“It really seems that many of these recommendations are specifically [for] the purpose of making this thing go smoothly, of allowing this gas station to occur in that location,” said local planner Matthew Rudikoff.
On Thursday the Montgomery Town Board held a public hearing on their proposed Comprehensive Plan, to mixed reviews.
Although it had previously been touted as the possible cure to the ills of large-scale development in Montgomery, some town residents and business owners are now asking if the proposed comprehensive plan is instead being used as a vehicle to allow a large gas station into the heart of the town.
Planner Max Stach, retained by the town, explained in a short presentation the various land uses proposed in the new Comprehensive Plan, ranging from Open Space and Recreation to Heavy Commercial/Industrial. There is also a proposed new area called High-tech, which includes the “former outlying industrial areas” that are not close to interchanges.
“The idea behind the high-tech is that we’re going to limit the type of heavy distribution trucking terminals and warehousing that generates a lot of heavy vehicle traffic and instead we’re going to try to promote high-tech uses,” said Stach.
The hope is that this will still generate jobs and economic growth, but without the impacts of heavy commercial industrial warehouse areas like those along Neelytown Road and Stonecastle Road.
The plan also includes recommendations such as: future river trails, agritourism, promotion of the business council, transportation improvement districts, dark sky lighting, promotion of historic resources like the mastodon discovery, coordination of services and much more.
“Eventually the town board is going to adopt zoning that will actually be the law of the land and will prescribe what can be built where,” said Stach.
“This is a broader, aspirational, goal-based document that says this general area of the town is good for residential, this general area is good for commercial or other types of uses. It’s not lot-by-lot specific.”
Some residents made recommendations for small changes, like Sylvie Rainaldi, who asked that the town add a sentence of explanation in the section about Transfer of Development Rights.
Others protested the change that would allow for a large gas station at Scotts Corners.
Resident Lou Shorette told the board that if the gas station is approved, the town will “lose the memory of the four corners” and pointed out that the town didn’t need another gas station with seven already located within two miles.
He went on to question the board’s motives, asking if they had created the comprehensive plan in order to go forward with the proposed QuickChek gas station.
“No, I don’t think I would say that the comprehensive plan was designed in mind for any one specific development,” said Supervisor Brian Maher.
Local attorney Albert Roberts argued that the changes proposed by the town for the Scotts Corners area “cannot be implemented” for several reasons, such as lack of jurisdiction over state highways and “enormous” costs to residents and local business owners for traffic improvements.
“It would be disingenuous for the town board to adopt a comprehensive plan that is impossible to implement. That is precisely my concern for the recommendations for Scotts Corners. They are simply the proverbial pie in the sky,” said Roberts. “I would ask that the town board ask its professionals to advise the town board and the public and its constituents of the legal authority to implement these—I’m sure they’re well-intentioned—but totally implausible and probably illegal proposals.”
Local planner Matthew Rudikoff, who is working with Roberts, also spoke to the board, explaining that he had reviewed the plan and noted an odd amount of attention focused on Scotts Corners.
“Then when I started looking at the application for the QuickCheck…I got the idea of what was happening with the Comprehensive Plan,” said Rudikoff.
Rudikoff asserted that many of the references to the possibilities for Scotts Corners were targeted to the specific site of the proposed gas station—the corner of Route 17K and Route 208 where the Crossroads Restaurant is currently located.
As it stands, the proposed plan would designate that location as Community Commercial and only allow uses that would be typically found in a village or hamlet—and large gas stations. He said that the proposed gas station would include 8 fueling stations and an almost 7,000 square foot convenience store—not something he would expect to see in a village or hamlet.
In a prior letter to the board, Roberts stated that the proposed gas station would need 14 variances in order to be approved under the current Comprehensive Plan and zoning.
“Competition is a good thing. There’s a lot of gas stations in the town and they are hardworking people and they know about competition,” said Rudikoff. “But the amount of help that the gas station at that corner, the southwest corner, is getting, really takes it out of normal free market competition.”
Members of the town board and Comprehensive Plan Committee (CPC) denied any such consideration during the process.
“We didn’t look at any single property or any single project when we were building this comprehensive plan,” said Councilwoman Cindy Voss, who also served as chairperson of the CPC. “If that’s what came across, I’m not sure why that did.”
Roberts urged the board to consider deleting “large gas stations” from the Comprehensive Plan for the area.
Meanwhile, others like former planning board member Bill Kelly, praised the town and the CPC for their hard work.
“I saw a lot of issues that concerned me while I was on the board and as far as I’m concerned, [the comprehensive plan is] a plus,” said Kelly, who also served on the last CPC for the town. “I think there’s been a lot of work done on it and I think it looks pretty good.”
He also had concerns, however.
As the chairman of the Orange County Aviation Board, he is worried about development in areas that are designated as departure paths for the Orange County Airport. He noted that the airport is currently full with 175 aircraft and they receive daily requests for expansion.
“Any development in those areas would be critical to the operation of the airport,” said Kelly.
The board voted to conclude the public hearing, assume lead agency status and adopt parts 1 and 2 of the Environmental Assessment Form. They expect to have part 3 in two weeks and are currently waiting for feedback from the Orange County Planning Department.
The public hearing will remain open for written comment only until June 15 at 5 p.m.
Meanwhile, planning continues for the construction of a new Hill Street Bridge. The bridge was originally built in 1928 and has been closed since 2013.