BALLSTON SPA – As the Village of Ballston Spa works to update its half-a-century-old comprehensive zoning plan, the village is poised to pass controversial legislation that will help regulate development in the meantime.
Supporters say the Planned Development District-enabling legislation creates appropriate guardrails to help preserve the character of the village, while opponents say the proposed legislation overreaches and will stymie growth.
The five-member Village Board of Trustees is still mulling legal wording changes to the proposed law, but with the three Democratic members in favor of the guardrails, the board is likely to approve them in the coming weeks, despite public opposition by the mayor and the chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Ballston Spa’s proposed legislation would establish certain development parameters up front for village parcels of at least 15,000 square feet, ranging from requiring energy-efficient lighting to capping streetside buildings’ heights at three stories to mandating sidewalks be ADA compliant.
The guidelines would require a pre-application meeting with the Planning Board, an initial review of the project by the Board of Trustees, a neighborhood work session, a detailed review by the Planning Board and a public hearing, and then a final review and vote by the Village Board of Trustees.
The development district-enabling legislation is meant to be a compromise between allowing unchecked development to take place under the current 1970s-era zoning laws and putting a temporary pause on development, said Trustee Ben Baskin.
“We see this PDD as a compromise. It’s meant to be a temporary measure between now and when permanent zoning laws are put in place,” Baskin said.
Trustees expect the village’s permanent comprehensive zoning plan to be drafted by the end of the year–though the timeline is loose.
The general idea of creating development district-enabling legislation came from former Mayor Larry Woolbright during the first half of last year. But the Board of Trustees ultimately decided the initial language was too vague. Last summer, the board approved spending more than $8,000 to work with Elan Planning, Design & Landscape Architecture to develop an updated draft of the PDD law that includes a more specific framework than the legislation drafted by former village attorney Stephanie Ferradino under Woolbright. Elan’s framework forms the basis of the current proposed law, though the language continues to be updated.
Baskin also floated the idea last summer of a total moratorium on development in the village until the comprehensive zoning plan is completed. But the moratorium discussion faced strong public criticism, and that idea never even made it to a vote.
The current PDD legislation is meant to serve as a middle ground between temporary suspension of development and development happening under outdated standards, proponents said.
“We don’t want to hold up development, but we don’t want it to occur under the current zoning laws,” said Trustee Liz Kormos. Under the current law, “you could construct something that would be completely out of character with the village,” including a “four-story vinyl-sided box with no windows,” Kormos said.
But Mayor Frank Rossi Jr., a Republican, said the Democrats are overblowing the zoning issues to install a system that gives the Board of Trustees substantial control over development in the village.
“Despite admitting no major development has happened in certain village zones over 50 years, they’re suddenly nervous that zoning laws are being abused or that owners of properties needing redevelopment need to be controlled,” Rossi said. “That’s not based in any reality and is a posture that could do damage to the village if this unnecessary need for control doesn’t stop.”
During the April 25 meeting, Anna Stanko, chairwoman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, said the proposed PDD legislation shows that the Board of Trustees lacks confidence in other village boards.
Rossi said overbearing PDD language scares investors and developers and leads to uncertainty, especially as a more permanent comprehensive plan sits on the horizon.
One such potential development site is the former Angelica Textile facility at 125 Bath Street owned by Jim Beaudoin. Following an environmental cleanup, the site was cleared for reuse by the Department of Environmental Conservation in 2019, but it’s yet to be developed. In a letter to Rossi, which the mayor supplied to The Daily Gazette, Beaudoin said he is “concerned” about the PDD legislation.
“The proposed ‘temporary PDD’ legislation appears to be counterintuitive to any goal of spurring redevelopment and runs counter to the Economic Development Plan the village had set out to achieve such community redevelopment,” Beaudoin wrote to the mayor.
But on Monday, Baskin defended the legislation as a way to prevent the village from being railroaded by a developer. He said a vague PDD law allows a developer to dictate the terms of a project, forcing the village to respond from a defensive position.
“[This law] puts the village in a stronger position,” Baskin said. “It says to the developer, here’s what we think is important. Fit inside that. We want to tell you these are the design considerations–fit inside it.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.