Saratoga County

Clearing starts for Malta housing project

Ellsworth Commons, the huge downtown project that has stirred debate about the town’s future beca


Ellsworth Commons, the huge downtown project that has stirred debate about the town’s future because of its potential size, has started construction after a two-year delay.

Work started going forward last week, after the 11-acre site on Route 9 had sat cleared but vacant for the last two years.

Site preparation started after developers Albany Partners finalized a $49.4 million financing deal two weeks ago and the moving of topsoil and gravel began late last week.

“We’ve got [financing] closed. We’re pushing dirt. The first building should be ready for occupancy a year from now,” said Bruce Schnitz, one of the development partners.

“We’ll be going very rapidly,” Schnitz said.

The Ellsworth Commons complex will include 312 apartment units and 70,000 square feet of retail space on Route 9 about a quarter-mile north of the Route 67 roundabout.

The project is geared to the new economic activity and housing needs expected with completion of the GlobalFoundries computer chip factory in 2012. The chip plant, where 1,200 to 1,400 people will work, is located about two miles away.

The financing deal is with Greystone Servicing Corp. of Bethesda, Md., and was secured under an arrangement in which a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development program is providing mortgage insurance.

The financing doesn’t include money for 22 townhouses that are also approved for the Ellsworth Commons site, or involve the smaller but similar Blacksmith Square commercial-residential project Albany Partners plans to build at another Route 9 downtown location, Schnitz said.

Albany Partners got approval from the town Planning Board for Ellsworth Commons in 2007 and cleared the partially wooded site opposite the Malta Town Hall in the spring of 2008.

But there things stalled, the developers unable to get the final financing in place for their project as the economy turned sour.

During the two-year interval, the project has become more controversial.

Criticism grew of the project’s scale, with critics saying its size, including four-story buildings, will radically change the downtown’s character from suburban to urban.

Last November, the town Planning Board gave Albany Partners a two-year extension on its project approval, which had expired, despite the controversy. Albany Partners said is had already invested $7 million, and had the right to continue forward based on the original approval once it got its financing settled.

Concentrating high-density development in the downtown area is what was called for in the 2005 town master plan and current zoning. Schnitz and partner Neil Schwingruber say they based their project on that plan.

But Town Supervisor Paul Sausville is now calling for abandoning that vision in favor of encouraging a lower-density downtown area focused on commercial rather than residential development.

Others, including the Malta Business and Professional Association, say the town shouldn’t be changing the vision so radically.

The Town Board has been holding a series of workshops on the downtown zoning and master plan. The next will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 30, at the town hall.

Sausville could not be reached for comment on Friday.

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