A unified vision for the development of downtown Malta remains elusive after a Wednesday, April 30, public workshop on the issue. Though two projects have been approved and are under construction, design standards for further developments have yet to be finalized. Though the board discussed a moratorium, it was decided construction should continue.
Already approved by the town is Park Place, a proposed neighborhood of 238 condominium units, 60 single-family homes and roughly 115,000 square feet of retail space. The development will sit off of Route 9 near the Route 67 roundabout.
Ellsworth Commons where foliage is already being cleared for the construction of 310 apartments, 21 homes and 70,000 square feet of retail space will be located right across the street from town hall on Route 9. Developer Neil Swingruber of Albany Partners LLC says he hopes to begin vertical building in 30 to 60 days and finish up the project in about two years.
Design standards dictate everything from a building’s height and distance from the road to its color, and are vital for a unified result. Though these began as mere guidelines in the downtown’s visionary years, developers would not be obligated to build according to guidelines. Thus they were adopted as standards in 2004, when the prospect of actual construction was realized, and certain details have been in flux ever since.
There are still concerns with even the proposition of a downtown area, however. Some board members voiced concerns that the introduction of plots of condominiums, homes and stretches of retail space would not be in the spirit of Malta. Councilwoman Tara Thomas was particularly concerned about the possibility of a sprawling Malta downtown.
`I feel we’re going to lose our sense of place,` said Thomas. `I don’t believe this to be our identity. This [type of development] is Wolf Road. It’s not Malta.`
Though Town Supervisor Paul Sausville supports the projects, he acknowledged changes could be made. `The word I hear is that people like the downtown concept but feel we have gone too far with the building height and such,` he said. He suggested that further visioning was needed for the desired effect to be achieved.
For some ` such as former town board member Donna Gizzi ` the project is taking long enough as it is. `There have been umpteen workshops and now you want more visioning?` said Gizzi. Such sentiments may have contributed to the board’s decision to not pursue a moratorium.
Despite insistence that further study is needed on the issue of downtown development, it was decided that further outside consultation will not be garnered. `We’ve already spent a fortune on consultants,` remarked Councilwoman Sue Nolen.
Sausville noted that while the town’s planning board is capable of analyzing the issues at hand, it is also preoccupied with projects like the proposed Advanced Microchip Devices chip-fabrication facility at Luther Forest Technology Campus.
The AMD project was mentioned several times as a potential driving force behind downtown development. Though the town can’t force downtown construction along, the presence of AMD and the 1,405 jobs it promises to bring could increase the need for housing and services.
`[Construction] is driven by the developers,` said Councilman Peter Klotz. `If they see AMD come it might move along faster.` Though the town is engaged in negotiations with AMD, the chipmaker has not yet committed to LFTC.
Malta resident Joan Rivet would also like to see some forward momentum on the project. She, for one, would welcome further retail space in Malta with open arms, not only because she is tired of traveling to other towns for shopping but because more retail would contribute to the town’s tax base. `What are you doing in the town of Malta to help the property owners pay their taxes?` Rivet asked the council.
The council said it would like to hear more from residents like Rivet, and it will most likely provide the opportunity sometime in June. The board will also be meeting with the state Department of Transportation for a public workshop on Wednesday, May 14, at 6:30 p.m. at the Malta Town Hall to discuss DOT’s visions for Route 9.
Residents can visit www.malta-town.org for meeting schedules and agendas.“