COLONIE — A handful of people spoke at the third public hearing held by the Town Board on the proposed Comprehensive Plan on Thursday, April 18, and it will continue at the next regularly scheduled meeting on May 9.
The town is still working on what is being called a “profile” or 50 pages of demographic data including population, housing stock, utilities, environmental issues and constraints and an analysis of what makes up Colonie’s physical characteristics at this point in time, said Chuck Voss, a planner with Barton and Loguidice, an engineering firm hired to formulate the comprehensive plan. It will also include economic data and information about the two public school districts operating within the town’s borders.
It’s not clear why that information was not included until now, three years after the town decided to update the 2005 Comprehensive Plan and after the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee handed the proposal off to the Town Board to modify where it felt necessary and approve when ready.
When it is compiled and ready, it will be on the website for public review, Voss said.
Town Board member Jennifer Whalen started off the more than two-hour discussion by saying the goals set out in the plan were too broad and lacked any specific actions that officials could sink their teeth into and accomplish.
“We have spent three years devising this update, and we spent $130,000 for experts but when you look at the recommendations for the future like ‘establish and facilitate better communications between the Planning Board and the public’ … it seems like a no brainer. I’m glad it’s in there, but really. It seems kind of basic and something we should already be doing,” she said. “We have impressive sounding language, but to me it doesn’t say anything.”
She said rather than the ambiguous statement, which is one of the goals to accomplish within one or two years according to the draft plan, she would prefer a concrete objective like having the town live stream Planning and Zoning board meetings as a way to improve communication with the public.
“When we see over-broad language it is a warning sign. It’s meaningless. It gives whoever is interpreting this the right to do whatever they want,” she said. “We need something more specific. This lacks something we can sink our teeth into.”
Voss said it is up to the individual municipality to determine how broad or specific the Comprehensive Plan should be and it was determined by the CPAC to keep it on broad and allow the elected town officials to determine how to achieve the objectives.
“The 2005 plan was relatively broad and overarching and it took a couple years to implement those recommendations,” Voss said. “The CPAC group did not want to get too specific on recommendations but instead wanted to leave that to the town leaders.”
After the Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2005, town officials at that time used it as a basis to change the legally binding land use laws and also changed some likewise legally binding zoning regulations.
Many of the same topics were discussed at the last public hearing session as the first and that includes development, implementing complete streets, dealing with traffic congestion and road safety and the process the town is following to implement the plan.
Resident Edward Schmidt said the plan should include more information on what the town was like 15 or 20 years ago and what it is like now in order to get a better idea of where it is headed in the next 15 or 20 years.
“I don’t see anything in this document about how much wetlands have disappeared,” he said. “I think we need to know where we came from, and where we are now to determine where we are going in the future.”
Supervisor Paula Mahan said some of that information will be available in the yet to be made public “profile” section of the Comprehensive Plan.
Resident Bruce Benton said the plan should include calling for a mechanism to better monitor the tax incentives given by entities like the town’s Industrial Development Agency.
And resident Pat Auger wants the speed limit on some town roads to be slower than 30 mph. But, state law says towns cannot set a speed limit slower than 30 mph whereas villages can set it as slow as 25 mph.
Four members of the grassroots group SAVE Colonie, a Partnership for Planning, criticized the town for basing the plan on insufficient data, for not allowing the public to see the public comments, not factoring in global warming or the benefit of solar farms, not including enough about saving trees and the overall process being followed by the town.
One member of SAVE said that since the Town Board has already made modifications to the plan presented by CPAC with plans for more modifications, that it should go back to the citizens group for its approval before it is formally adopted by the Town Board.
“I have been in contact with the chair of the Planning Board who was on the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee and other committee members to see if they had any further suggestions,” Mahan said. “Right now we are working with our consultants to get it to the point where we feel comfortable to vote. You are looking at it from your perspective and I see it from this side and how hard everyone is working and how far we came.”
The public hearing was adjourned until May 9. At that time, the Town Board could vote to send it to Albany County for its approval or it could adjourn the hearing again to get more public input.