Ballston Spa officials seem determined to stop at nothing in their effort to keep a vital human services agency from locating on the edge of the village’s downtown business district.
Not content to simply appeal a recent state Supreme Court decision affirming the right of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council to occupy the Hayner House, village officials are also proposing to eliminate the exemption under which the EOC sought the variance the Zoning Board of Appeals denied in July. They intend to drop providers of “other necessary human services” from the short list of allowable exemptions to the law requiring ground-floor occupants of downtown buildings to be used for retail sales. (Medical doctors, dentists, physical therapists and chiropractors are the only other exempt service providers.)
So if the village prevails with its appeal of the January ruling and eliminates the loophole, it will likely have banished the EOC once and for all. (A few years ago, the agency tried buying a different building, on Low Street, but withdrew after businesses objected.)
That would indeed be a shame, because it’s hard to imagine more vital human services than those provided by the council. Among them are the Women, Infants and Children feeding program, the Head Start preschool program (which wouldn’t even be operated at the site), home weatherization programs, Wheels for Work and the Latino Community Advocacy Program.
The agency has outgrown its Saratoga Springs office, and the Hayner House (formerly an office for the Ballston Spa National Bank) would allow for expansion. It would also make it easier for car-less residents of the village and town of Milton to access services they now must travel miles for.
Downtowns definitely need ground-floor retail to attract visitors, and while the EOC’s operation wouldn’t technically qualify, it would bring in plenty of people. Perhaps they wouldn’t be as well-heeled as the retail customers the village wants, but they’d probably be more likely to spend the money they do have in the village than currently.
Besides, the building doesn’t lend itself to traditional retail uses that well, and it’s on the farthest reaches of the downtown business district. Thus the fears of village officials and businesspeople seem greatly exaggerated.
We hope the Appellate Division upholds the lower court ruling, rendering the village’s effort to eliminate the vague exemption in its zoning law moot.