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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 24, 2011

Reilly not running
Bill broached for new size cap

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — Two years after the first bill that would have capped the size of shopping centers, and a year after the last size-cap bill was defeated, a new proposal is on the table.

“This is a law, really quite simply, about the size cap,” Councilman Daniel Mackay said yesterday of his recently introduced bill, which is a pared down version of previous bills.

Mackay, a Democrat, won a seat on the town board in 2009’s heated election that turned on issues around development.  A major plank in the platform he shared with Councilman Douglas LaGrange, a Republican, and Supervisor Thomas Dolin, a Democrat, was a 50,000-square-foot cap on the allowable size of retail stores and a 100,000-square-foot cap on the allowable size of shopping centers.

Dolin’s seat is up for election every two years — he plans to seek a third term in November, he said yesterday.  Town board seats are up every four years — Councilman Richard Reilly, a Democrat, said yesterday that he does not plan to seek re-election.  Councilwoman Deborah Baron, also a Democrat, said yesterday that she is unsure whether or not she’ll seek a third term on the board.  Michael Mackey, chair of the town’s Democratic Party, said that the party plans to hold a committee meeting within the next few weeks to discuss candidates.

In the last election, political affiliations became meaningless as candidates divided according to land-use philosophies — with the winning ticket advocating controlled retail development and the losing ticket calling for a laissez-faire approach.  Baron and Reilly together had been at odds with the citizens’ group called New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development, of which Mackay was a founding member.  Baron and Reilly supported larger allowances for the size of retail development during the initial period of debate after Cazenovia-based Sphere Development brought the issue of commercial development to the fore in 2008 when it proposed building a Target-anchored shopping center on the old Bender melon farm.

Following that proposal, the town board appointed a Commercial Zone Advisory Committee to make recommendations on bringing the town’s zoning code into line with its comprehensive plan, out of which came the 50,000- and 100,000-square-foot limits.

“These limitations are consistent with the comprehensive plan, the report’s findings, and comments received from residents of the town during numerous public hearings, meetings, and workshops in 2009 and 2010,” Mackay wrote of the cap figures at the beginning of his bill, referring to a report from the remaining members of the CZAC, which had, essentially, dissolved before finishing its work due to accusations of conflicts of interest — members of the committee had also been starkly divided on land-use philosophy.

The newest size-cap law separates the town into two major commercial districts — calling the district at the center of debate, at the intersection of routes 85 and 85A, Commercial-B.  The size-cap law only affects Commercial-B.

Reilly, who voted against last year’s size-cap law, had suggested that the two zones be treated differently.  While he stressed yesterday that he hadn’t yet studied the new bill, Reilly, a lawyer, said he’d like to discuss how the law would handle density issues, since one section of the bill appears to freeze current parcels in time.

“Each lot shown on the Albany County tax map existing on the effective date of this local law… shall be subject to the maximum floor area limitations,” which are 50,000-square-feet for an individual store and 100,000-square-feet for a shopping center, the bill says.  “Any subsequent subdivision of such lots shall not operate to increase the density… permitted on such lots as they existed on the effective date of this local law,” it says.

“I don’t have a problem with capping overall density,” Reilly said, but treating a 10-acre parcel and a 150-acre parcel the same in terms of allowable development doesn’t seem equitable.

That section of the law, Mackay said yesterday, is meant to keep people from subdividing later to circumvent the cap law and build more retail.  “This is language that prevents subdivision as a means of skirting the size cap,” he said.

This bill, different from previous size-cap bills, does not include residential development — a concern Baron has held consistently, arguing that the commercial district could be eaten up with houses, which don’t contribute as much to the tax base as commercial development.

Managing residential development is a complex issue, Mackay said, that would be better addressed by the committee recently created to execute a linkage study with a grant from the Capital District Transportation Committee.  The committee, which is made up of representatives from state and county agencies and residents and landowners from New Scotland, will develop a master plan for the northeastern part of town, which includes the Commercial-B zone.

The committee will be put on hold until there is a vote on the size-cap law, said Jen Ceponis, of the CDTC, since the work of the committee is separate from the size-cap issue and CDTC wants to keep the issues separate.  The CDTC will continue its work with the consultant and resume public meetings with the committee after the town makes a decision on the size-cap law, she said.

Supervisor Dolin said that the bill is a good first step and supports it, as does Councilman LaGrange.

The bill will likely need four votes to pass, though, since the owners of the old Bender melon farm could submit a protest petition, as they did before the vote on the old size-cap law last year.  If the owners of more than 20 percent of the land in the affected area submit a petition, a supermajority is required to pass the law.

“That fourth vote was a critical part of my thinking,” Mackay said of drafting the bill.  He met with Reilly and Baron last spring, after the previous size cap was defeated, to discuss their qualms.

It’s “too early to tell how its going to be handled — if it’s a take-it-or-leave-it version,” Reilly said of his take on working with and passing the bill.  Baron said yesterday that she hadn’t yet digested it and plans to meet with Mackay.

“I’m hopeful,” Mackay said of passing his bill.  “Because it’s an election year.  Because I think the community has been consistently clear on this.”

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