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Clifton Park gears up for town center zone expansion

Clifton Park gears up for town center zone expansion

'For Exit 9 to be successful, we need to evolve and change, based on the realities'
Clifton Park gears up for town center zone expansion
Construction of buildings on Clifton Country Road in Clifton Park is seen on Friday, May 11.
Photographer: Erica Miller

Clifton Park is gearing up for the second phase of planning for its future town center.

Town officials and economic development planners will hold a public meeting later this month at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library to provide information about the town's Town Center Plan, which was created in 2012, and subsequent zoning changes that have been enacted to facilitate construction of apartments and mixed-use buildings called for in the plan.

The Town Center Plan was the result of a monthslong study of how to create an urbanized, walkable downtown area near Exit 9 of the Northway, comprising just over one square mile of property. 

Specifically, the town center is bordered by Moe Road to the west, the town of Halfmoon to the east, Plank Road to the north and at Clifton Park Center Road to the south.

Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett explained that the Town Center Plan was born out of a desire to develop the Exit 9 area as a commercial focal point between the cities of Albany and Saratoga Springs.

The town had some early success, as major retailers took up space in the mall on Clifton Park Center Road, including Boscov’s in 2000. As the years went by, though, it became clear that it would take more than brick-and-mortar stores to bolster Exit 9 and the town, Barrett said.

“For Exit 9 to be successful, we need to evolve and change, based on the realities,” he said. “Change and transition are not always easy.”

The Town Center Plan focuses on combining living space, stores, parks and other activities to form a smaller community within the larger town.

But to execute on the downtown vision, Clifton Park was forced to amend its zoning laws. 

In 2015, the town implemented a Town Center Form Based Code, which spells out what type of development would best serve the area and be most consistent with the overall vision, as opposed to standard zoning laws, which only touch on what is allowed in an area and what is not.

Because of cost constraints and the magnitude of the project, Clifton Park Planning Director John Scavo said, the town only tackled a portion of the Town Center Plan in its first rezoning process -- the area west of the Northway.

That area was targeted first because there were already projects in the works there, such as the Homewood Suites near the mall, Scavo said.

“Things were turning and things were happening there already,” he said. “It just seemed to be a greater opportunity at that point in time.”

Since the zoning amendment, there have been four apartment projects proposed for the town center by various developers. If all are approved, the west side of the town center will see 159 new apartment units. There will also be a 37-acre public park on land that the town recently purchased from the Shenendehowa Central School District.

Of the proposed apartment projects, three have been approved by the Planning Board, including the Rosegate Apartments, Windsor Village Plaza Apartments and a three-story apartment building on Clifton Park Center Road

Another proposal, titled the Hamlet of Clifton Park apartments, would bring another 48 apartments to the town center. That plan was presented to the Planning Board in April. 

Rosegate, proposed by Fortress Partners LLC, will have 36 apartments on Maxwell Road. The Windsor Village Plaza will have 36 units on the top floor, with retail space on the lower floor, and the Clifton Park Center Road project will consist of 39 apartments.

None of the developers who have proposed apartments in the town center area are receiving tax breaks for the developments, according to the Planning Department.

Windsor Development Group did not return multiple calls seeking comment on the scope of that project, and a phone number listed on project proposal documents for Fortress Partners LLC was not in service, as of last week.

At various Planning Board meetings, however, Scavo and project engineers for the apartments have consistently said the target demographic for the new living options are young professionals and older residents who are looking to downsize.

As the town prepares to start phase two of the Town Center Plan zoning amendments, observers of the first phase have predicted the remaining work won’t be as costly.

Pete Bardunias, president and CEO of the Southern Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said the goal now is to make sure the town center vision is complete on both sides of the Northway.

The first phase was tough, he said, because the town had to grapple with creating something brand new.

“On the western side, you’re creating a downtown,” he said. “That was a lot of work.”

Now, he said, the town has experience to build from.

“It won’t be on the scale of what was happening with the western side,” Bardunias said. “By and large, I think it’s pretty much going to fall into place.”

Michael Valentine, senior planner for Saratoga County, said that the town was very clear in setting parameters for the town center in 2012.

Valentine was involved with the planning process for the town center six years ago and noted that Clifton Park was adamant that massive skyscraper buildings would not be permitted.

Subsequent zoning amendments allow buildings that are three stories tall in certain town center zones.

“The town had one thing they fought for,” Valentine said. “They didn’t want developers coming in saying they want six-story apartments. They knew what they spent their money on. And they knew what they spent their time on studying. They stood by that.”

Since 2006, the town has spent $55,000 on the town center planning efforts, including a study focused on Exit 9 and the zoning amendments. A majority of the work was federally and state funded, including grants from the Federal Highway Administration, the United States Department of Transportation, the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, the Capital District Transportation Authority, and Saratoga County.

The zoning plan for the eastern portion of the town center is estimated to cost the town $22,700, said Scavo.

The first meeting for phase two of the project is scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 22.

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