BALLSTON – The Town Board once again approved two controversial water district extensions, despite opposition from some residents and an unresolved lawsuit regarding the extensions.
The Town Board voted in May 2016 to approve extending the water district to the Katz Planned Unit Development District on Route 50 and a 12-lot subdivision on Goode Street. However, attorneys for the projects requested that the board repeat the entire approval process in November 2016 to avoid procedural irregularities that may have occurred initially and to file notices of intent for the projects with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
At the board’s regular meeting Tuesday it once again approved the extensions by a vote of 3 to 2.
The Katz PUDD would consist of a three-story building with 23,000 square feet of retail space on the bottom floor, 20 apartments on the second floor and 20 apartments on the third floor. The project also calls for 121 multifamily units in 11 buildings and 57 single-family lots.
The proposals seeking to extend the water main to the two projects were met with resistance when first considered and approved by the board. Residents have continued to voice their opposition to the extensions as the board went through the review process a second time.
During Tuesday’s public hearings, residents cited a long list of concerns to explain why they felt the water district extensions should not be granted, including the fact that the properties are in the agricultural district where water extensions are limited. They also cited a desire to preserve farmland, the risk to the town becoming “overdeveloped,” an excess of retail space in town, and additional services and infrastructure needed at a cost to the town that would not be covered by the tax revenue they will generate.
A number of resident also expressed their belief that the board had failed to listen to residents in moving forward with the extensions.
“There could be 100 people, there could be 1,000 people up here tonight speaking out against what is happening and you would still get the same result in the end,” resident Kevin Draina said.
Resident Eileen Lofthouse also questioned who or what in the town was driving the board to move forward with the extensions.
“I wonder where all the people are who want all of this development,” she said. “I don’t know them. I’ve been living in this area all of my life and on Hop City Road for about 33 years. I don’t know anybody who wants development in our area.”
Later during the board meeting, Town Board member William Goslin and Town Supervisor Tim Szczepaniak refuted the claims that the board did not listen to residents.
“I take offense to people that stand up and say that the board doesn’t listen,” Goslin said. “I hear you loud and clear and there are different opinions here. So, I don’t think those comments are helpful as part of the discussion.”
Goslin made the distinction that the board was not considering whether development should happen as the projects had already been approved by the Planning Board. He noted that the Goode Street subdivision fully complies with the town’s zoning and the Town Board had sent the Katz PUDD to the Ballston Town Planning Board for review, and ultimately approval, due in part to its location on Route 50 which the town has targeted for development.
“All of these zoning issues have nothing to do with water. The question is, are we going to allow these people to connect to water that is in front of these properties? Well this Town Board has never denied water to anybody who needed it,” he said.
During the public hearing residents also questioned the board’s decision to move forward on the water district extensions in the face of unresolved state lawsuits. State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball filed suits against the Town in February for approving the water connections, seeking a permanent injunction against making the water hookups.
The lawsuits cite a resolution passed by the Town Board in 2004 limiting lateral water connections in the agricultural district to agricultural uses and already existing non-agricultural uses.
Town Attorney James Walsh has previously advised the board that a resolution is not a law, rather it reflects the board’s opinion. According to Walsh, if the board passes a resolution preventing some action, they can subsequently pass a resolution allowing that action if their opinion on the matter changes.
In all, nine residents spoke out against the extensions while three residents voiced their support for the extensions during the public hearing. Attorneys for the projects also took the opportunity to speak in favor of granting the water connections.
Residents who spoke in favor of the projects said farmland in town is not being used and that the planned developments will increase the town’s tax base. They also said the developers must feel there is an unmet need that their projects will fulfill, adding that the properties and developments surrounding the planned developments have water connections and that future residents of the properties deserved access to the clean and reliable source of water.
Resident Tom Lowe who owns the property on Goode Street noted that the project had met all of the requirements and reviews from the town, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Conservation needed to grant the project approval, which would be completed with or without public water. He added that the subdivision will make use of 35 acres of his land while leaving the other 65 acres that he owns intact for agricultural uses.
“I’ve heard comments that this project does not correlate or align with the [Town’s] Comprehensive Plan. I’ve got to disagree,” he said.
Lowe said the plan calls for the sort of balance that he will maintain through the use of his property.
“It’s not just commercial, it’s not just residential, it’s not just farmland protection, it’s not just parks and recreation. It’s balance,” he said.
The Town Board members did not respond to comments from residents during the public hearing, waiting to discuss the water district extensions during the regular business meeting. While considering resolutions on the extensions Szczepaniak raised the point that 63 connections have been made to the water main on Goode Street for properties surrounding the planned subdivision.
Szczepaniak noted that a number of the water connections were made to subdivisions, albeit preexisting subdivisions. He went on to say that a reconsolidation of the water districts by the town a few years earlier impacted the resolutions, implying that the reconsolidation allowed new water connections.
Szczepaniak cited a 2008 letter from the Department of Agriculture and Market in reference to a project on Mourningkill Drive stating that the town did not need to submit notices of intent to the department when extending the water district if town funds were not used to make the extension.
Town Board Members John Antoski and Chuck Curtiss, who have opposed the water district extensions throughout the board’s yearlong discussion, again took the opportunity to speak out against approving the resolutions.
Antoski argued that the resolutions should not be approved according to the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and the 2004 resolution limiting water extensions.
“That resolution said that if that water line is going to go up Goode Street, then you can’t put a lateral into ag. land. That’s what it said,” Antoski said. “So, what we’re changing is that resolution. You don’t have to call it a law, but we’re changing that resolution.”
Antoski went on to question the applicability of the letter the department of Agriculture and Markets sent to the town in 2008 to the present situation, saying that he did not know the details of the property being discussed or if it was located in the agricultural district.
“The issue is that there is a restriction and we are not following it,” Curtiss said. “It is in there in black and white, I have read it. I’m glad you brought that up about water consolidation. I asked and got documentation of the attorney who did that and assured me that those restrictions stay in place with the consolidation.”
When put to a vote the Town Board passed the resolutions allowing the extension of the water district to the Katz Route 50 PUDD and the Goode Street subdivision by a vote of 3 to 2. Board members Kelly Stewart, Goslin and Szczepaniak voted for the resolution, while Curtiss and Antoski voted against.
During the public comment period that followed board’s vote, resident Scott Draina expressed his disappointment in the board’s decision, saying, “for me it was a sad night here at this town meeting.”
“To the point of those who made statements saying that this board doesn’t listen to them, I’ve mentioned this before, the fact that you are having the public hearing and voting on the issue the same night doesn’t help your case at all. How can you possibly consider anybody’s opinion 10 minutes after they’ve said it? I think this was a very important decision that should have taken a little bit more time to consider,” Draina said.