Four-story buildings could be allowed just east of the Northway and mixed residential-commercial buildings would become the norm downtown under proposed town zoning revisions.
The town last week released the draft changes recommended by Code Studio of Austin, Texas, which is working on a rewrite of the current downtown zoning.
The effort’s goal is to bring the zoning law into compliance with the downtown master plan the Town Board adopted in 2011 — but like that plan, the draft zoning is controversial.
The draft Downtown Malta Form-based Code emphasizes building size and design, incorporating design standards not usually included in a zoning law. The 80-page document includes a number of suggestions, not all of which will be adopted, officials said.
“They’ve talked to the town, talked to developers and talked to residents, and he’s put together a package of ideas for us to consider,” said Councilman Peter Klotz.
The Town Board, which saw the complete draft for the first time last week, will review it and discuss it further at a workshop Aug. 20.
“We really have to look at it,” said Town Supervisor Paul Sausville, who has generally opposed efforts to establish a new high-density downtown area. “It creates a citylike environment.”
The $90,000 study is being funded by the Capital District Transportation Committee and the town, and incorporates “Complete Streets” and other concepts for making the downtown area more pedestrian-friendly, to encourage people to live and shop downtown.
“It promotes mixed use. It would become kind of the norm, rather than requiring a special permit,” said Klotz, who has generally favored promoting a high-density downtown with a mix of residents and businesses.
Malta’s downtown runs along Route 9 from Cramer to Knabner roads. It also include parts of Route 67 east of the Northway, and part of Dunning Street.
The town master plan calls for promoting downtown growth in an effort to focus growth there, and keep other parts of the town somewhat rural.
Malta, which now has about 15,000 residents, is anticipating a new round of residential and commercial growth tied to the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in Luther Forest.
Sausville questions whether the population will grow that significantly, noting that new estimates from the Capital District Regional Planning Commission say the town may gain only 3,000 residents in the next 20 years.
“Everyone is excited that GlobalFoundries is here, but will we really see that much growth?” he asked.
Sausville said he is also concerned about the fire and police protection costs of a highly developed downtown.
The Town Board in 2005 adopted a land use master plan and zoning that allowed high-density downtown development, but negative public reaction to the large five-story Ellsworth Commons apartment-commercial project led to revisions in 2011 to reduce the size of future buildings.
Under the revised master plan, buildings would be limited to three or four stories. The work being done by Design Studio writes those changes into the zoning law. Pending the zoning changes, there’s a moratorium on large-scale downtown projects.
Among the draft’s proposals are that four-story buildings be allowed on Route 67 just east of the Northway, where there is undeveloped land and the one-story Malta Commons commercial property. The consultant also suggests that projects that comply with zoning rules be eligible for administrative approvals by the town Planning Department, rather than having to go before the town Planning Board.
Klotz said not all the ideas will be adopted.
“After we all get a chance to review it more closely, then we’ll decide what to do, and where to go with it,” Sausville said.
Adopting any zoning changes will require holding a public hearing. Unofficially, the goal is adopt any changes by the end of the year.