The Ballston Spa Village Board has amended its zoning law to strengthen a requirement that downtown buildings have retail businesses on the first floor.
The board amended the law Monday to drop the exception for “other necessary human services” — wording that may allow a human services agency to move into the downtown against village leaders’ wishes.
“The village absolutely agrees that that wording is ambiguous,” said Mayor John P. Romano.
Medical offices will be the only permitted exception to the first-floor retail requirement.
The revised law also states that 80 percent of ground floor space must be retail, with the exception of “medical doctors, dentists, physical therapists and chiropractors.” References in the previous law to exceptions for hair and skin care and “other necessary human services” have been dropped.
The change was approved as the village remains in a legal dispute with the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council over that organization’s efforts to locate downtown.
EOC wants to move its offices from Saratoga Springs into the Hayner House building on Bath Street, which is several blocks from the main commercial street but considered to be within the downtown area.
EOC last year sued the village after the Zoning Board of Appeals rejected its application for an exception, saying EOC’s services don’t qualify as a “vital human service” under village law. State Supreme Court Judge Robert J. Chauvin in January ruled in EOC’s favor, however, citing the provision.
The village is now appealing that ruling to the Third Department Appellate Division in Albany. Village Attorney James Fauci said the appeal is a separate matter from the board’s decision to change the law — the EOC’s application preceded the law change, and so would not be affected by it.
EOC, a nonprofit organization, administers government-funded social benefit programs, including the Women, Infants and Children feeding program, the Head Start preschool program, home weatherization, Wheels for Work and the Latino Community Advocacy Program. It is looking to move from smaller offices in Saratoga Springs.
The group’s executive director wrote a letter to the village opposing the zoning change, but three local business owners spoke in support during a public hearing Monday before the change was adopted.
“The definition of ‘vital human services’ should remain broad to include services necessary for health and human welfare, such as the services provided by Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council, Inc.,” wrote EOC Executive Director Julie Hoxie.
Supporters, however, said the village has only limited space for retail sales, and downtown buildings should be reserved for it.
“We have to ensure we do everything possible, including legislation, to protect the business district,” said local business owner Jim Delpe.
The retail provision was originally adopted in 2007 as part of efforts to revitalize the village’s downtown area. The downtown currently has a high occupancy rate, with new businesses opening.
“All this is very fragile,” warned Cliff Baum, owner of the Coffee Planet and a supporter of the change.