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Whack-a-Mole Suburban Sprawl in Malta

If you build an interstate highway (I-87) through the town of Malta, and then spend a billion-and-a-half dollars of state money to attract a computer chip plant there, you create development pressure.

But people don’t like too much development, so local politicians tried to alleviate that pressure by creating a “downtown” east of Northway Exit 12, so as to preserve open space in the rest of Malta. But then people thought Ellsworth Commons was too high and too close to the road, and had more legitimate objections to other developments in the downtown area, such as the clear-cutting of trees west of the Dunning Street Rural Cemetery.

So new politicians ran for office opposing too much downtown development, and the new Town Board  now seems inclined to put on a cap on the number of apartments downtown. Meanwhile, property owners on increasingly busy roads such as Route 9 and Route 67 made the reasonable case that they can’t sell single-family houses there for residential use. The Town Board has responded by rezoning Route 9 south for more commercial uses.

The board will hold a public hearing Monday on rezoning Route 67 west for commercial uses. That road still has an existing agricultural use, i.e. cattle grazing on the Double M Rodeo property. If the rezoning gives Double M more leeway on issues such as putting up signs, that’ll be good. But the danger is it’ll make it more likely that the land will ultimately be lost to agricultural use. And with the state Department of Transportation telling the town it doesn’t have enough money to fix the road, it makes little sense to add to traffic there by putting in much more commercial development.

The new board also seemed favorably inclined to a housing development proposed for Ruhle Road, between the Zim Smith Trail and Ballston Creek, on woods currently zoned land conservation.

The Town Board’s policies may result in more suburban sprawl all over Malta, which is not what residents want, but what they may get unless they make their objections known.

What should the board do? Stick to a modified version of the downtown plan, channeling development there, including retail. And in the rest of town preserve as much open space as possible, especially uses that keep land agricultural and protect key environmental resources such as Ballston Creek and the Zim Smith Trail.

The new Town Board hasn’t been getting everything wrong. It worked to cut the speed limit downtown, and may eventually get street parking approved on Route 9 (a state highway) in front of Ellsworth Commons, which would be a real achievement.

Also up on its agenda Monday is the fate of the old iron fence at Dunning Street Rural Cemetery, which Malta should be trying to restore as much of as possible of through private fund-raising. The board should support the town’s Historic Preservation Review Commission, which does not want to permit a cheap replacement fence there.

The board’s job is not to make life easier for developers, but to protect the quality of life for all Malta residents..

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Reporter Bob Conner has worked 21 years in various positions at the Gazette of Schenectady, and before that four years as a reporter at the Glens Falls Post-Star. He won two first-place writing awards from the New York Associated Press Association for newspapers with circulation between 50,000 and 250,000. Bob has a Phi Beta Kappa bachelor’s degree in journalism from New York University, and an associate’s degree in chemical dependency counseling from HVCC. He is a published author and is currently writing a historical novel about the last four months in the life of Ulysses S.Grant

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