NS approves 12-home development

NEW SCOTLAND — After hearing residents’ concerns last month, the planning board voted on Tuesday to approve the construction of 12 new upscale homes near the intersection of Route 85A and Picard Road.

The major subdivision will turn 31.4 acres of rural land, consisting mostly of cornfields and woodland, into 12 lots.

Before the board approved the application, the contractor, MJ Biernacki Builders, agreed to some additions and stipulations, aimed at addressing concerns that development at the rural site might alter water drainage and negatively impact neighbors.

One of the modifications includes building a one-foot tall earthen berm through part of the property, and across several of the lots, to reinforce its drainage systems. Board members also requested a clause be added to the new homes’ deeds making homeowners legally and financially responsible for taking care of their on-property drainage systems. Those duties mostly include keeping the basins and shallow drainage ditches, known as swales, free of debris and plant overgrowth.

With planning board Chairman Charles Voss absent from Tuesday’s meeting, members Thomas Hart Jr., Kurt Anderson, Stewart Morrison, Robert Stapf, and Acting Chairwoman Jo Ann Davies approved the application without dissent.

Planning board members speculated the town board might create a new water district for the area, in which case the municipality could care for the system if neglected by homeowners, who would then charge a fee for the cost of the work on their tax bills.

The contractor developing the site, Michael Biernacki, attended the meeting with the former owner of the property, Jeanne Picard-Fish.

New Scotland Building Inspector Jeremy Cramer said homes would sell at the “upper $300,000 range.” The lots will first be sold to buyers before the land is developed and the homes designed, allowing for a variation in their costs and when they will be built.

“It could be two years,” Biernacki estimated.

At a May 9 public hearing, more than 40 residents filled the town hall’s meeting room with several speaking about concerns that storm flooding around the area could worsen as a result of the countryside being developed into lawns, paved driveways, and homes. Many area homeowners complained they already suffered from water-drainage problems and periodic flooding.

The proposed project is near a protected wetland but no wetlands are in the development, or will be affected by it, said Joseph J. Bianchine, an engineer hired by Biernacki.

During Tuesday’s public hearing, a continuation of last month’s, Bianchine gave another presentation on the project and answered additional questions from board members and the public. About 20 residents, half as many as attended the previous meeting, turned out for Tuesday’s extended hearing.

Repeating some concerns, Stapf said he had spoken to residents living downstream from the development and wanted to ensure the project would not add to their water problems.

“I don’t want to say it’s going to help neighbors downstream — there are a lot of areas contributing to the problem — but anything we could do to not contribute to the problem would be of a positive nature,” Stapf told the contractor.

Again, Bianchine asserted New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations required all drainage from new construction to equally or better manage the natural water flow that was in place before anything was built.

“Now it’s a cornfield — you get more runoff now with what you have than you will in the future with a grassy area,” said Bianchine.

When asked for a more specific estimate by Hart at this week’s meeting, Bianchine estimated the area would see its water runoff decrease by about “20 to 25 percent,” after it was developed.

Route 85A resident John Kiernan questioned who would be responsible for taking care of the drainage system; he was concerned that taxpayers might unjustly bear the burdens of private property owners.

The planning board’s attorney, Jeffrey Baker, said the development was a “somewhat unusual project,” because it was yet to be determined how the town would enforce or care for the private systems, which must be maintained to avoid possible effects on neighbors.

He said the town would either have to create a water district for the area or cite negligent homeowners through legal actions. He recommended that creating a new district might make it easier to enforce because violators would be fined through tax bills instead of through litigation, but ultimately, he said, that decision has to be made by the town board.

Kiernan questioned the town’s legal right to take care of systems on private property and how it would be paid for, worried some private homeowners might get more favorable treatment than others when it came to town employees doing work on others’ property.

“I’m from Westerlo, I don’t know if you’re from out there, but it was a very sad time in our town’s history,” said Kiernan, alluding to unfair use of town labor and material on private property.

Board members also said a pre-condition of final approval of the project would require the developer to include in the deeds a legal clause compelling the owners to be responsible for private drainage systems.

Resident Valerie Glover asked how the town knows if the homeowners are maintaining the systems.

“Well,” said Cramer, New Scotland’s building inspector and storm water officer, “That’s my job. It’s a routine thing we have to do; it’s required.”

Cramer said the actual inspection was easy to conduct. “Are they mowing it and keeping it clear, it’s a simple inspection to do,” he said.

In preparing the application over the last few months, the board said the developer is required to have the Army Corps of Engineers; the DEC; an independently hired firm; and New Scotland’s engineering firm, Stantec, review and sign off on the design plans for proper drainage. Bianchine said that several other specific parts of the development require other agencies’ approval, such as drilling for wells and water pressure, which is also reviewed by Albany County, for example.

The public hearing closed after 39 minutes of discussions and presentations. Going beyond required protocol, Davies offered residents a second opportunity to comment on the project during the board’s regularly scheduled meeting about 45 minutes later and then a third chance to speak right before the final vote.

About half-a-dozen residents commented on the project throughout the hearing and following the regular meeting, far fewer than at May’s hearing.

After the public hearing, the board took nearly an hour to review and make final approval of the contractor’s application as it coordinated and discussed specific changes to the document among the board’s attorney, engineer, building inspector, and the developer.

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