MALTA – The Town Board delayed voting on an amendment to the Form Based Code that would have limited the density of multi-family dwellings downtown to a maximum of 15 units per acre during Monday’s regular meeting in order to add language protecting developers who had been working with the Malta Planning Board to develop projects that would exceed the new limit.
The Town Board held a public hearing during Monday’s meeting that would have allowed the board to move forward with enacting a proposed local law to amend the Malta Zoning Law by establishing a maximum density of 15 units per acre for multi-family structures downtown.
However, some members of the board were concerned that passing the law that would go into effect immediately would be unfair to developers who had already been working with the Malta Planning Board to design projects that would exceed the proposed amendment.
Town Supervisor Vincent DeLucia explained that the board felt that some protection should be offered to developers who had devoted time and resources to plans that could not legally be constructed if the amendment was passed as originally written.
“I do want this in here, because it would be morally unfair for somebody to go out,” DeLucia said, “to spend an awful lot of money and time and some of these are into a couple years and so forth and so on and then for us to turn around and pull the carpet out from under them and say all of that is wasted.”
In order to address these concerns, an additional amendment was proposed to add language excluding projects that had already begun the review process with the Planning Board from the multi-family dwelling density restrictions.
During Monday’s meeting, Matthew Jones of the Jones Firm spoke on behalf of Malta Crossings and Conifer Realty who have proposed a project that would be impacted if the original amendment was passed. The project calls for the construction of 12 three story apartment buildings with a total of 96 units, one three story senior housing building with 70 units and two clubhouses.
“We have a project pending in Malta Crossings, so I appreciate the board on this fairness provision. It comforts a lot of us who are down the road a bit,” Jones said.
Town Board member Timothy Dunn explained the addition of the protections as a timing issue, saying “If [projects] are in this part of the process, they’ve entered into the process under the old rules, so you don’t want to change the rules midway through the game on the applicants.”
However, Dunn objected to adding the protection for developers Monday, as it would require the board to schedule another public hearing on the proposed amendment before both changes could be implemented.
Dunn encouraged the board to pass the amendment to the local law limiting density as originally written and to take up the issue of adding the protection for developers later on to avoid delaying an issue that had long been before the board.
He further recommended that the board take up the issue of allowing density bonuses under certain circumstances as the board had previously discussed at the same time that the protection for developers was put into place.
“The density bonus would be specific for uses. The two that we discussed previously were if a developer was looking to build multi-family and they were going to include units designated for senior citizens for senior housing that they could then build more than what was allowed,” Dunn said. “The other one that was talked about was if it was built as part of a mixed use that had some amount of retail.”
Town Attorney Thomas Peterson warned the board against passing the amendment as originally written if they intended to put what he referred to as the “fairness clause” in place.
“Passing version one, I think, is a very inadvisable thing to do, because then you’re saying this is the law and it’s in effect right now and that means it doesn’t matter where you are in a sense in the pipeline unless you’ve reached the very end, which is not what the board wants. I don’t know how you go back and then undue that later on,” Peterson said.
Town Board member Maggi Ruisi said, “I’m not sure why as a board we would pass a local law that we really don’t want instead of waiting only a couple of weeks until we can get it to a point where we all want it to be.”
DeLucia asked to hear from developer Robert Miller who was in attendance for his input on passage of the amended local law.
Miller is with the Windsor Companies who have proposed a project consisting of four two-story mixed use buildings, two single-story shop front buildings, a hotel and 11 multi-family residential buildings with over 300 apartments. The project has final approval and is waiting for comments from the Town Engineer.
Miller said, “It makes me very nervous to hear that a law would be enacted that would essentially take everything from us with the hope that you guys are going to go in and change that and amend that law.”
DeLucia asked Town Planner Floria Huizinga how many projects would be impacted by passage of the amendment without the protection clause and whether there was a concern that developers could propose projects exceeding the density limits if the board waited until the next meeting on Nov. 9 to pass the proposed amendment.
Huizinga said that there were two projects that would be impacted, that no other developers had contacted the planning department to propose multi-family projects downtown and that the next Planning Board meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, meaning that developers could not be seen by the Planning Board to propose a new multi-family project before the Town Board’s next meeting.
Town Board members Craig Warner, Ruisi and Supervisor DeLucia agreed that the board should wait to act on the proposed amendment until the protection clause could be included over Dunn’s objections. Town Board member John Hartzell recused himself from the discussion and exited the meeting room while it took place.
Warner, Ruisi, Dunn and DeLucia voted to hold a public hearing during the next board meeting on Nov. 9 on the revised amendment to the local law limiting the density of multi-family dwellings while establishing the protection for developers.
The board members agreed to look at possible density bonuses in the meantime in hopes that they can make a decision in time to make any desired changes to the local law by the deadline of 10 days prior to the final vote as required by law. Otherwise, the board plans to look at density bonuses separately at a later time.
“It’s clear we want to move forward with lowering the density, it’s just getting too thick at this point in time, but this has gotten complicated.” DeLucia said.