The Niskayuna Planning Board wants more discussion about rezoning the 44-acre O.D. Heck parcel on Balltown Road.
Board members listened to public comments Monday night during a privilege-of-the-floor session at its first February meeting. As they did during a January public hearing, residents spoke against the idea of rezoning the property.
The site at 500 Balltown Road is home to Capital District Developmental Disabilities Service Organization-Oswald D. Heck Developmental Center. The space comprises 12 buildings and is also home to the Pooh’s Corner Child Care Center.
Town planners said the rezoning question is about future development of the parcel. Planners want to rezone the property from R-2, for residential use (medium density), to a neighborhood-mixed use designation. While current zoning would allow a future owner to build dozens of single-family homes on the land, the town would prefer future developers use the space for a mix of residential and retail buildings.
The state has not announced any intent to sell the land.
“OPWDD is aware of the Planning Board’s recent attempts to rezone the O.D. Heck property,” said Jennifer O’Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the Heck complex.
O’Sullivan could not answer questions about the state’s position on a future use or divestiture of the property.
Town planners say that, if the land does go up for sale, they want the new zoning in place.
Nick Chiesa of Dewitt Avenue said examples of mixed use neighborhoods in other communities — planners mentioned the Village at New Loudon in Latham and Ellsworth Commons in Malta during the January public hearing — have many apartments.
“I don’t consider apartments residential,” he said of the proposed zoning designation.
Chiesa also did not like options for commercial development that would come with a neighborhood-mixed use designation. He said multiple stores are already open near his home and he does not think the area needs more.
“A limit on cars and traffic is what we need,” he said.
Chris Zimmerman and Paulina Manzo, of Regent Street, are concerned about pedestrian safety, especially with a 10-year-old daughter who is anxious to explore her neighborhood.
“Our primary comment is this is an opportunity to solve the pedestrian issue on Balltown Road,” Zimmerman said.
Tom Hodgkins of Rosendale Road said he remembers the “wild” Niskayuna of his youth, spaces that have now become buildings and parking lots. He would like to see development limited on the Heck property, keeping one-third green.
“Let the wild reclaim that land,” Hodgkins said. “Let the grass grow. Let the insects and birds come back to that space.”
Planners had questions about gas stations, hotels and fast food restaurants — businesses that would be allowed in the neighborhood-mixed use zone.
“I’m not confident with some of those elements,” said Leslie Gold, a board alternate in attendance at the meeting.
Planners also wondered if an architect or engineer, after surveying the site, could come up with ideas for other uses. Board member Genghis Khan asked if it was possible to “tweak” a few things in the neighborhood-mixed use classification.
Town Planner Laura Robertson said any tweaks — zoning code amendments — would first have to be discussed in a Planning Board public hearing. A Planning Board recommendation would then be given to the Town Board for consideration, with the Town Board conducting its own public hearing.
Board member Morris Auster described the entire discussion as a “brainstorming” session. He expects there will be more.
“I’ll keep bringing this back [on the agenda],” Robertson said.