Saratoga County

After growth, Malta to update its community plan

Saratoga County community continues to face growth pressure; looking to keep character amid change
Comprehensive Master Plan Update Committee Chariman Chris Morrell and Malta Building and Planning Coordinator Jaime O’Neill.
Comprehensive Master Plan Update Committee Chariman Chris Morrell and Malta Building and Planning Coordinator Jaime O’Neill.

MALTA – Few communities in the Capital Region have changed more in the last 15 to 20 years than Malta, with its three Northway exits in central Saratoga County.

Town officials are looking at whether the community’s comprehensive land-use plan needs updating to account for those changes, and how the town’s vision for the future may also need to evolve.

The arrival of the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in the Luther Forest Technology Campus changed everything.

“They are a very big frog in a very small pond,” said Chris Morrell, chairman of the town’s Comprehensive Plan Update Committee, appointed in January.

When the town’s comprehensive plan was developed in 2005, the $12 billion GlobalFoundries plant was still only a dream. The idea then was for the town to be prepared for the development pressures the computer plant and associated businesses would bring.

Since then, GlobalFoundries has been built, the company has hired 3,000 people, and that has brought with it demand for residential and commercial development. As expected, dozens of smaller technology companies that supply and service the chip plant making what it says are the fastest semiconductor chips in the world have sprung up.

Morrell served on the Town Board from 1983 to 1994, when he moved to Vermont for a police chief’s job. Even though he maintained local ties and continued to own property on Malta Ridge until he returned after retirement in 2014, he said he was “shocked” at the changes that occurred.

Among the big ones: The Malta Center crossroads of 20 years ago has developed into something recognizably like a downtown, with hundreds of apartments. There’s been new commercial development up and down Route 9, former pastures and woodlands are now housing developments, but the town’s northern and western reaches have remained rural, mostly.

With its three Northway exit and a property tax rate close to the price of penny candy, the town’s population, which was about 13,000 in 2000, has grown to more than 16,000 today, by U.S. Census estimate.

All of that — more or less — is in keeping with the vision laid out in the town’s 2005 comp plan, which was developed by the Clough Harbour consulting engineering firm, with extensive input from the town officials of the time.

Municipal comprehensive plans — often called master plans — lay out an official vision for a community, providing guidance to developers and town officials as they consider land development proposals.

“Our sense is that we want to have economic development so we can keep the town tax-free,” said Town Supervisor Darren O’Connor. “But at same time keep the really wonderful aspects of the town that people love.”

“We just want to get a fresh look by a group of people of varying backgrounds, to bring fresh eyes to the 2005 plan and see what can stay the same, and what may need tweaking,” O’Connor said.

The 2005 plan evaluated the town as 13 separate areas or neighborhoods, each with its own goals for the future, whether it should be designated for dense development or preservation as open lands. In large part, those plans have been followed — though in the last few years there’s been increased emphasis on encouraging commercial rather than residential development on Route 9 and on Route 67 in the western part of town, what O’Connor called, “recognition of reality.”

“There’s been so many changes since 2005,” O’Connor said. “Luther Forest and Global, and that has changed not just Luther Forest but the area all around it. The traffic, the impact on the roads, it has changed their character.”

Because of the changes, the Town Board decided it was time for an update, to reflect how things have evolved, and to address problems that weren’t foreseen at the time. Examples of those issues are the heavy commuter traffic on Round Lake Road due to development in Ballston, and the myriad of issues with year-round development around Saratoga Lake. The town also has a new economic development plan, which could bring its own potential changes.

That lead to appointment of the comprehensive plan update committee in January.

“They’ll be looking at traffic, the increase in traffic, at open space, where there should be open space, and the issues around lake,” O’Connor said.

The Town Board named Morrell to chair a nine-member committee that also includes Town Board member Cynthia Young, Planning Board members Bill Smith, David Wallingford and Jean Loewenstein, engineer/developer representative Scott Lansing, and residents Joyce Soltis, Michelle Nangle and Ted Willette.

“Chris is a good administrator, and he’s good at listening to all sides,” O’Connor said, explaining why Morrell was selected as chairman.

The committee has held a couple of public input meetings already, and will be conducting an online public feedback survey through the end of April. The committee and town planning staff are expected to do most of the week, with the help of other town departments and technical assistance from The Chazen Companies, the current town engineers.

“There’s not a whole lot of change the committee is envisioning, it’s more fine-tuning,” said town Planning and Building Coordinator Jaime L. O’Neill.

“Most of all the neighborhoods that are rural and residential the committee feels should remain rural and residential,” O’Neill said.

Already, the committee has received nearly 600 responses to its online survey, with a wide range of opinions, from people who want to see more restaurants and commercial services to people who want no more growth.

One big impediment to future development, for better or worse: the town has limited water and sewer infrastructure. A privately-owned public water system serves the central part of town. But sewer service outside the downtown area remains unavailable, despite years of study.

“Our biggest challenge is we don’t have public infrastructure in large parts of the town,” O’Neill said. “Traffic is a big (issue), but that’s being felt all across the county.”

The Town Board’s goal is to complete the update by the end of the year, which those involved acknowledge is an ambitious timeline, given the need for study, more public input, writing of the update, and time for the Town Board to hold a public hearing before adopting any changes.

Morrell said all the public input is being considered, even though views on the town’s future vary as widely as the weather.

“To be honest, there’s pressure from people who want more commercial opportunities, and we’ve also had people respond that they don’t want any more growth,” Morrell said. “So, like any committee, we have to walk the line and find the balance.”

Any committee recommendations for change will go to the Town Board, which would need to hold a public hearing before any proposals could be adopted. An updated plan would not change any zoning districts, though it could recommend alterations; any zoning changes would need to go through a separate Town Board approval process.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Categories: News, Saratoga County

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