Saratoga County

Malta puts hold on major new commercial projects

A new downtown development moratorium will stop any large, new commercial projects for at least nine

A new downtown development moratorium will stop any large, new commercial projects for at least nine months, but allow large projects already under town review to keep moving forward.

The Town Board voted 4-1 Tuesday to impose the moratorium, while new zoning laws to scale back large downtown projects are written.

The moratorium will exempt projects that have major town approvals under the current downtown guidelines, which allow buildings that are as tall as five stories.

The moratorium will give the town time to write new zoning standards that will limit downtown buildings to three or four stories.

The exemption means Malta Crossings, a mixed-use project on Route 9, and also Blacksmith Square, an apartment-retail building on Route 9, can continue to be reviewed by town planning officials, though construction has yet to start. Both propose taller buildings.

“It’s a fairness issue to developers who have submitted projects in good faith,” said town Councilman Peter Klotz.

During a public hearing Tuesday, an attorney for Malta Crossings and several neighbors who have been promised help with water and septic issues spoke in favor of that project and against including it in the moratorium.

Malta Crossings has been under town review since 2007, and developer Alan Oppenheim has spent $500,000 on it, said his attorney, Michael J. Toohey of Saratoga Springs.

Councilman John Hartzell voted against the moratorium unless it restricted some of the unbuilt projects, saying it didn’t address his concerns about the overall quality of some of the projects.

“One of my grave concerns is the quality of some of the development in town,” Hartzell said.

The moratorium will apply to projects involving buildings more than 45 feet tall in the central downtown area on Route 9, and more than 35 feet tall in outlying parts of downtown.

The moratorium stops those projects while the town rewrites its zoning law to prohibit buildings that are taller than that.

Projects with buildings that are small enough to comply with the new standards aren’t subject to the moratorium.

“This is not a blanket moratorium. This is not a moratorium that would stop all development in the downtown,” said town Planning Director Tony Tozzi.

Buildings up to 54 feet tall are currently allowed, but many people have reacted negatively to the size of the Ellsworth Commons project now under construction on Route 9, following current guidelines.

A revised downtown master plan adopted by the Town Board in March put the new limits on building heights, but they won’t be binding until the zoning law is rewritten.

During the moratorium, the town will use a $90,000 grant from the Capital District Transportation Committee to work with a consultant to rewrite its zoning.

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