In an effort to create more business opportunities, the Colonie Town Board has come up with a special use permit that officials say allows for a more “common sense” approach to development.
In early May, the board passed Local Law Number 8, a resolution approving special use permits in areas that aren’t necessarily business zones.
Pre-viously, if a person wanted to open a business in a place that wasn’t zoned for business, they would have to go through the cumbersome process of getting that zone reclassified. Now, if that business meets qualifications for a special use permit and the zoning board deems it an acceptable use, it will be able to move on to the next step of the process.
“The reason it changed is because the town really started looking at the use variance process, and one of the key components to a use variance is that you have to show a financial hardship,” said Director of Planning and Economic Development Joe LaCivita. “You had to exhaust all the permitted uses in a zone in order to make a project feasible. In doing so, it also takes out what I’m going to say is the ‘common sense’ development: Does a project fit? Does it make sense to do that? That’s why I think the special use permit is a great option,” said LaCivita.
Previously, in order to get an area rezoned, the developer had to prove the project would not alter the character of the neighborhood, that there was a financial hardship and there could not be a reasonable return on the sale of the property, and that the property was unique. This made it very difficult for the town to allow projects outside of areas like Wolf Road or along Central Avenue.
Now, in order to get a special use permit, the applicant would first go to the zoning board of appeals to see if the plan meets the board’s criteria. From there, they would go to the planning board.
While special use permits may allow things like restaurants in residential areas, that doesn’t mean a business will be able to open up anywhere.
“Saratoga, I think Guilderland, Clifton Park — they all pretty much go by special use. Everything is special use. So it allows you to take the project in on merits and make for that common sense development, you know, does it fit in that neighborhood?” said LaCivita.
LaCivita said that the Land Use Law Committee, which meets once a month, has been talking about the special use permits for a few months. The committee typically discusses what laws are working and what laws aren’t or how the best way to adjust a law.
“The amended law provides a fair process for all parties involved. It allows for development projects to be approved based on their compatibility with the neighborhood and suitability for the parcel, while maintaining the integrity of the existing planning process,” said Town Supervisor Paula Mahan.
While this makes the process slightly easier and opens up areas to for business that may not have seen certain projects, it isn’t a free pass.
“It still gives the developer the opportunity to go forward in the process and get to the board that can grant the approvals for the development. If it comes to public outcry, if it doesn’t meet design standards, if it’s too intense a use, the planning board still has the opportunity to deny that project,” said LaCivita. “I think the SUP is going to be a really good process for us because it’s going to really allow the boards, the zoning board and planning board, to do some good developments moving forward.”