:

— Approved Spencer Sisson’s site plan to change a single-family home, which has been taxed as a two-family home, at 335 Maple Road to a mixed-use dwelling. The home is in the commercial district.

Sisson plans to open an insurance office on the first floor and have a single-family unit on the second;

— Approved Gary and Suzanne Guyette’s special use permit to allow boarding of up to five horses on their New Scotland South Road property.

Stapf asked Voss, one of the Guyettes’ neighbors, if he would have a problem with the special use.

“No, not at all,” Voss said;

— Scheduled a public hearing for Sherri Calabrese, who requested a special-use permit to have chickens on her .83-acre Indian Fields Road property.

“They won’t be on the road for me to hit?” Davies asked Calabrese, who said they would not.

The board told Calabrese to have the coop fenced in with the top of the enclosure covered.

The hearing was scheduled for Feb. 3;

— Asked Alex Grossjohann to bring a signed contract for a fence to be erected around his in-ground pool by the Feb. 3 meeting. The board also asked Grossjohan to put up a temporary fence, and to bring a picture of it, to the meeting, to comply with state safety laws; and

— Agreed to hire zoning and land-use attorney Peter Barber to represent the planning board on environmental issues.

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