Housing focus of annual Saratoga County event
Conference to aid municipal planners
SARATOGA SPRINGS The economic impact of residential housing will be a central topic at the ninth annual Saratoga County Planning and Zoning Conference on Wednesday, Jan. 30.
Elliot Eisenberg, a Maryland-based economist for the National Association of Home Builders, will speak after lunch in a session intended for all 500 conference participants.
“We’ve never had just one speaker for everyone,” said Tom Lewis, chairman of the Saratoga County Planning Board and one of the organizers of the conference.
The conference has become an educational event for people who serve on municipal planning and zoning appeals boards across the Capital Region.
Those board members — almost all of whom are volunteers — make many of the major land use decisions in their communities. Some have professional staff support, and others don’t, while land developers are usually represented by attorneys, engineers and architects.
That’s why the local conference was organized, to help those on the volunteer boards be better prepared.
The conference runs all day, with three sessions of 90-minute courses on a variety of planning topics, as well as the main session at 1:30 p.m. which will feature Eisenberg.
Lewis said Eisenberg will be challenging what’s become a piece of conventional wisdom among land use planners — that residential development has higher costs for a community than commercial development, because of expenses like water and sewer lines, road maintenance, and children sent to local schools from new developments.
Lewis said he’s heard Eisenberg speak and he offered charts, facts and figures to challenge that view, but the conference isn’t endorsing Eisenberg’s viewpoint.
“The purpose of the conference is land use. I don’t mind if we have someone with the exact opposite view next year,” Lewis said.
In general, groups like the National Association of Home Builders argue that home building creates jobs in both construction and manufacturing, and provides new tax revenue to communities where building is taking place.
Nationally, housing construction showed some improvement in 2012 for the first time since the recession, and the housing construction industry is forecasting more growth this year.
In addition to tracking with the national economy, the Capital Region economy is expected to see more housing growth in the next few years because of growth at GlobalFoundries, General Electric and other high-tech companies in the region.
The conference program will also include new course offerings like an explanation of form-based municipal zoning codes — the town of Malta is currently considering the first in the region, for its downtown area.
Another new seminar topic will be transfers of development rights — the much-discussed idea that landowners who want to preserve rural areas could transfer those rights to land in another part of their town, where development is being encouraged. It’s widely discussed, but no community in New York state has actually completed such a transfer.
The seminar will discuss some of the reasons.
“It sounds like a win-win to me, but somehow no one is doing it,” Lewis said.
In addition to Saratoga County — in which some communities have been experiencing growth pressure for more than 50 years — the conference draws attendees from Warren, Washington, Fulton, Montgomery, and even as far as Schoharie County, Lewis said.
Registration and course information is available under the planning department section of the Saratoga County website, www.saratogacountyny.gov.
The cost is $60 for attendees from Saratoga County who register by Jan. 16, and $70 for those registering from other counties. After Jan. 16, all registrations will be $80. The fee includes lunch.