The town has adopted a new “form-based zoning code” to encourage mixed-use development in the evolving downtown area along Route 9.
Malta is the first town in New York state to adopt such a code, which sets strict building design standards, but then offers quick approvals to development proposals that meet those standards.
The new zoning was adopted Monday by the Town Board in a 4-1 vote, with Town Supervisor Paul Sausville casting the lone opposing vote.
“This is a product I am very, very proud of as it shapes the future of downtown Malta,” said town Councilwoman Tara Thomas.
Sausville, however, said the new zoning law will lead to establishment of a densely developed downtown in what has become a suburban town, and will prohibit some uses that already exist downtown, like gas stations.
“I think of it as trying to put a square peg into a round hole, an urban downtown Malta,” Sausville said before the vote.
Under the new zoning, four-story buildings such as hotels could be allowed just east of Northway Exit 12, and mixed residential-commercial buildings would become the norm in the downtown area. The law also incorporates “complete streets” and other measures for making the downtown more pedestrian-friendly to encourage people to live and shop there.
Projects that comply with the new zoning rules are eligible for administrative approvals by the town Building and Planning Department, rather than having to go before the town Planning Board.
Business groups, including the Saratoga County and Southern Saratoga County chambers of commerce, supported the new zoning.
“It provides the framework for feasible and sustainable smart growth in the town of Malta,” said Steve Gottmann, president of the Malta Business and Professional Association.
The previous zoning, in place since 2005, allowed high-density downtown development and allowed some massive buildings. Negative public reaction to the five-story Ellsworth Commons apartment-commercial project on Route 9 led to a new zoning review, and the new law requires that buildings be of a smaller scale.
“It was too big, it didn’t have design standards, and this really deals with those issues,” said Councilman John Hartzell. “I think folks will come forward now with projects we will really be proud of.”
The new zoning has been developed over the last two years using a $90,000 grant from the Capital District Transportation Committee. The grant allowed the town to hire Code Studio of Austin, Texas, to help rewrite the zoning, using form-based code principles.
The new law brings the zoning into compliance with the downtown master plan the Town Board adopted in 2011, which called for scaling back the size of new downtown buildings.
Malta’s downtown runs along Route 9 from Cramer to Knabner roads. It also includes parts of Route 67 east of the Northway, and a short part of Dunning Street.
Overall, town land use policy calls for promoting downtown growth in an effort to focus activity there, and keep other parts of the town suburban-rural.
Malta, which now has about 15,000 residents, is anticipating more residential and commercial growth to accompany the growth taking place at the GlobalFoundries Fab 8 computer chip complex in Luther Forest.
Sausville, however, said he is concerned about the fire and police protection costs of a highly developed downtown — and that those costs weren’t considered as part of the zoning change’s potential environmental impacts.
“It seems evident to me that there are some huge fiscal impacts from this,” he said.
Pending the zoning changes, there has been a moratorium on large-scale downtown projects for the last 17 months.
The board specifically exempted the proposed Malta Crossings mixed-use project on Route 9 from the new zoning, because it already had several town approvals before the zoning change. Its buildings will need to meet the new architectural standards, though, and work must start within the next five years.