COLONIE — The Capital Region’s largest town has begun the process of reviewing its comprehensive plan, which deals with zoning and economic development.
The plan review committee met with residents for the first time Wednesday, June 22. The committee will be examining the plan, which was created in 2005, to see if any updates are required. The committee will also take into consideration a 2010 review of the original plan.
Director of Planning and Economic Development Joe LaCivita said that a full array of expertise is included in the review committee. He also pointed out that no one who is currently on the review committee was on the original 2005 committee. Before any final plan can be adopted, it must be approved by the Albany County Planning Board.
“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but we want to move it to the next level,” LaCivita said.
The original 2005 plan said that there was potential in the town for 8,500 residential building lots and about 28.5 million square feet of additional commercial space. The town has come in under those numbers, with 1,300 single-family homes built and less than four square miles of commercial space developed.
During the development of the initial plan in 2003, a community survey was sent to every household in Colonie, of which there were about 35,000 at the time. About 4,900 out of the total 80,000 people responded to the survey. This time around, LaCivita said there will most likely be between three to five public meetings and focus groups held throughout the process.
The 2005 plan recommendations included paying more attention to the town’s older areas and being more active in providing maintenance for those areas. Another recommendation was to improve conditions along Central Avenue. It also recommended a strategic, internal expansion of the town.
“As an inner-suburban community (or first tier suburb), much of the Town is built out. While developable residential and commercial land does remain, some of this land is not as easy or desirable to develop today for a variety of reasons. The Town cannot spread outward, and should instead cultivate careful redevelopment of some of its older commercial sites as an alternative to continuing to develop primarily in new locations,” reads the 2005 plan. It encouraged the town to focus on redeveloping and updating older locations, as opposed to simply building new spaces or building outwards. It also encouraged “mixed use” centers.
Storm water management was addressed in the 2005 plan. It went over provisions currently in place for management, as well as budget predictions for dealing with improvement in managements in the future.
According to the 2005 plan, “an emphasis on focusing development and redevelopment into mixed-use centers could help the Town of Colonie accomplish many of its goals as described in the previous section. For example, greater housing diversity — in terms of housing type and price — can be provided in these areas. This includes housing for growing demographic groups such as empty nesters and seniors, and housing that reflects the trend toward smaller household sizes.”
Residents at the first meeting expressed alarm at the amount of development that has recently occurred in the town, as well as how quickly more projects are approved. Town Board member Jennifer Whalen backed their trepidation. At the meeting, Whalen mentioned that the town has been “okaying” frequent housing development in highly congested areas, and that there should be a focus on slowing growth in certain areas.
“We have to grow smartly,” Whalen said.
Colonie residents are also concerned about the high volume of traffic flow through most of the town, and are worried that more development will exacerbate the already difficult road conditions. Town Supervisor Paula Mahan agreed that driving can be difficult and estimated that around 152,000 vehicles could pass through on any given day because of its central location, despite the fact that the town population is only about 82,000. However, Mahan said that Colonie happens to be in a very strategic, central location, and that less development won’t necessarily stop the town’s traffic woes.
“We’re stuck being a crossroads to everywhere else,” Mahan said.
The initial plan did acknowledge the issue of traffic. Two of the top three concerns raised by residents who responded to the town’s community survey were traffic, and the lack of sidewalks, according to that plan.
The committee will meet next on Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. and it will be open to the public. In the meantime, according to LaCivita, there will be a webpage and email residents can send comments and questions to through this process. The entire original plan can be viewed at www.colonie.org.