BALLSTON – A group of locals have come together seeking to protect the rural character of the town.
Ballston United launched a Facebook page in June to in response to a plan to extend the town water district to designated agricultural lands. The extension was approved in two resolutions by the Town Board in May for areas designated as agricultural by the town’s comprehensive plan, and members are concerned the move will allow for higher density devvelopment in those areas.
The informal group consists of lifelong town residents, farmers and people who are concerned with the direction of the town and the increase in development, according to Kevin Draina, one of the founding members of Ballston United.
The resolutions passed by the Town Board on May 31 extend the Burnt Hill-Ballston Lake water district to the proposed Katz Planned Unit Development District on Route 50 and a proposed subdivision on Falconer Lane off of Goode Street. The Katz district would consist of 23,000 square feet of office retail space, 161 apartments and 57 residential properties.
Both resolutions passed by votes of 3 to 2. Supervisor Tim Szczepaniak and board members William Goslin and Kelly Stewart voted in favor of the resolutions, while board members Chuck Curtiss and John Antoski voted against the motions.
Draina and the members of Ballston United claim the resolutions were passed illegally due to a conflict with two resolutions passed by the town board in 1996 and 2004.
“These two resolutions were passed and limit water district extensions in the [agriculture] district to be used only for agricultural uses and for preexisting non-agricultural uses,” Draina said. “Unless the town votes to rescind those laws they must abide by them.”
According to the minutes from the Town Board meeting on May 31, Curtiss raised concerns over the legality of the resolutions, given the resolutions passed by the Town Board restricting the water district in the past. Supervisor Szczepaniak said he had spoken about the issue with Town Attorney James Walsh, who assured him that the new resolutions were legal. Walsh stated that if the board would like to change a prior resolution they may do so by passing a new resolution.
A lifelong town resident, Draina comes from a farming background. His father was a farmer and he and his brother continue to farm as a hobby. Now he is concerned over developers who are targeting the agricultural district for development.
“Right now there’s over 2,000 dwellings proposed,” Draina said. “Not all of them have gone before the town yet, but they’re all in the agricultural district, they would all require water hookup and ultimately it goes against the comprehensive plan that the town residents have set as their vision for what they want to see the town look like.”
Another concern for Draina is how the town would manage the influx of residents caused by the increase in housing. He worries that 2,000 new dwellings could draw roughly 4,000 new residents to the town.
Draina questions whether the school district is equipped to deal with an increase in the student population. He’s also concerned about the impact on traffic and the ability of current residents to sell their homes if the supply of new homes outpaces the demand.
He also thinks that there should be a limit to the number of dwellings built in the town each year.
“This group isn’t necessarily against development, we just want to see controlled development and we want to see development in the areas that our comprehensive plan dictates,” Draina said.
There is an increased cost to towns associated with development, Draina said. He cited a 2006 study written by Jeffrey Dorfman of the Land Use Initiative and the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Georgia, titled “The Fiscal Impacts of Land Uses on Local Government.” Draina questioned whether the taxes levied from the new properties would be sufficient to cover the cost of the necessary services and infrastructure to support the developments.
The study looked at the cost to local government associated with residential, commercial and industrial development, and undeveloped farm or forest land primarily in Georgia. In the communities that the study looked at, it was found the expenditures associated with developing farmland for commercial or residential use often exceeded the tax revenues generated by the developments.
“Farmland is quite the opposite. Farmland gets taxed, but there is really no maintenance involved as far as the local government is concerned. There are no people to take care of on that land. It doesn’t add traffic to the roads. A lot of times it can boost local business,” Draina said.
Draina encouraged residents to attend town board meetings and get involved, adding, “the amount of support we get will dictate what we can do.”
Ballston United has also launched a GoFundMe campaign. Draina said that the campaign is intended to get financial backing for shirts, posters, signs and possible legal fees. While Draina hopes that legal action will be unnecessary, he acknowledges the possibility.
The group has raised $220 so far on a goal of $20,000. Draina noted that many of Ballston United’s members are farmers who do not have the money to spare for representation if the group decides to take legal action against the town.
“If enough people get involved [$20,000] could easily be achieved, but the people need to know what’s going on,” Draina said. They need to get themselves involved and be concerned. They need to know that they can do something about this.”