Saratoga County

Zoning changes sought by AMD backed

The town Planning Board is backing most of the zoning changes sought by Advanced Micro Devices as th

The town Planning Board is backing most of the zoning changes sought by Advanced Micro Devices as the company considers building a $3.2 billion computer chip factory in Luther Forest.

The board voted 6-0 Tuesday night to recommend the Town Board approve most of the requested changes, though with many comments.

It said there are issues like local review of the plant’s environmental compliance audits that should be discussed further between AMD representatives and the Town Board before final decisions are made.

“We still have a lot of work to do, and the Town Board has a lot of work to do,” said Planning Board Chairman Glenn Rockwood.

The approval is a critical step as the town reviews AMD’s plans, first announced to great fanfare in 2006. The company applied for town approvals in February, and the Planning Board had devoted four lengthy meetings since March to discussing the project and its recommendations.

AMD wants changes to the planned development district zoning approved for the Luther Forest Technology Campus in 2004, tailoring the zoning to its specific needs. Key among them, the chipmaker wants permission to eventually build up to three 980,000-square-foot chip fabrication plants on a 230-acre site in the Malta-Stillwater town line, rather than the four somewhat smaller plants originally envisioned by economic developers.

The Planning Board action leaves the project several weeks behind the approval schedule AMD originally sought in February, but Steve Groseclose, AMD’s regulatory approval team leader, said he is comfortable with the progress being made.

“Getting the PDD right is fundamental to our feeling comfortable that this project will succeed,” Groseclose said. “It’s important that we reach the right decision. We don’t want to rush things.”

He said AMD now hopes for a final vote by the Town Board some time in August.

AMD has yet to make a final commitment to build the plant, where an estimated 1,465 people would work. It has until July 2009 to break ground under a $1.2 billion state incentive agreement. Groseclose acknowledged getting the zoning changes approved is a factor in AMD’s decision-making.

“We can’t commit lightly. We have to have confidence we can succeed here,” Groseclose said. “This is strategically important to our future manufacturing strategy.”

The company, which has struggled financially for the past 18 months, is developing an “asset light” strategy that is expected to outsource more of its chip production, but company leaders still haven’t made details of that strategy public.

AMD, while it is the world’s No. 2 microprocessor maker, is a distant second to industry giant Intel Corp.

The company had originally proposed beginning to clear land this summer so construction could potentially start in January, but Groseclose said Wednesday that nothing will happen until a commitment is made.

Groseclose, who is AMD’s director of global environmental, health and safety, said the project is also moving forward on other fronts.

AMD next week expects to submit a final environmental impact statement to the town, he said. That will include answers and any changes made in response to public comments on the draft statement given to the town in February.

The Town Board can’t act on the proposed zoning changes until it approves the environmental impact statement, and a list of findings from it is adopted.

“I think it could very well be wrapped up in a month or so, by the first of August,” said Town Supervisor Paul Sausville.

AMD next week plans to file permit applications with the state Department of Environmental Conservation for air emissions and the Saratoga County Sewer District for wastewater discharges, Groseclose said.

While the Planning Board made dozens of comments, the main “condition” set Tuesday was that the town somehow be involved in the plant’s environmental permitting and environmental compliance auditing. A “condition” requires the Town Board to accept it, or vote specifically to override the Planning Board’s advise.

Groseclose said the issue will be settled, although the company feels details of its internal third-party environmental auditing need to remain confidential.

“Every major operation we have, we have some sort of forum for sharing information with the community,” Groseclose said.

Sausville said he’s setting up a meeting to determine whether asking AMD to be certified by DEC’s new Environmental Leaders program might meet the town’s goals.

The Town Board has already received input from its technical consultants, and is also receiving correspondence from its Community Advisory Board. Once all the recommendations are received, the Town Board is expected to hold several workshops to make final decisions on the zoning changes.

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