Malta nearing decision on downtown zoning

Disagreements over details spark debate at workshop

— Officials in the Town of Malta are still tweaking a new form of zoning for the downtown area, and the process is showing exactly how divisive big growth in a small town can be.

Members of the Town Board met on Monday, Dec. 17, for a workshop to discuss form-based code zoning. The town has been researching the new zoning practice since earlier this year along with Code Studio of Austin, Texas, in order to help meet the goals of the Downtown Master Plan the Town Board adopted in 2011. The $90,000 project is being funded by the Town of Malta and The Capital District Transportation Committee.

Form-based code zoning would essentially allow the town put in place more specific and area-targeted zoning restrictions that would otherwise have to be examined on a case-by-case basis, such as building height limitations. The initial FBC draft was presented to the board in July of this year. Some of the suggested changes included limiting building height to only three or four stories following negative public reaction to the five-story Ellsworth Commons mixed-use project that was completed in 2005.

Another suggested change would be to the allow projects that comply with zoning rules to get approval from the Planning Department rather than appear before the Planning Board. It was also suggested minimum lot sizes be set at 5,000 square feet and businesses with outdoor dining be exempt from parking requirements, since they would assumedly not be open year-round.

But on Monday, it was clear members of the Town Board have outstanding concerns on downtown issues despite having worked on form-based code zoning for months. The discussion became testy at times as board members accepted some revisions, but disagreed over others.

Councilman Peter Klotz wanted a definition of what is considered an “outdoor amenity.”

“I have concerns over what should be used,” he said.

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