CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — The Planning Board last week stymied a developer’s plan to build two duplexes on a 4.5-acre lot questioning whether there was enough developable land available on the site.
The project proposed by Ryan Boni sought to put two duplexes on a section of land made up of several parcels that, when combined, totaled 13-acres. The site on Route 146A is close to the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks and a National Grid power sub-station.
The project was granted three variances in a 5-1 vote by the Zoning Board of Appeals at its June 18 meeting. The variances were required to meet town code restrictions for duplexes.
Their approval did not come without controversy. Before approving the variances, the ZBA heard comments in opposition to the plan from the Friends of Clifton Park Open Space and several other residents. All of them questioned whether the project met the spirit of numerous town studies and codes directed specifically at the western Clifton Park area.
Building and Zoning Director Steve Myers said the project went to the ZBA first based on what the applicant wanted. Myers said he reached out to Planning Director John Scavo for an opinion.
“I got a letter of support from him,” Myers said. “Sometimes the applicant wants to go to the ZBA first because they think that’s the heavier lift. Sometimes the ZBA won’t rule until they hear what the Planning Board has to say. Other times it’s just the calendar; which one has the next meeting.”
With variances in hand, Boni appeared before the Planning Board Aug. 13 asking for approval to subdivide the combined parcel which includes a separate, seven-acre parcel across the road. The seven-acre parcel is necessary to meet town code criteria. Boni said that parcel was destined to be permanently protected and donated to either the town or the Saratoga Land Trust.
He was also seeking two Special Use Permits (SUP) for the duplexes from the Planning Board.
“We believe it’s the best use,” he told the board. “It’s commercial. There are train tracks and power lines there. It’s not desirable for a single-family home. This is a [transition area]. Duplexes allow low density. By me owning the property and hiring landscapers I’ll eliminate any chance of intrusions into the wetlands.”
In submitted comments from the town’s Environmental Conservation Committee, the committee quoted minutes from Boni’s appearance before the ZBA. The comments noted that Boni had made several questionable assumptions, such as renters being more amenable to tolerating noise (from trains) than homeowners. The committee’s comments also noted that the site for the homes is near a significant wetland area.
The town’s engineering consultant also noted the presence of the wetlands.
Despite it not being a public hearing, the Planning Board took public comments.
Speaking for the Friends of Clifton Park Open Space as she did at the ZBA meeting in June, Susan Burton said the group opposed granting the SUPs for the four duplex units. She noted Boni’s assertion that the site is not desirable for single-family ownership, the potential for health hazards from trains, and the Planning Board’s powers to require a comprehensive noise, public safety and health study for any SUP.
“It is incumbent upon the Planning Board to make sure that the uniqueness of this parcel is not a detriment to potential buyers or their progeny,” she said. “Public safety requirement must preempt any market appeal considerations.”
Fellow Friends member James Ruhl also spoke in opposition to the project, as he did before the ZBA. Ruhl described the town’s years-long efforts to preserve open space in its western section through surveys, a building moratorium, new zoning designations, and town code amendments. He bristled at the continual requests for exemptions.
“[They] serve to erode all the past work done establishing the Conservation Residential Zoning in this area,” he said. “It is our belief that all special requests for development in Western Clifton Park should be considered in light of the underlying principles outlined in that existing zoning.”
Chris Weber, another town resident noted that more than 50 percent of a single town code requirement had been waived for the Boni project.
“Where is the commitment and consistency with the Western Generic Environmental Study (WGEIS),” he asked.
In other remarks, several residents saw the site, as not being large enough for two duplexes.
“Reflect on the proper dwelling and the density given the zoning rules for duplexes in western Clifton Park,” said Bill Koebbeman.
When board comments were sought board member Andy Neubauer admitted he was struggling between the design, which he liked, and the site, which he viewed as difficult.
“There’s a viable market for these proposals, but it’s up to us to see that it fits the code,” he said.
Board member Eric Ophardt agreed with Neubauer.
“There is a need for duplexes, but this may not be the right place,” he said.
Planning Board Chairman Rocco Ferraro was uncomfortable with the plan.
“I’m concerned. I’m not supportive,” he said. “It’s not what we achieved with the WGEIS. Even a single lot doesn’t meet the criteria for a single home without a variance. I don’t see how it meets the criteria for one duplex let alone two. I don’t believe it meets the criteria for a CR (conservation-residential) zone for two lots; maybe one and it doesn’t fit with what we’re trying to do in western Clifton Park. I cannot support the division of this lot. It’s contrary to the objectives of the Open Space Plan and the Land Conservation Plan.”