The town of New Scotland is one small step closer to the process of passing a law that would allow the building of senior housing developments.
Currently, there is no senior housing within the historically rural town due to underdeveloped zoning laws that do not allow the building of a senior housing project, a longstanding issue the town first began addressing in 1994 in its comprehensive plan. Development pressures have brought the issue to the forefront. It’s something we’ve been looking at for quite some time, but wanted to do as comprehensively as possible, said town board member Richard Reilly, who said a goal of the town is to keep New Scotland as vibrant and affordable as possible.
`We would lose that if our seniors are forced to move out of the community,` he said.
On Wednesday, Sept. 12, the town held its second public hearing on the issue, and while many residents spoke in favor of having senior housing built, the planning board will continue to review the many comments from residents who believe the current proposal needs improvement.
`We want them to give us their expert analysis, so we can design as good of a law as we can,` Reilly said of the planning board, adding that he thinks, overall, residents are happy the town is taking action.
`By and large people are glad to see the town is dealing with this,` he said.
The history of the current proposal stems back to March 2004, when the town Supervisor Ed Clark presented diagrams of a senior living community proposed by developer Charlie Carrow to be built on an 8-acre commercial lot adjacent to Route 85 in New Scotland.
The project consisted of two phases, the first a medical arts building and the second, senior housing.
After months of review, in August 2005, the board approved a building permit for the project, which, according to Reilly, it deemed an `excellent proposal.`
In 2006, Reilly explained, Carrow split with his partners, temporarily postponing the building of the medical arts building. However, Baron Construction took an interest in the project, and the medical arts building was eventually completed, and now adds $1 million to the town’s commercial tax base. Reilly said that in August of that same year, Carrow looked to begin phase two of the project, senior housing. Since the current zoning laws within the town fell short of allowing a senior community development, Carrow suggested the town adopt a senior overlay zone that would permit a residential development on a commercial property, a proposal that had been approved in the neighboring towns of Bethlehem, Guilderland and Colonie.
The overlay proposal received criticism from a few residents, who accused it of being dangerously close to `spot zoning,` a term, according to Town Attorney Mike Mackey, courts developed to deal with a situation where there is a rezone that is not consistent with a comprehensive or well thought-out plan.
However, after reviewing the project, Mackey concluded that the project is not spot zoning at all, but would be classified as a `special use.`
`Often, when someone is opposed to a proposed zoning change, they will use the term ‘spot zoning’ in reference, but very rarely do the courts determine that something is spot zoning,` he said.
According to Mackey, zoning amendments like the one Carrow is proposing are done all the time, and municipalities have a great degree of latitude in setting their zones, and have the freedom to make those amendments.
Mackey said that ultimately, for the proposal to be passed, `The town really has to show that it is well thought out, consistent, and a legitimate use of the property,` he said.
The planning board is in the process of reviewing all of the residents’ comments before possibly revising the current senior housing proposal. Any updates will be discussed at future town and planning board meetings.
The next town board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 26, and the next planning board meeting will be on Tuesday, Oct. 2. For more information on meetings, visit the town Web site at www.townofnewscotland.com.