Rotterdam's planning commissioners agreed to give town council members accountability for large economic projects that they had sought for months.
Commissioners approved amending the town's zoning code to require developers to apply to the town board for a critical impact permit by a 4-to-3 vote, along party lines in favor of Republicans, at their Tuesday, Oct. 17, meeting.
Councilman John Mertz, who began pushing for the zoning change after Wal-Mart announced plans to build a super center in town last year, explained the measure to planning commissioners.
The town board has to be directly accountable, Mertz said. "The message we're sending is that we are pro-tecting the quality of life for residents."
Planning Commissioner Lynn Flansburg disagreed, and said putting accountability on the board's shoulders politicizes the process.
Mertz said that large projects that could potentially have a detrimental effect on neighboring properties should have town oversight.
Permits would be required for developments for buildings with more than 100,000 square feet of floor space, buildings taller than 60-feet, creating or adding more than 50 employees, or residential projects with more than 75 dwellings.
Developers of such large projects would have to apply for a critical use permit from the town board at the same time they apply to the planning commission for a site plan or special use permit approval.
When commissioner Thomas Yuille asked if a project like Railex could potentially spend a lot of time and money to go through the planning process only to have the town board kill the project, Mertz acknowledged that could happen. He said the town board is considering adding an amendment to allow for granting waivers to developments in designated Empire Zones, such as the Rotterdam Industrial Park.
Flansburg questioned whether adding another regulatory hurdle for large developments would send a message that Rotterdam was not a business-friendly town.
Mertz said the town board has taken such an aggressive approach to economic development that he doubts that developers will be dissuaded by the modification to the planning process.
"The concept of having a town board have input on large projects is not surprising," Mertz said in defense of the measure he first introduced three months ago.
Voting in favor of the zoning change were Lawrence DiLallo, David Savini, Frank Renna and Richard Karp. Opposed were Robert Godlewski, Yuille and Flansburg.""