COLONIE — Members of the Comprehensive Plan Committee for the Town of Colonie met last week to nail down some of what they would like to see accomplished in the upcoming planning process, and to brainstorm ways in which they could best engage the entire town going forward.
At Wednesday night’s meeting Michael Welti, senior land use planner from the firm selected to guide the town through the plan review process, Barton & Loguidice said that the committee’s priority right now is to nail down the public outreach process. Welti, who was the primary author of the town’s first comprehensive plan in 2005, said that while looking back at the first plan he noticed that it was aggressive.
“One of the things that strikes me is how ambitious the document is,” Welti said. “In the beginning part of this process, the main things that we’re doing are taking stick of the current situation.”
He said the committee going forward needs to figure where the town is right now, but also focus on developing a future vision for Colonie and figure out where it should be in 15 years. In order to gather the information, Welti suggested a series of meetings that are targeted geographically, demographically and topically.
There will be three public meetings in the future. The first one will be focused on identifying issues that the town has. The second meeting will consist of brainstorming visions for the future, and the third meeting will tackle going over an initial draft plan with residents.
The goal of these meetings, Welti said, is to find out what the important issues for residents are early in the process, so the committee isn’t blindsided at later meetings.
“Hopefully, if we do our job well, when we get to the public hearings, we’re not going to be hearing things that are completely new. Hopefully, it’ll be things that we will have long ago already vetted,” he said.
There will also be interviews done with community leaders and organizations, and a possible roundtable with town officials and other department heads.
During the last plan review, the committee was able to target and identify issues on a geographical basis after meetings were held all over town, including North Colonie, Loudonville, Latham, South Colonie and West Side. A meeting was also held at the Beltrone Living Center, and committee members urged that be done again, due to the fact that seniors are less likely to come out to late meetings or visit the website.
During the last review, Welti noted that earlier meetings were geographically centered to identify issues, and more specific, topical meetings were held.
“The topical issues might be easier to find later on, once we have a better handle on what are the key issues that keep coming up. Then, it’s easier to identify certain topics that we want to focus a little bit more on,” Welti said.
Town Attorney Mike Maggiulli mentioned that the committee will probably be able to receive the most feedback via the website, and that they should make as extensive use of it as they can.
During the past few months, it has been projected that the plan review will be finished in 10 months. However, due to the amount of vetting and work still to be done, Welti said that meeting that it’s highly likely the plan review process will stretch past the 10-month timeframe.
Members of the committee also went over what they felt the strengths and shortcomings of the 2005 plan were. Strengths mentioned were the preservation of the Kettle Bog Pond, stormwater management regulations, increased walkability near The Crossings and Wolf Road, and incentive zoning. During the last plan, environmentally sensitive areas were also identified, which the planning board still considers while making decisions, and has made other boards in town aware of the issues with the environment.
Shortcomings of the plans included the gateway shrubbery concept, which was placed on Wolf Road but had to be reworked and replaced with concrete for safety reasons. Committee members also listed mixed use zoning as a problem area that should be reexamined.
Maggiulli pointed out that in his review of the original 2005 plan, he noticed a many similarities to Saratoga’s comprehensive plan.
“I think one of the things that we have to realize as we’re going through this is that the 2005 comprehensive plan itself and then the subsequent 2007 zoning law were both heavily modeled on the Saratoga zoning law and the Saratoga comprehensive plan — I mean, to the extent where when you’re reading through the Town of Colonie zoning law, you would find instances where they forgot to take out Saratoga. Some of the things that work for Saratoga do not for Colonie, and that’s something that we, I think, have to address as we go through the Comprehensive Plan and any subsequent amenities to the zoning law,” he said. “This is not Saratoga. Colonie has its own, unique physical features and needs that we have to address.”
Other issues that came up were expensive senior living and traffic issues. Peter Stuto, chairman of the Planning Board and committee member, said that he has heard of seniors selling their large homes and struggling to find smaller, affordable options. He also touched on other issues town officials hear about frequently.
“Traffic is a big issue we hear all the time,” he said.
“Expectations are always going to be really tough to manage where traffic is concerned. A lot of times, what we do to try to solve traffic makes things worse,” Welti acknowledged. Snow emergency regulations are another factor committee members might consider reexamining.
Joe LaCivita, director of the town planning and economic development department, said at the meeting that one of the major criticisms the committee has been hearing consistently is that they haven’t been getting information out to the public in a timely manner. However, during the period for public comment — in a tone notably less adversarial than past meetings — residents voiced their appreciation for how the committee has recently been conducting business, saying that they were glad the members utilized microphones during the meeting, and also that the Comprehensive Plan website had been updated.
Residents agreed with Maggiulli and said that going forward, the best and most efficient line of communication would most likely be the website.
“The plan itself is a living document,” Welti said. “It’s understood that things are going to change to some degree.”
The committee’s next meeting will be on Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. in the town’s Department of Public Works building.