The Colonie Town Board unanimously passed a law meant to streamline minor development and encourage developers to occupy vacant lots in the town at a Feb. 3 meeting.
The resolution adopted several laws to amend the Land Use Law of the town code would include the ability for the town to streamline the development process for minor projects.
The law would only apply to commercial developments, said Town Spokesperson Sara Wiest. But there would be three criteria that must be met to apply to skip over going in front of the planning board and start working with the Planning and Economic Development Department.
First, the lot would have to be less than 1 acre. If there are changes being made to the property, it could only be plans for an addition or other site changes other than demolition. The building would also have to have been occupied in the last 10 years so the department could assume that the water and sewage lines were up to code.
The idea is, if it’s a building that’s been vacant for 20 or 30 years, who knows what condition the water or sewer lines are in, said Wiest. `If it’s a commercial building that hasn’t been used for five year, to a degree you can assume everything is up to code.`
While this process would allow a developer to essentially go past the planning board, Planning and Economic Development Department Director Joe LaCivita ensures surrounding neighbors and neighborhood associations would be kept in the loop of what’s going on.
He added that developers will be encouraged to engage with neighborhood associations.
`It will be a criterion,` he said. `When it comes time for governing departments to make approvals, that’s what we’ll look for. We’ll look to see if we get something in writing from the neighborhood association.`
This will help expedite the time frame for projects going through the town’s review process, he added, but said he wants to see on record that the developer had interaction with the neighborhood associations, whether it is in the form of a letter or an email.
If there is something controversial regarding the project, Town Attorney Mike Magguilli said the Planning and Economic Development Department has the right to bring it before the planning board.
`It is certainly not the intent to limit the public’s comment,` he said, adding this process is not much different than what Colonie already practices. `This makes some changes as far as what’s considered a minor application. I think that’s where the difference is.`
This has happened recently in Colonie with the Wal-Mart project, as Magguilli said the subdivision originally came in as a minor project. But since the town believed the development would bring in a large amount of public comment, it was referred to the planning board.
LaCivita said that this law continues the trust the town has with its residents and continues to work with neighborhood associations.
`We want to continue to have accountability and openness with the town and its residents,` he said.
Newly appointed chairman of the planning board, Peter Stuto, said he fully endorses the new legislation and that it will bring more development to the town.
`I as chair think this is good legislation that will encourage redevelopment of smaller properties, and I would speculate that the rest of the Planning Board would agree and embrace this proposal,` he said.
LaCivita said that the law will also allow developers to work with organizations offering incentives such as the Colonie Industrial Development Agency, and that it is legislation that is long overdue.
`I think the policy is good policy,` he said. `It’s long been needed to go through the process.“