With development pressure increasing because of the Luther Forest Technology Campus and other activity, town officials are trying to concentrate it into a traditional downtown.
But a new report says those efforts need better geographical focus, and the town should consider revising its zoning to reduce the potential scale of downtown commercial and apartment buildings.
The Downtown Green Space and Economic Development suggests keeping the high-density downtown around the Malta Corners intersection, with the intention of encouraging people to walk between businesses and activities.
Instead of the 9,000 linear feet of Route 9 highway frontage now zoned for downtown development, the plans says the focus should be on only about a quarter-mile.
“That five-minute walk, as crazy as it sounds, is critical,” said Ian Law of Synthesis Architects in Schenectady, one of the plan’s authors. “If people have to walk more than five minutes, they won’t do it.”
The plan also suggests the town encourage businesses that are public gathering places like coffee shops and restaurants downtown, and retail shops like clothing, hardware and bookstores that the town doesn’t have now.
Another recommendation is new small-scale public parks in the downtown, possibly on the current town complex property on Route 9, or on the Dunning Street historic parade ground. They would be an alternative current zoning that requires every commercial project to provide on-site green space.
“Instead of each property having its own green space, you should concentrate it in a few places,” Law said.
The study, done by a partnership of Synthesis Architects and River Street Planning of Troy, cost the town $62,000, with $50,000 coming from a state grant.
The final recommendations of the year-long study were presented at a meeting Tuesday.
The current downtown zone was developed in 2004 as town officials first wrestled with the idea of concentrating development in a downtown area, in order to preserve more of the rest of the town’s rural character as the technology campus develops.
The downtown zone stretches along Route 9 from Cramer Road to Knabner Road, and is now dominated by highway commercial development, said John Holehan of River Street Partners.
“It’s kind of a Wolf Road downtown,” Holehan said. “How do we get a more traditional downtown?”
Since 2004, three large complexes featuring commercial uses and hundreds of housing units have been proposed in the downtown area.
Two have been approved, though none are yet built. Together, the three will have 828 apartments or houses — too much at once, according to some town officials.
“Obviously, you’re under a lot of pressure and you’re going to continue getting that in the future,” Holehan said.
The report says successful downtowns have a mix of retailers located close to each other with their fronts along sidewalks, to encourage walk-in trade.
The consultants said the town should concentrate on developing local and family-owned businesses in the area rather than big-box retail, and noted federal Community Development Block Grant money may be available to encourage such small businesses.
The analysis also concluded more studies are needed, including a new environmental impact statement looking at the cumulative impacts of future downtown development.
“It’s our opinion you have to relook at the zoning for the entire area,” Law said.
The report has already been referred to the town’s Planning and Zoning Update Committee, and that panel will recommend what the Town Board should do with the report’s findings, said Town Supervisor Paul Sausville.
“I would guess there will be a number of [Town Board] workshops to work this out,” Sausville said.
More from The Daily Gazette: