At the April 22 Village Board meeting, Ballston Spa amended its zoning law to strengthen a requirement that downtown buildings have retail businesses on the first floor.
The board amended the law to drop the exception for “other necessary human services,” which the board felt was too ambiguous a definition.
Because of the unclear definition of what constitutes “other necessary human services,” tax exempt human services agencies and other non-profits may have been allowed to move into the downtown area, something both the village board and some in the business community have opposed. The village has been trying to promote the downtown business district as a destination for new, non-tax exempt businesses.
The new wording defines “human services” as medical doctors, dentists, physical therapists and chiropractors. There is also an additional subsection stating at least 80 percent of the total square footage of the structure must be dedicated to use for retail services for a building to qualify as retail space.
Mayor John Romano said the 2007 legislation restricted businesses to retail only on ground level.
“It was important for us to strengthen retail opportunities,” he said. “The ambiguity in defining ‘other necessary human services’ would allow an infinite number of human services that could possibly fit into that definition.”
Romano said amending the definition will allow village officials, residents, business owners and the code enforcement officers to be very clear as to what is allowed in the central business district.
“It was the opinion of the board that it would be good government practice to correct the uncertainty in definition as identified by the New York State Court,” he said.
Romano said under the amendment, the existing definition of vital human services was deleted and the new definition, which restricts the definition, was put into place.
“This will make the definition very clear,” said Romano. “Instead of there being the potential for an infinite number of potential uses, it clearly defines what the uses should be. We believe it is a good government practice to correct any ambiguities in the law.”
Several local business owners were in favor of the amendment. Jim Dalpe, owner of WAM Commercial Associates, voiced his support.
“My business is one of the largest taxpayers in the village,” he said. “My concern is that we retain every available asset in the village that can be taxed for infrastructure repairs and maintaining the quality of the village.”
Dalpe said his concern is over lack of space for growth.
“The village is landlocked,” he said. “Every inch is grown and it’s built out. There is no place to grow and there is fixed assets to pay for tax revenue. Every time that we have an opportunity to take something off the tax roll, it just hurts folks like myself, who has to pick up the slack. Costs are not going down, only going up.”
The amendment comes in the wake of the ongoing court battle between the Saratoga County Equal Opportunity Council (EOC) and the village over the right of the EOC to move their headquarters to Ballston Spa.
The months-long battle reached a high point in January of this year when the state Supreme Court ruled the EOC had a right to move to Ballston Spa because it provides a “vital human service.”
In making the ruling, Supreme Court Justice Robert J. Chauvin wrote “the definition of vital human services set forth … is less than clear.”
The village is currently appealing Chauvin’s ruling.
Romano said the amendment was an attempt to clear up the language in the zoning law and had nothing to do with the EOC wanting to move to Ballston Spa.
“We realized it needed clearer language,” he said. “We have a vision for the downtown and this new language will promote more retail business.”
The Saratoga EOC was incorporated in 1973 as a non-profit social service organization. It administers a variety of government-funded programs, including the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, the Head Start preschool program, the Latino Community Advocacy Program, Wheels for Work, the Weatherization Assistance Program and EmPower NY.
Although a representative from EOC was not in attendance at the meeting, EOC Executive Director Julie Hoxsie recently forwarded a statement which read, in part: “Our agency will contribute the economic vitality of downtown Ballston Spa not detract from it. We are confident we will be good neighbors in Ballston Spa. We firmly believe that the Supreme Court’s decision will stand, and we plan to continue to proceed to move and become part of the Village.”
In an April 22 letter to the village boad, Hoxsie urged they not adopt the change.
“Services in a commercial business district should include goods and services that the municipality’s citizens need and will use,” she wrote. “As stated at the hearing last July when Saratoga EOC appeared in front of the zoning board, it appears that approximately half the residents of the Village of Ballston Spa would be eligible for at least one of EOC’s services.”
EOC’s application predates the zoning law change and therefore is not covered by it.
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