Clifton Commons Blvd in Clifton Park on Friday, January 10, 2014, where the town announced new draft zoning regulations to create a "Town Center Program".
CLIFTON PARK Clifton Country Road has traditionally served as a major arterial pulsing through the town’s commercial center.
Anchored by Clifton Park Center to the south and with businesses sprouting in nearly every direction to the north, the bustling thoroughfare connects vehicle traffic along Route 146 with the many retail shops that have grown in clusters. Lacking from this road, however, is any section that is pedestrian-friendly.
Sidewalks and crosswalks are virtually nonexistent, meaning there are few pedestrian- or bicycle-friendly connections between the many businesses set back from the commercial corridor. As a result, having a vehicle is almost a must to connect with businesses on either side of the four-lane road.
A copy of the plan is available at www.cliftonpark.org. Click on the “Town Hall” link and view the “Recent Documents” column for the “Zoning Update-Town Center” link. Written public comments, questions, and feedback will be accepted until Feb. 21.
“You do need your automobile,” said Pete Bardunias, president of the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County.
But maybe not in the not-to-distant future. Clifton Park is now mulling a set of zoning changes and design standards that could gradually transform Clifton Country Road into a downtown area complete with storefront windows, decorative lighting, outdoor patios and attractive building facades.
Town officials released an 89-page draft of a plan that would establish a “boulevard zone” from Park Avenue north of Route 146 to McDonagh Way at the south entrance to the mall. The new classification would reduce setback regulations so developers would be encouraged to build mixed-use buildings closer to the divided thoroughfare.
“We are looking to decrease the setback requirements and allow in-fill development along that road,” said John Scavo, the town’s director of planning.
Town Supervisor Phil Barrett said the methodology behind the draft is to take what is a vibrant commercial area of the town and build on that success. He said the changes proposed in the draft should foster smart growth along the corridor and buildings that can be easily refilled with businesses when vacancies arise.
“We want to maintain the strong foundation we’ve built there and build on that success,” he said. “But we also want to sustain that success.”
The idea is to avoid the type of downturn Clifton Park’s commercial center saw during the late 1990s. The mall property — formerly known as Clifton Country Mall — struggled with occupancy and was facing the wrecking ball.
Eventually, 100,000 square feet was torn down. Anchor buildings were carved up to make way for small independent and franchise eateries. The rear of the mall and its back docks were moved to make way for storefronts facing Clifton Country Road. Also built was a five-story Hilton Gardens and a new cinema in the remaining original mall building.
Barrett said the revitalization has helped drastically improve the character of Clifton Country Road, and the goal now is to keep this momentum.
“You can’t do that without a game plan,” he said. “The town center plan and the zoning changes we’re considering now will provide a road map for redevelopment to transform the Exit 9 area in the future.”
The plan utilizes a form-based development approach, which provides for better predictability of development patterns. If adopted, the zoning update would serve as a guide to implement recommendations in the town center plan, which was adopted in 2012
The plan includes concepts such as creating usable open space, putting commercial buildings closer to the street and rear parking. Also included were requirements advocating — and in some cases requiring — taller mixed-use buildings with street-level commercial space.
Town officials are accepting comments about the plan until Feb. 21. Barrett said the hope is to make any final revisions to the draft so it can be considered for adoption sometime in the spring.
If approved, the plan will then be codified into the town’s land-use regulations. And then, over time, the vision of a downtown area for Clifton Park will start to materialize as future development occurs along the road.
Bardunias said businesses and the chamber have given input into the plan and are largely supportive. He said developers have also indicated the plan gives them guidance for what the town envisions for its future.
“They see it as something positive,” he said.