CLIFTON PARK -- The town's second and final phase of planning to develop a town center is nearly complete.
According to town officials, a draft for comprehensive zoning adjustments, which will shift how development can be done and what structures are allowed in the eastern portion of the town center, will be the subject of a public hearing to be held at some point in September.
In May 2018, town officials and economic development planners hosted a public meeting 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 that plan.
The Town Center Plan was the result of a months-long study of how to create an urbanized, walkable downtown area near Exit 9 of the Northway in 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 Clifton Park Center Road to the south.
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, leading to the initiative.
The Town Center Plan focuses on combining living space, stores, parks and other activities to form a smaller community within the larger town.
However, to execute that 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, the town only tackled a portion of the Town Center Plan in its first rezoning process -- the area west of the Northway.
Town officials at the time said that area was targeted first because there were already projects in the works there, such as the Homewood Suites near the mall.
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.
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 cost the town $22,700, said Clifton Park Planning Director John Scavo.
After the public hearing, Scavo said, the town board can either approve the zoning changes or deny them.
The plan for the second phase of the town center plan, he said, is largely similar to zoning changes that were made during the first phase.
"We're really in the home stretch," Scavo said. "We took the form based code and expanded it west to Halfmoon."
If approved, he said, developers can begin to submit projects to the planning board that fit in with the town's idea of having a more urban downtown area in Clifton Park. Those applications, he said, will probably come quickly.
"I think there's always new projects coming," Scavo said. "It's a matter of when, not if."
According to Pete Bardunias, president and CEO of the Southern Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, who has been involved in the plan process in an advisory capacity over the last few years, the difficult part was putting together the first part of the plan. Now, with the form based code established, the crucial factor which will make phase two successful hinges on whether or not the plan allows for connectivity between the two areas.
"Clifton Park and Halfmoon should not be separate, it shouldn't be that difficult to get across," he said. "The whole purpose is to have more walkability. That's the biggest task that this group is trying to work on.