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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 7, 2010

Should McKownville be a hamlet?

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — McKownville might become a hamlet.

The town board held a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss the Zoning Review Committee’s recommended changes to Guilderland’s zoning code. But, before the board approves the changes, the committee will discuss defining McKownville as a hamlet.

In the state of New York, a hamlet is defined as an unincorporated area within a town that is not part of a village; a hamlet is not a legal entity, and does not have its own government. Guilderland Center, for example, is defined by the town’s zoning code as a hamlet.

Residents of McKownville, particularly Don Reeb, president of the McKownville Improvement Association, would like to have their neighborhood defined as a hamlet, so that it can be an exception to parts of the town code.

The area, one of Albany’s early suburbs, developed first in the 1920s, contains hundreds of homes, which are bordered by the University of Albany, Stuyvesant Plaza, and Nanotech College.

The Zoning Review Committee, which was formed over a year ago to go through the zoning code and recommend updates, has suggested revamping the home-occupation permit process to include three categories of home occupation — Minor Home Occupation, Home Occupation I, and Home Occupation 2. (For the full story, go online to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under Guilderland archives, for April 30, 2010.)

The current code requires anyone seeking a home occupation permit to appear before both the zoning and planning boards; the updated code would allow individuals with a home occupation that has no external effects on a neighborhood to apply for certification, which would only require filling out a form.

After a public hearing in April, the town board voted to have the review committee add a section to the code describing what does not constitute a home occupation, in response to concerns that the definition of a Minor Home Occupation was too vague.

The review committee has also recommended changing the definition of a mixed-use building, in which residential and non-residential uses are permitted together.

McKownville residents spoke up about the changes on Tuesday night, and Reeb said he hoped the town would consider “officially” defining McKownville as a hamlet in the zoning code. Reeb said he was concerned that the ease of obtaining a home occupation permit would lead to changes in the residential characterization of the town.

“Central Avenue used to be primarily residential, when I moved to the area in the 1960s, and I don’t want to see McKownville go that way,” Reeb said.

Doug Smith, another McKownville resident, said he was worried that the allowing mixed-use buildings would lead to apartment buildings, which could affect the character of the highly populated area. Most homes now are owner-occupied, he said, by people who take pride in the appearance and upkeep of their neighborhood.

Apartment buildings could lead to absentee landlords and the overall denigration of the area, he said.

“McKownville is a great place to live, and I don’t want to see that change,” Smith said at the public hearing.

An evolving neighborhood

The general boundaries of the town’s hamlets are defined in the comprehensive plan, which was adopted in 2001. Each hamlet underwent a study as part of the comprehensive plan.

“There is a lot of zoning that should apply town-wide, but you do have a lot of differences in McKownville, based on its population and its surroundings,” Supervisor Kenneth Runion said yesterday.

McKownville would have to officially be defined as a hamlet in the zoning code in order to receive special provisions, Runion said.

Lindsay Childs, a McKownville resident, helped draft the original zoning code in the late 1970s. A retired University at Albany professor, he also served as vice-chair of the Guilderland Planning Board from 1984 to 1990, and as a member of the zoning board of appeals from 1991 to 1995. He also served on the West Guilderland Land Use Study Committee, the 1999 Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee, and the Guilderland Pathways Committee.

“My understanding is that different zoning definitions allow for different uses; some uses may make sense for most of an area, but not densely populated areas like McKownville,” Childs told The Enterprise this week.

He said the residential area of McKownville was developed long before any zoning laws were enacted. The earliest zoning laws were drafted in the 1960s, and McKownville was partially settled in the 1920s, or earlier, Childs said. It is characterized by streets houses so close together that there is no room for driveways, and streets so narrow they are hard to traverse with cars parked on either side, he said.

“Home-based businesses could generate a fair amount of traffic, which would not create an issue in other places, but it would be impossible with the parking in McKownville,” said Childs. He also shared Smith’s concerns about multi-use buildings.

“This is the best neighborhood to live in — you can walk to the university and to the shopping center, and residents are very sensitive to maintaining an attractive neighborhood. What would happen to housing if there were apartments and businesses?” he queried.

At the public hearing on Tuesday, the town board was unable to vote on the zoning code revisions, because they must first be reviewed by the Albany County Planning Board. Runion said between now and the Nov. 2 town board meeting, the Zoning Review Committee will discuss the possibility of defining McKownville as a hamlet.

“I think it’s an ingenious idea,” Reeb concluded. “Two weeks ago, when Mr. Runion presented the idea at the improvement association meeting, the board members were absolutely thrilled.”

Other business

Also at the meeting on Tuesday, town board members voted unanimously to:

— Set public hearings for Oct. 19 pursuant to sections 202 and 202-a of the town law in relation to the Guilderland Sewer Improvement District budget;

— Formally adopt the county-wide multi-jurisdictional hazard mitigation plan for Albany County, available online at www.albanycounty.com/dpw/public-meeting-docs.asp?id=2080;

— Authorize the supervisor to sign a collector’s warrant for the Guilderland Water District; and

— Enter into executive session in regard to a disciplinary matter brought against a Guilderland Police officer, and the officer’s grievance request for the town board to hear the matter, pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between the town of Guilderland and the Guilderland Police Benevolent Association. Councilman Warren Redlich recused himself from the session.



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