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Niskayuna Planning Board hears ideas for O.D. Heck use

Tuesday, February 11, 2014
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State officials are planning to close the O.D. Heck Developmental Center in Niskayuna.
State officials are planning to close the O.D. Heck Developmental Center in Niskayuna.

— Future use of the O.D. Heck Developmental Center property was the topic of a public hearing Monday night, with several residents wanting the right mix of residential and businesses there.

Niskayuna resident Kate Hamlin supported an idea for a new zoning classification in the town, one that would ensure a mix of the two. She also wanted the green space that is there now preserved.

She said she wants to see the property as something residents can enjoy, instead of something to be inconvenienced by.

“O.D. Heck is a beautiful piece of property. Of course we’re going to develop it, but let’s do it so it’s people-friendly, neighborhood-friendly, dog-friendly, children-friendly,” Hamlin told the Planning Board.

The Planning Board is considering a rezoning proposal for the 44-acre property off Balltown Road that would change the zoning from medium-density residential to neighborhood commercial. The new zoning would allow for a mix of business and residential use.

The zoning change proposal is coming from town officials. The proposal comes ahead of the expected closure of the state facility next year. The facility was one of four marked to be shut down as part of an ongoing effort by the state to reduce the number of people living in state-run institutional settings.

The 300 employees at O.D. Heck are to be offered opportunities for reassignment elsewhere.

The campus at the corner of Balltown and Consaul roads consists of a dozen 1970s-era buildings surrounded by green space. Properties to the north and south of the site have undergone development or improvements in the years since.

If the zoning remains the same as it is now, an estimated 150 to 200 homes could be built there. The number would depend on multiple factors, among them wetlands.

The proposal would exclude developments like Mohawk Commons or Mansion Square to the south. The Hannaford to the north, though, is in a neighborhood commercial zone.

The Planning Board would make a recommendation for the zoning change. Any final change would be made by the Town Board, with another public hearing held there.

Schenectady resident Marilyn Kaufmann said she’d like to see a more residential use for the property. But she also expressed concern about traffic and additional strain on Consaul and Balltown roads.

“I ask that anything you consider to do with that property, you would limit access to Balltown Road,” Kaufmann said.

Members of the town’s Comprehensive Planning Committee spoke, suggesting the new zoning classification, sort of a middle ground between the current zone and the proposed one.

Leslie Gold, a member of the committee that is finishing up the town’s new comprehensive plan, called the property a unique one. The neighborhood commercial plan wouldn’t require mixing of commercial and residential, she said.

Planning Board member Morris Auster questioned whether a new, focused zone might scare off developers. “Not to be cliche, but if you zone it, will they come?” he asked, noting that he didn’t know the answer.

Town Planner Kathy Matern said she wasn’t sure a new zone was the way to go. “I think there has to be some options,” she said.

With O.D. Heck not set to close until next year, there’s time to discuss it, Matern said.

 
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