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Malta zoning revision nears completion

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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— Town officials are close to finishing a rewrite of Malta’s downtown zoning that would scale back the size of new projects, but still encourage dense development in the area.

The town has had a moratorium on large projects since September 2011, pending the zoning rewrite. The Town Board on Monday extended the moratorium until March 4.

Board members hope to have their work done by then, and perhaps a month sooner. Tentatively, plans have been made to hold a public hearing Feb. 4, and the board could act after that.

The proposed zoning revisions will reduce the size of buildings allowed in the downtown area around routes 9 and 67, where current zoning has allowed buildings up to five stories high.

The new zoning would allow four-, three- or two-story building heights, depending on what part of the downtown they would be in.

“It’s significantly less development potential than under the current code,” said Chris Round, director of planning for The Chazen Companies, the town’s engineering and planning consultants.

Four-story buildings would be allowed just east of the Northway under the proposed changes, under the belief a hotel might go there. Mixed residential-commercial buildings would become the norm downtown.

The current goal is to bring the zoning law into compliance with the downtown master plan the Town Board adopted in 2011, which sought to reduce the height of new buildings. A master plan sets out a vision for future land use, while zoning is the legal mechanism for enforcing that vision.

Called a form-based code, the proposed zoning emphasizes building size and exterior design, incorporating design standards not usually included in a zoning law.

The $90,000 effort to rewrite the law is being funded by the Capital District Transportation Committee and the town. It incorporates “Complete Streets” and other ideas for making the downtown area more pedestrian-friendly, to encourage people to live and shop in Malta’s downtown.

Malta’s downtown area runs along Route 9 from Cramer to Knabner roads. It also include parts of Route 67 east of the Northway and a short part of Dunning Street.

The town master plan calls for focusing development on the downtown area, and keeping other parts of the town somewhat rural.

The current zoning has allowed high-density downtown development. But construction of the massive Ellsworth Commons apartment-commercial project on Route 9 led to calls for reducing building sizes.

 
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