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Milton identity at stake

Friday, February 21, 2014
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I don’t consider Milton among the fast-growing towns in Saratoga County, but there are fresh signs I could be wrong.

The woodsy town that lies north of Ballston Spa and west of Saratoga Springs has grown from 10,500 people in 1970 to close to 19,000 today — and has done it without ever developing a clear identity of its own. It’s not Ballston Spa.

There are efforts to make the crossroads of Geyser Road and Rowland Street a commercial destination called Milton Center, building on businesses located there that include a Hannaford supermarket.

But the latest development action is south and west of there, and much about the community’s identity — as well as residents’ ability to drive safely — is at stake.

On the Route 50 corridor north of Ballston Spa, a 50,000-square-foot supermarket has been proposed at the corner with Northline Road. A Cumberland Farms wants to land on the other corner there, opposite an established Stewart’s Shop.

Whether either will actually happen depends on how well they can address traffic concerns.

Northline Road is a prime access route to Northway Exit 13, and seems to get busier every day as new apartments and houses get built in the western part of Saratoga County.

Police and ambulance crews are very familiar with the Route 50-Northline intersection — my guess is it’s now one of the most dangerous in the county, because people still think they live in the country and haven’t gotten the urban-suburban hang for slowing down in traffic.

“The town really has to look at what they’re doing there,” said county senior planner Michael Valentine.

The supermarket site has wetlands that need federal regulatory review, and is many months from getting off the ground. But Cumberland Farms clearly would pour footings tomorrow, if it could.

Meanwhile, a 35-lot subdivision has been proposed on Rowland Street behind the supermarket site on the last big piece of undeveloped land between Northline Road and Ballston Spa. The land has enough slope to it, though, that the development will have to be handled carefully.

While the eastern half of Milton has filled up over the years with conventional single-family home subdivisions and a few apartment complexes, the western part of town has remained rural — a blend of open fields and woods, for the most part.

There’s the naval nuclear training center, of course, but it’s surrounded by woods, and that’s all the public gets to see.

Perhaps the fields and forests image is what the town would like as its identity; it’s certainly what some people want.

The town master plan calls for trying to keep western Milton somewhere

between bucolic and rustic, with most of the western part of the town zoned to require five-acre building lots.

The boundary between R-1 and R-2 districts — between half-acre subdivision lots and five-acre lots — runs halfway between Middle Line Road and Stone Church Road. A controversy is brewing over one property there that straddles the line.

A developer who has more than 100 acres wants to shift the R-1 boundary within his property 900 feet west, increasing the potential size of a subdivision he is considering from 144 lots to 166 lots. David Ingalls of Schenectady, one of the developers, said that in return he would keep all construction away from Middle Line Road, protecting its view of pine forest. The Milton Town Board will have to make the call.

But the Milton Grange — yes, there are still granges, and they often fight for rural values today, just as they did representing farmers against railroad barons in the 18th century — has objected to shifting the boundary. The group says it could open the door for others to propose dense subdivisions in the R-2 area.

“By this proposed zoning change, one [developer] seeks more than a fair return, at the expense of those who have staked their futures on rural living,” Milton Grange President Sanford H. Becker III recently wrote to town and county officials.

It’s a fight that’s been fought many times before in Saratoga County, and will be fought many times again.

It was probably 30 years ago I first heard someone in a position of knowledge say all the good development land in the county was gone. He may have been right, but that hasn’t stopped development from keeping on coming.

Stephen Williams is a Gazette reporter. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. He can be reached at 885-6705 or swilliams@dailygazette.net.

 
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