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What you need to know for 02/21/2017

The suburbs get denser

The suburbs get denser

Editorial: Traditional suburbs relaxing zoning to allow for mixed-use development

If you've driven on Route 9 in Malta recently after not having done so for a while, you'll notice some significant changes. Rotaries, sidewalks, multistory buildings close to the road, apartments, all in close proximity. What's going on? It's called suburban densification, or compact development, and while Malta is the first to do it in a big way in the Capital Region, it's happening all over the country.

One major reason is that today's young people, especially young professionals like those who will be working for GlobalFoundries, don't want to be totally isolated. If they are to live in the suburbs , they want access to shopping, restaurants, cultural and recreational facilities. They want to be able to drive less, walk more and have the option of public transportation.

This isn't possible in the traditional suburb , which has zoning that strictly segregates housing, commercial and industrial activities. Buildings are typically single-story and single-use, set back far from the road with parking in front. Largely because of this zoning, everything is spread out and far apart, making cars obligatory, to the point that sidewalks are often nonexistent.

The opposite of this is mixed-use development, which more and more suburbs , like Malta, are moving toward. They are easing restrictions on building heights, reducing or eliminating parking-space and setback requirements, allowing apartments to be built over ground-floor retail - just like in the city.

Sidewalks connect everything in these densified suburbs , and often they're connected to the rest of the world through either bus or rail service. Malta residents already have the bus option, and could soon have rail as well if New York and Vermont, which are currently studying the possibility, decide to run a train from Schenectady through Mechanicville.

The other reason suburbs are allowing some areas to be more dense is that it allows other areas to remain rural or open space, which is what attracted people in the first place. Densification will give their residents the best of both worlds.

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