It looks as if the town of Niskayuna may have learned something from the man-made disaster at the corner of State Street and Balltown Road, where a lovely piece of green space with rolling hills and majestic trees was leveled to make way for a shopping center known as Mansion Square.
With the state having recently announced that it will be closing the O.D. Heck Development Center just up the street at Balltown and Consaul next year, the town is reviewing how best to use the property and whether a zoning change is necessary (the parcel is currently zoned medium-density residential). That’s the right way to do it — before a developer comes along with a project.
Communities with state institutions that have closed have often had a hard time finding something to replace them. But many are located in remote, rural areas with few people and depressed economies. That, of course, isn’t the case in Niskayuna. The Heck site will be developed sooner or later. The only question is how.
This is an opportunity for a real mixed-use development, the kind that suburbs, including Niskayuna, don’t have — indeed their zoning codes in most cases don’t even allow. Residential is here, commercial is there, and never the twain shall meet. Not only is that inconvenient for residents, it means they have to drive everywhere — which inhibits a sense of community, and is bad for their health as well as the environment.
With 44 acres, the Heck site is perfect for a mixed-use development that includes housing and some small businesses, along with the trails, woods and green space now there.
The Planning Board is considering a proposal that would change the medium-density residential zoning to neighborhood commercial, allowing this kind of mixed-use development. That’s exactly what the board should recommend, and the Town Board should approve. It’s called smart growth, the kind Niskayuna needs.