By Tyler Murphy
NEW SCOTLAND — After completing a federally funded two-year study in November on how to develop the town’s commercial zones near the intersections of routes 85 and 85A, New Scotland has received a new $70,000 grant from the Capital District Transportation Committee to help make the recommendations into law.
Councilman Daniel Mackay told the town board at a Feb. 13 meeting that New Scotland had been awarded the grant.
“The grant from the transportation committee will allow us to hire a planner and conduct an assessment of what is needed to advance planning in the commercial zone, which has been the focus of so much attention here in the town,” Mackay said.
The grant will pay for a consultant to be hired by April. The goal is to incorporate some of the study’s recommendations into the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning laws in the autumn.
“If you look around at other municipalities the CDTC deals with, we’re very fortunate to get this grant,” said Supervisor Thomas Dolin.
Mackay referred to the linkage study completed in November as an “idea document” and the comprehensive plan as an “application document,” in describing how the recommendations would become part of New Scotland’s zoning laws.
“Much of the debate over the last five years has been because these documents have not been well aligned,” said Mackay, “We’re bringing all of that into alignment now.”
A public controversy on how to regulate the land near the intersection began in 2008 after Cazenovia-based Sphere Development proposed building a Target-anchored shopping center near the site. The rural property, the former Bender melon farm, has been owned by a group of investors since 1971 and only used for agriculture.
In 2009, town citizens petitioned, collecting more than 2,400 New Scotland residents’ signatures to support a moratorium on large-scale commercial development.
In the wake the controversy, New Scotland formed a committee to review zoning regulations and recommend appropriate commercial development practices near the area, considered by officials to be the most likely part of town for large-scale commercial development in the municipality.
In 2010, New Scotland received a $42,500 grant from the CDTC and put up $12,500 of its own reserves to fund a study by the advisory committee and hired a professional planning firm, Behan Planning Associates.
The successful awarding of the 2010 grant helped pave the way for New Scotland to get the second grant application approved, Mackay told board members last week. He commended the work of the 2010 grant writer.
Pending the advisory committee’s report, the town board passed a law in July, after two previously failed attempts, that limits the size of a single retail store to no more than 50,000 square feet and limits the total size of retail development per land parcel to 100,000 square feet.
Dolin said the law was designed as a temporary “stop-gap” measure until the town received the study’s final recommendations.
The advisory committee presented it 58-page finalized plan to the town board in November. Though the study is not legally binding, it can serve as a blueprint for officials.
Behan Planner Michael Welti said the committee tried to maintain a quaint small town atmosphere while allowing for appropriate, and somewhat inevitable, business development.
The plan incorporates the input of citizens and favors natural settings along roadways, the clustering of homes to save green space, and having a long-term plan to avoid uncontrolled development sprawl.
The study suggests a center park area or public space surrounded by formal clusters of residential, commercial, and government buildings not more than three stories tall. The plan recommends the town consider relocating civic buildings in the area when appropriate and emphasizes the intersection might offer the community’s first impression.
Some of the study’s recommendations to be made into law may include: that the intersection of route 85 and 85A become a mixed zone of commercial and residential lots, that parking areas be built behind buildings, that structures be set back a certain distance from the roadway, and that sidewalks be built, said Mackay.
Similar to how the town responded to the 2010 grant, Dolin suggested forming another advisory committee to oversee the new grant, comprised of local officials, citizens, developers, and business owners to work with the professional consultant to be hired in April.
The town hopes to have the study’s recommendations put into the comprehensive plan and laws by spring 2014, often called the “construction season,” said Mackay, “so landowners and potential developers are provided with a clear understanding.”
“We are continuing to move forward to address the issues at the site. It’s a big step for the town,” said Mackay.