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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 1, 2009
By Saranac Hale Spencer
NEW SCOTLAND Daniel Mackay’s first run for town board was sparked by the election’s defining issue.
A founding member of New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development, a citizens’ group formed in reaction to Sphere Development’s plan to build a Target-anchored shopping center, Mackay, 45, has been part of the development debate since it began almost two years ago.
Regarding wind energy legislation, Mackay said that it is important for the law to discern between commercial and residential turbines, since the latter generate larger projects and taller machinery.
Set-back requirements from buildings and residences are critical, as well as from property lines, he said. Much of the land on the escarpment is undeveloped, he said, so it is important the turbines aren’t built near a property line where it might later interfere with an owner’s ability to develop.
Also, he said, companies looking to harness wind energy in New Scotland should be signatories to the state attorney general’s code of conduct. “It needs to be an upfront expectation,” he said.
“It has been painful to see the town board so consistently divided,” Mackay said, adding that he is committed to forging relationships with board members. This election will make clear what the community wants, said Mackay, who works for the Preservation League of New York. The town’s zoning code should reflect what the community wants and the roads can accommodate, he said.
“An effective size cap is the key first ingredient to revising zoning in that part of town,” he said of the commercial district.
That issue influences the availability of water in town, Mackay said, since the town of Bethlehem is wary of the traffic impacts it might face from a large-scale commercial development at the corner of routes 85 and 85A and therefore reluctant to share water from the reservoir it owns in New Scotland. Rebuilding a relationship with Bethlehem by ensuring sound planning is critical, Mackay said.
The town’s water committee has been underused, Mackay said, and its work hasn’t been well integrated into the town’s policy.
Of the comprehensive plan, Mackay said, “I do think it’s outdated.” Five years ago, the Residents Planning Advisory Committee, of which Mackay was a part, reviewed the plan extensively and made recommendations for updates that were never acted on by the town board. Much of the RPAC report addresses elements of the recent discussion about development in town, he said. The town should work on the comprehensive plan, he said, and make the process open for public input.
“The comprehensive plan should be about enhancing what our community is,” said Mackay.
“Farming should absolutely be promoted,” he said, adding that it is responsible for the town’s character that people want to preserve. Farmers are facing economic obstacles, he said, praising the Right-To-Farm law but saying that he’d like to see more emphasis on supporting farms and attracting new farmers. Supporting existing farms is a way to attract state and federal funding to bring new operations to town, Mackay said, emphasizing the link between farming and economic development.
The part of the commercial zone that abuts the road network should carry the bulk of commercial development, Mackay said, which leaves a “fair amount” for other things. Mixed uses farming, retail development, residential development aren’t mutually exclusive, he said. The commercial zone is where it should be, he said, since “it’s where the traffic is.”
The town board should be more receptive to citizens’ input, Mackay said residents should feel that they have been heard and understood. “Town government needs to listen; it needs to be more welcoming,” he said.
Likewise, when asked to whom the board should respond, Mackay said, “All public input needs to be recognized, needs to be considered.” Referring to what some people have called a silent majority, meaning those opposed to NS4SED and supportive of large-scale development, Mackay said, “I want to create a process… in town where there is no silent majority because everyone has been given encouragement to participate.”
People are passionate about land-use issues, he said, adding of the public participation over the last two years, “I would welcome the opportunity to be at the front of the room facing that kind of energy because I respect it.”
The planning board, he said, is supposed to implement the comprehensive plan and administer decisions according to the local zoning code. It is answerable to the town board, he said.
Party affiliations are far less important at the local level than the national, Mackay said, and having the emphasis on issues rather than political parties will be good.
“I think it’s going to be a great election year because of that,” he said.