BALLSTON – Residents packed town hall for the opportunity to comment on a proposed local law to amend town zoning during a public hearing session that took place prior to Tuesday’s Town Board agenda meeting.
The Town Board and planner Nan Stolzenberg of Community Planning and Environmental Associates have been discussing amendments to town zoning since 2016, finalizing the proposed changes late last year.
Throughout the review process, residents have demanded changes reflecting the town’s Comprehensive Plan that was established in 2006 to preserve the town’s “rural, small-town character” in the face of mounting residential and commercial development pressures.
Proposed zoning changes include the establishment of a transfer of development rights program for properties in town, limiting the option to pursue Planned Unit Development Districts to the Route 50 corridor, defining open space requirements on various types of properties, setting buffer distances around streams and wetlands, creating setback distances for properties neighboring active farms and updates to language and definitions.
The public hearing lasted approximately one hour with 18 residents taking the opportunity to speak.
Overall residents voiced their support for the proposed changes, some residents called for increases to setback distances for properties neighboring active farms and buffer distances around streams and wetlands, as originally proposed and called for by the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Resident Collette Jasinski argued that the setback distances for properties bordering farms should be increased to 500 feet, as originally called for by Stolzenberg, instead of the proposed 150 to 500-foot sliding scale.
“I’m happy to see in the zoning package that you have the stream buffer and the wetland buffer allocation, but I’d like to encourage that it be wider and broader to coincide with the DEC laws,” Dr. David Pierce of the Ballston Lake Improvement Association said.
The DEC calls for buffers of approximately 100 feet around wetlands and streams, the proposed zoning amendments calls for 50-foot buffers.
While many residents have argued for limiting development in town and removing the option for PUDDs, some raised concerns that the limits on development are too strict.
“The restrictions set forth in these guidelines don’t allow enough flexibility for future things,” resident Howland Adams said. “We really can’t be so afraid of the future that we impose arbitrary limitations in an effort to control it. We need to trust in ourselves that we have the wisdom and common sense to deal with new changes and challenges.”
Others argued that attempts to direct development to the Route 50 corridor ignore the financial burden placed on residents in the northern part of town.
“Living in the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District, we don’t have a tax base. We’re paying it, the residents are paying the freight,” resident Mike Burdikoff said. “We don’t have a tax base, at least for our school district, to do anything when it really comes down to it.”
Burdikoff argued that development options on Route 50 are already limited and further development should be directed to Middleline Road to capitalize on the traffic that already exists there and to increase the school district’s tax base.
While the assembled residents made their case for alterations to the proposed zoning amendments, resident Scott Miller argued that the Town Board should move ahead with the changes as drafted.
“It’s a vast improvement over what we had before, it’s the zoning code that we should have had in 2006,” Miller said. “Whatever we do would be an incremental improvement and delaying this would be far worse than implementing now. There is hardly anything you could do that couldn’t be done in the future.”
Town Board member William Goslin thanked residents for their participation in the public hearing, saying, “This is a great community event where we can all sit down as a community and talk about our concerns, get these concerns recorded and understand how the public feels.”
“In some respects, the board is catching up to what is going on in town. We hope that we will be able to move fast enough to anticipate what the problems are rather than react to them,” Goslin said. “I think we’re in a good position now.”
No action was taken on the proposed local law amending town zoning and the public hearing was left open for further comment at the next Town Board meeting.