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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 10, 2009

Will Sphere leave town? Reilly proposes new law

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — Yet another machination of a law that would cap the allowable size of retail buildings will be heading for review by the town’s planning board while the developers who first sparked debate over development are showing signs of backing out.

Almost two years ago, Cazenovia-based Sphere Development approached the town about building a Target-anchored shopping center at the corner of routes 85 and 85A.  The company was drawn to the area because of the commercial zoning on the piece of property, known as the Bender melon farm, which has been used largely for agriculture.

The company has now removed its plans for the site from its “property portfolio” section on its website.  Sphere has listed primarily Tractor Supply Company locations it has either recently built or plans to build in central and northern New York.

“They did not contact me,” Maura Mottolese, the lawyer representing the owners of the New Scotland property, said yesterday when asked about the shift.

Sphere never submitted a formal proposal to the town since a moratorium on large-scale commercial development went into effect soon after its plans became public.  It didn’t close on the 179-acre property either, but was under contract to buy it, according to Sphere’s managing partners, Gregory Widrick and Kurt Wendler.  They could not be reached for comment this week.

When the town’s planning board responded to the first version of the size-cap law six months ago, Sphere indicated that it was still very interested in pursuing its plans.

“The only thing that’s going to determine if this project is viable is the result of this zoning,” Wendler said when asked at the time if the weak economy had changed the company’s plans.

“I’m delighted they’re going to try to do that somewhere else,” Supervisor Thomas Dolin said yesterday of the possibility that Sphere will focus elsewhere.  Dolin, a Democrat, is running for re-election this fall in a race that has so far centered on the zoning issues in town.

Dolin and Councilman Richard Reilly, who had been at odds over the allowable square footage in the commercial zone, reached a compromise that was included in Reilly’s bill that was forwarded to the planning board after last night’s town board meeting.  The pair clashed over figures in April — with Dolin supporting a 50,000-square-foot cap on a single store and a 100,000-square-foot cap on a shopping center while Reilly pushed for 85,000 square feet and 250,000 square feet.

Local Law H, which was sent to the planning board last night, includes a 68,500-square-foot cap on single stores and 200,000-square feet for shopping centers.  They had ongoing discussions, Reilly and Dolin said last night of their compromise.

With Sphere retreating, Reilly said, it might allow for a more thoughtful discussion of development in town.  “I think that’s a good thing,” he said.

At the start of last night’s meeting, Reilly’s law met with dissatisfaction from several residents, many of whom are in the citizens’ group New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development, which formed in response to Sphere’s plans.  The group favors the smaller size caps in the initial law.

A version very similar to the first law was also on the table last night, Local Law I, sponsored by Councilman Douglas LaGrange.  A Republican, LaGrange is being challenged in Tuesday’s primary for his party’s line; he has also been endorsed by the Democrats.  LaGrange’s was the only vote against sending Local Law H to the planning board for review.

“It might be productive if the two laws were able to be reviewed by the two planning boards and, ultimately, by the public at a public hearing,” Dolin said, referring to the town and county planning boards, before the vote was taken.

“It’s not a decision I came to lightly,” Reilly, who is part of a three-member majority on the town board that often votes together, told LaGrange of not sending his bill, Local Law I.

That bill was defeated 3-2, with Dolin and LaGrange in favor of sending it on and Reilly with councilwomen Deborah Baron and Margaret Neri voting against it.

Local Law H will now go to the town’s planning board for review.

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