Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville has called on Malta residents to become more active in planning for the future of the town.
In a letter to the editor, published in several local newspapers but not The Malta Spotlight, he raised his personal concerns regarding what he called a misguided visionary idea of downtown Malta as another high-density urban population center.
Sausville also expressed his desire for a moratorium for downtown district.
`We need to fit within our skin,` said Sausville in a recent interview. `The developers are coming in and defining our town. We should be defining our town.`
The town’s building and planning coordinator, Heather Mallozzi, contends that the town of Malta has already done this by drafting and adopting the Malta Downtown Design Standards. The planning update committee, of which Sausville was chairman, completed the Downtown Design Standards in June 2003.
Mallozzi was also on the committee as were several town board members, several planning board members and several town residents.
The Downtown Design Standards included 10 specific areas of focus, which the document said `are intended to provide consistency, to assist property owners, and the town in developing a coherent and attractive identity in the downtown area.`
`The downtown standards provide a lot of flexibility,` said Sausville. `We gave the planning board that flexibility. The town board has to take responsibility for giving that leeway and broad flexibility without further direction.`
In commenting on the approved Ellsworth Commons, scheduled to begin construction later this summer, Sausville suggested that the height and appearance of the buildings as well as their uses were not what many town residents envision for the downtown area.
`We don’t want to be Saratoga Springs or Ballston Spa,` he said. Sausville said that while those places and other local municipalities may have planning designs that they are well known for, either positively or negatively, Malta has always had its own identity and he’d like to keep it that way.
Sausville suggested that the mixed-use components of Ellsworth Commons and Park Place are unnecessary. Both projects allow residential and commercial use on the same parcel. Sausville said these projects are creating more apartments than the town needs and contribute to an urban design inappropriate for the town. Sausville said the town’s two mobile home parks, Malta Gardens, and Northway Eleven Communities, plus Steeplechase, already meet that need. He said bringing in more people will contribute to traffic congestion, and the size and proposed uses of the buildings will require improvements or investments in emergency services, meaning tax increases.
Mallozzi said the town master plan calls for new places to live and work within the town, and said Steeplechase has a waiting list. She said that the impact on traffic and emergency services was considered when the town completed its generic environmental impact statement.
`This is smart growth, pedestrian-friendly and new urbanism design,` Mallozzi said. `It is the wave of the future.`
As for not looking like Saratoga Springs, Mallozzi agreed that Malta should retain its own identity, but said the town looked to Saratoga Springs as an example, borrowing from their design standards and hiring the same consultant, Bailliere Consulting, to assist in guiding the town through the master plan process.
`The process involved many people over many months during the moratorium,` said planning board chairman the Rev. Peter Klotz. The Town of Malta enacted a yearlong moratorium, ending in September 2005, while it completed its master plan update, townwide GEIS and Downtown Design Standards.
`It is a process but not a process that has an ending,` said Sausville. `It has to be ongoing.`
Suggesting that the Downtown Design Standards need some fine-tuning and tweaking, Sausville believes the best way to do that may be by instituting a moratorium on building within the downtown district. This is an idea that he has brought out for discussions at recent town board meetings and was not well received by the other members on the board.
`There is no downside to a moratorium. It lets us catch our breath,` said Sausville.
Mallozzi disagreed, noting that the town just ended a town-wide moratorium two years ago. She believes these projects coming in will give the town of Malta the economic base it needs.
Sausville also supports the town board `reassuming` some responsibility for bigger projects.
`I was a big advocate for giving that to the planning board but now I’m having second thoughts,` he said.
Sausville believes that the town board would have more clout with the developers, have more time to resolve the issue, have more available resources and has a right to expend public money if needed. Sausville said the planning board is made up of volunteers who already have a lot of responsibilities.
Klotz said the planning board is more than capable of reviewing projects, large or small, that come before the town. While the planning board cannot spend public money, he says it has clout with the developers by being able to cite the established guidelines, standards, and zoning put into place by the town board — things he says the town board does not necessarily have to take into account when considering a Planned Development District.
Additionally, the planning board dedicates significant amounts of time to the projects that come before it and often extends conversations with the developers over a number of months and even years.
Town engineers are at planning board meetings to provide guidance and advice. Additionally, New York State mandates four hours of annual training for planning board members.
Mallozzi suggested that all the boards should be better educated about the plans being adopted by the town both before and after their adoption. She suggested that being well versed in the planning documents will allow board members to move the town visions forward.
`Elected officials need to look out for what is right for the town, she said. `Look for what is going to benefit the community as a whole. Look at the big picture.`
Sausville believes that is what he is doing in his request to residents to come forward and voice their opinions on the progress of these visions. He said his contact with residents, through his door-to-door campaign to be re-elected as supervisor, is offering him these insights into the desires of the people of Malta.
Planning documents are available for review at the planning department in town hall or on the town’s Web site, www.malta-town.org.“