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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 5, 2009

As bill moves to town board
Size cap divides planning board

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — A split vote on the planning board has sent a recommendation to the town board to triple the size of the allowable square footage for malls in a size-cap law.

 In January, the town board was presented with Local Law I by the two remaining members of the Citizens’ Zoning Advisory Committee, a formerly five-member group charged with examining the zoning in the commercial zone in light of the town’s comprehensive plan.  The town board named the committee after Cazenovia-based Sphere Development LLC made public its plans to build a commercial development on the former Bender melon farm at the intersection of routes 85 and 85A.  The majority of the committee resigned in the wake of conflict-of-interest charges against co-chair Liz Kormos.

In a contentious meeting in January that yielded two votes on the bill, the town board decided, 3 to 2, to send Local Law I to the planning board for review.  The most divisive part of the bill is the 50,000-square-foot size cap on single retail or wholesale buildings and a cap on the size of shopping centers at 100,000 square feet.

Kormos and Michael Naughton, the other remaining committee member, shouldn’t have continued with the committee’s work after its majority resigned, planning board chairman Robert Stapf said last week.  They were “just concentrated on the 50,000-square-foot size cap,” he said.  “Their blinders were on.”

Stapf, with the input of some planning board members, drafted the report that will be sent to the town board and he will append written comments from the two dissenters, Charles Voss and Kevin Kroenke.

“The fatal flaw for me is the size,” Voss said before casting his vote.  He added that he agrees with many of the recommendations in Stapf’s report, but concluded, “I can’t support it as it is now.”

Sphere’s initial plans included a 750,000-square-foot development that Kurt Wendler, a partner at the firm, called a “lifestyle center” this week.  “Most often located near affluent residential neighborhoods, this center type caters to the retail needs and ‘lifestyle’ pursuits of consumers in its trading area.  It has an open-air configuration and typically includes at least 50,000 square feet of retail space occupied by upscale national chain specialty stores,” according to a definition from the International Council of Shopping Centers.

In October, Wendler and Gregory Widrick, another partner at Sphere, said that they were willing to scale back plans for the project — it has been stalled since the town instituted a moratorium on commercial buildings over 30,000 square feet last spring.  They maintained that the development needs a 137,000-square-foot anchor store to make it viable, but said they would be willing to halve the size of the whole project.  “We could keep it under the 350,000- to 400,000-square-foot range,” Widrick said.

Of the plan for a 750,000-square-foot mall proposed last April, Wendler said, “Our initial plan was for a lot more, but, after hearing the concerns of the citizens, we toned it down.”

When asked this week if Sphere’s plans could fit into the 300,000-square-foot frame, Wendler said, “I don’t know,” and expressed frustration at the process in New Scotland. The town just completed its third moratorium extension and often holds public meetings well attended by a group of vocal citizens called New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development — the group formed in opposition to Sphere’s proposal last spring.

“No matter what the square footage is, this town has to decide if they want development,” Wendler said of the size caps.

The town has set a public hearing for April 22 at the high school auditorium for Local Law I.

When asked if, in the now bleak economic climate, the project is still on the table, Wendler said, “The only thing that’s going to determine if this project is viable is the result of this zoning.”

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