Saying the current wording of section 205-57 of the village zoning law is “too ambiguous” in its definition of “vital human services,” Ballston Spa mayor John Romano introduced an amendment to the section of the law specifically defining what those uses are at the March 11 village board meeting.
“The language was ambiguous,” Romano said. “We want to make it very clear as to what vital human services are. We realized it needed clearer language.”
The proposed amendment comes in the wake of the recent court battle between the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council (EOC) and the village over the right of EOC to move their headquarters to the Hayner House in Ballston Spa.
The months-long battle reached a climax in January of this year when the state Supreme Court ruled the EOC had the right to move to Ballston Spa because the organization provides a “vital human service.”
Furthermore, in making his ruling state Supreme Court Justice Robert J. Chauvin wrote that “the definition of vital human services set forth … is less than clear.”
Romano said his amendment had nothing to do with the EOC wanting to move to Ballston Spa or the judge’s decision, but rather it was just an attempt to clear up the language of the zoning law.
“We realized it needed clearer language,” Romano said. “We have a vision for the downtown and this new language will promote more retail business.”
When introducing the amendment, Romano reminded the board of the 2007 amended village zoning code, which stated that any change of use of the ground floor of any structure in the village business zone must be for use only as a retail space.
“The object was to promote economic development and the revitalization of our village,” Romano said. “We’re a small village with a small tax base and our ability to expand the tax base is limited. We’re at or near full.”
Romano said officials were looking for creative ways to attract more businesses into the retail district.
Romano also said the legislative intent of the 2007 zoning was to “enhance the economic vitality of the central business district.”
“As part of that legislation amending the code, there were certain exemptions listed,” he said.
Under the 2007 terms, “vital human services” was defined as any health-related services such as doctors, dentists, physical therapists, hair and skin care and “other necessary human services,” Romano said.
There was a lot of ambiguity within the definition of “other necessary human services,” he said.
“There is an infinite number of services that could possibly fit into that definition,” Romano said. “As such, in order to comply with the legislative intent of the entire section of 205-57, I think it’s necessary for the village to amend the definition of vital human services to avoid any future confusion.”
The new wording, if adopted, would define human services as medical doctors, dentists, physical therapists and chiropractors. There would also be an additional subsection requiring at least 80 percent of the total square footage of the first floor of a structure to be dedicated for retail to qualify as retail space.
The board unanimously agreed with the proposed amendment and set a public hearing for April 22 at 7:15 p.m.
The planning board will also need to review the proposed changes to the zoning code.
Even if the amendment is passed, Romano said the village still intends to appeal Judge Chauvin’s ruling. “We are moving forward with that,” he said.
In an emailed statement to the Journal Julie Hoxsie, executive director of the EOC, expressed her belief the organization would be a good fit for the village’s business district.
“We are excited that Saratoga County EOC will bring 40 professional jobs to the Village – people who will shop, eat and become part of the community, along with board members, volunteers, donors, and folks that need our services, mostly working families trying to make needs meet,” Hoxsie said. “Our agency will contribute to the economic vitality of downtown Ballston Spa not detract from it. We are confident we will be good neighbors in Ballston Spa.”
Hoxsie also expressed confidence Judge Chauvin’s ruling will withstand appeal.
“We firmly believe that the Supreme Court’s decision will stand,” she said, “and we plan to continue to proceed to move and become part of the Village.”
The EOC’s soup kitchen will continue to operate out of its current location at the New England Presbyterian Church in Saratoga Springs, Hoxsie said.
In other action at the March 11 board meeting, the board voted to accept a mass gathering permit application submitted by the Saratoga County Fairgrounds for an Irish Festival.
The festival’s application is the first mass gathering application submitted since the December 2012 implementation of the special events notification process. The main objective of the process is to provide village emergency services with information regarding events scheduled throughout the year.
Romano is pleased with the new process, especially since the permit contained an error in the dates which was discovered and corrected.
“This process does work,” he said. “This is our first opportunity to act on the mass gathering permit.”
The permit has not yet been granted, but officials stated they had no problems with the application.
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