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2008-05-09
New Scotland, NY. Town Passes Six Month Moratorium Under Threat of Big Boxes

New Scotland, New York describes itself as "the best kept secret of Albany County." This small town, population 8,711, says on its website, "Today, this Jewel continues to charm and allure residents with its rural characteristics, suburban, agricultural and commercial qualities." This charm and quiet secret is being disrupted by a developer's plans to construct a 750,000 s.f. big box mall on a 179 acre farm in one of the town's 7 villages, Voorheesville, which has only 2,764 people. The goal of New Scotland is to "strive to preserve this beautiful region," so the big box proposal has become one of the most controversial projects in the history of this community. The town's comprehensive land use plan states that residents want commercial enterprises that meet their needs and that the stores not be a regional draw. In other words, residents in the town of New Scotland do not want big-box malls. Recently, the New Scotland planning was asked to impose a six month moratorium on all retail projects in excess of 30,000 s.f. The planning board voted not to support the moratorium, claiming that they did not have enough information about the proposal. But this week, 500 people packed the Voorheesville High School auditorium as the Town Board voted unanimously to put the moratorium in place. One speaker against the plan told the Board the huge project -- which includes an unnamed big box anchor -- was "unwarranted, unwanted, and unnecessary." The Cazenovia, NY.-based developer, Sphere Development, has said the project will not be anchored by a Wal-Mart, and some speculation has turned to Target. But the community could get stuck with either. The plans call for a half-dozen smaller retailers, a Shakespearean amphitheater, farmers market and environmental park. But it was the big box and the scale which created a furor in town. The Bender Melon Farm is open land located at the intersection of state routes 85 and 85A. If built it would be the fourth largest shopping center in Albany County, New York. A group of citizens has formed, the New Scotlanders for Sound Economic Development, and has collected more than 2,500 names of residents against the plan. "This is not an issue about no growth," said a spokeman for New Scotlanders. "This is an issue about sound growth and planning." The group say it is in favor of an appropriately-scaled project with strong citizen involvement. One woman told the Board that residents like the town's low-key visibility. "We like that anonymity, and we want to keep the town the way it is." The developer complained that the town did not need a moratorium. Sphere managing partner Gregory Widrick has admitted that the moratorium could kill the project. He said it was unfair to shut down the proposal before any plans were officially submitted. "It's like being put in jail before a trial actually occurs. All I'm asking is to give us a chance." But few people in New Scotland want to let this project out of jail. One resident told the Albany Times Union, "I felt like the 20th-century equivalent of a Native American about to cough up the island of Manhattan to a few white men for shiny glass beads."

What you can do: The irony with this proposal is that New Scotland has 8 Wal-Mart stores within 18 miles, including a superstore 6.5 miles away in Glenmont, and another superstore in East Greenbush, 11 miles away. So any resident of New Scotland who is addicted to cheap, Chinese imports, doesn't have far to go. "We are just losing the whole atmosphere," one resident testified, "and it did nothing for Glenmont when they put in a Wal-Mart. There is crime there now." Because Sphere Development has submitted no formal plans to the town, the moratorium gives the town and villages an opportunity to reshape their zoning code to match their Comprehensive Plan to keep retail locally-serving. A cap on the size of retail stores will prevent the Bender Melon Farm from becoming another piece of roadside sprawl -- regardless of who the big box tenant turns out to be. Readers are urged to email New Scotland town Supervisor Tom Dolin at tdolin@townofnewscotland.com with this message: "Please congratulate the town board for voting in favor of the big box moratorium. New Scotland is right to consider itself a jewel, and not let developers try to carve it up and commercialize it. I hope you will use the next six months to pass a zoning amendment that will limit the size of retail stores to 40,000 s.f, or just under an acre. This, along with other design rules, will protect the jewel of New Scotland."











 
 
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