CLIFTON PARK — Town residents put their collective feet down Tuesday against a housing development proposal that would see the amount of homes doubled from an earlier plan.
The planning board heard from Waite Road residents for more than two hours Tuesday night. At issue was a newly proposed development that would be comprised of up to 68 homes along the rural road.
The Waite Road project was originally much more modest. In 2011, Belmonte Builders received the go-ahead from the planning board to build 33 single-family homes on a 125-acre meadow site. Now, due to the town's open space incentive zoning law, developers with plans for the western part of town are able to seek greater building density, in exchange for permanent land conservation or cash that the town would put into a fund specifically for open space preservation.
For each extra house built, Belmonte would pay the town $30,000, coming to a total amount of just over $1 million for the new project.
On May 1, the Town Board, which has the final say on such proposals, passed the project to the planning board for a non-binding recommendation on whether the town should approve the density increase.
Residents expressed concern that the the western part of town might become as developed as other areas of Clifton Park.
Sharyn Battaglia has lived with her husband on Waite Road for more than 40 years. At the meeting, she said the Belmonte project belongs in a more developed part of town. Additional noise from the new homes, she argued, would ruin the quiet country life Waite Road residents were looking for when they purchased homes there.
"This is no place for a 68-unit development, where the lots are small and the new residents will be crowded together," Battaglia told the planning board. "What will their quality of life be? Thirty-three units were approved six years ago, and still that is too many for this rural road. Sixty-eight units will be a disaster and ruin our quality of life as we know it now.”
The town's Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) states the western side of town should remain more rural and less developed. The new proposal, residents argued, seemed to be in direct contradiction of the GEIS.
Residents also expressed concerns about noise, a lack of privacy and traffic. Waite Road, they said, already sees congested traffic and accidents on nearby Route 146. Adding 68 more homes to the mix, they argue, would increase traffic and make the road more dangerous.
Wendy Wagner, another longtime Waite Road resident, said at the meeting that she has serious concerns about how the development would disrupt wildlife. She walks near the site three times a day and said the area is one of the last remaining meadows in Clifton Park.
"I don't even know where to begin or what to say because I'm very passionate about protecting this meadow," Wagner told the planning board. "If this one goes, they're all going to go like dominoes."
Wagner added that she understands the monetary incentive to approve the project, but she doesn't see how it would benefit Waite Road residents.
"The wildlife, and the wild spaces, do not pay the taxes, but they contribute a great deal to our quality of life," she said.
The planning board, while fielding questions, came down divided on the issue of whether to send the Town Board a positive or negative project recommendation. After hours of public comment and discussion among themselves, board members grappled with the fact that Belmonte was utilizing the open space incentive as it was intended. But there is a desire to keep the western part of town relatively undeveloped.
Board member Jeffrey Jones weighed in against a positive recommendation and said that, to him, the new proposal was too much.
“I personally think 68 is too dense,” he said.
But board member Eric Ophardt disagreed, saying the concerns expressed by residents were details that would be addressed later in the design process. The number of homes, he said, could go down.
"Those are all issues that are going to go into the final design of the project," he pointed out. "I think what we’re being asked to look at tonight is just whether 68 homes is okay under the incentive zoning. And, the way I look at it, it is."
Some board members weren't sure where they stood. Andrew Neubauer said rural suburbs everywhere are facing more development than in the past.
"I’m not sure; I’m really not," he said, noting that developers have the right to develop on their land. But, he added, residents also have the right to be concerned over their neighborhoods changing too much.
“I know it’s very emotional when we talk about your backyard," he said. "Every proposal that comes before us as a planning board, that’s who we hear from, because you have rights, too.”
Ultimately, a motion to provide a negative recommendation to the Town Board failed. But a motion to make a positive recommendation also failed. Now, a written document containing extensive comments made by the public and board members, along with a description of the two motions and justifications behind the votes, will be sent to the Town Board.
"The Town Board is awaiting the written recommendation from the Planning Board and will then take the next steps after they’ve received it and had a chance to review it," town spokesman Matthew Andrus said Wednesday afternoon. It could take up to a week for the recommendation to be drawn up and officially sent to the Town Board.
Planning board chairman Rocco Ferraro said that, in his opinion, there were obvious pros and cons with the project that make it difficult to simply pick a side. He touted the open space incentive, pointing out the town had been able to acquire land by the Mohawk River through the same rule, but he also struggled to find a way such heavy development would make sense on Waite Road, given the intent of the GEIS.
"It’s not simple black and white. That’s the bottom line," Ferraro said.