RENSSELAER FALLS— Despite objections from some West Front Street residents, a Canton comprehensive plan was adopted Monday night that could lead to commercial development in a residential zone on West Front Street along the Oswegatchie River.
After listening to public comment for more than an hour, the Canton Town Board, the Rensselaer Falls Village Board and the Canton Village Board all adopted a planning document that’s supposed to serve as a blueprint for the future of the three communities.
The vote was unanimous, with every member of all three boards voting in favor of the plan.
“There was a lot of work put into this, a lot of thought,” Canton Town Supervisor Mary Ann Ashley said. “I think everyone in this room cares about their communities, they want what is best for growth and for families. There are processes. My only hope is that people talk to each other more when they have concerns. I think we’re losing that. It’s very important because we all care.”
About 25 people turned out for the joint meeting held in the Rensselaer Falls Fire Hall, including some who questioned why West Front Street was not removed from a waterfront overlay district included in the plan. The narrow dead-end street runs along the river’s edge. A waterfront overlay district may allow things like public venues for music and other events.
Phil Burnett and his wife, Lisa, live on West Front Street, but just outside the village limits.
“If no resident on that street is for it, why is this being considered?” Mr. Burnett asked. “We had two other commercial proposals in Rensselaer Falls and they both got shot down in recent years in much more commercial-type areas. For this to be voted on tonight in a residential area makes absolutely no sense.”
Rensselaer Falls Mayor Michael Hammond and Rensselaer Falls village board member Stacey Gushea said creating the waterfront overlay district won’t automatically change zoning on West Front Street. The waterfront overlay district also includes East Front Street, but that area is already zoned commercial.
Ms. Gushea said any future development projects in the waterfront overlay district would require site plan review, a special use permit and review by the St. Lawrence County Planning Office.
“The waterfront overlay district does not automatically make it commercial. There’s added layers of review in there,” she said.
Canton Town Board member Robert Washo said the residents on West Front Street who live past the village limits are in a town of Canton rural zone that allows things like campgrounds and other projects.
“Under town code, you’re allowed to do many things that your neighbors in the village of Rensselaer Falls can’t do. That’s the playing field as it sits currently,” Mr. Washo said.
Susan Huntley, a Canton village resident who owns property in the village of Rensselaer Falls, said she was also concerned that the Rensselaer Falls Village Board was not being responsive to the opposition they heard about including West Front Street in a waterfront overlay district.
“You have public hearings and people are expressing their opinions, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference in going forward, like with this waterfront overlay,” Mrs. Huntley said. “If the majority of people on that street are against it then why isn’t it taken out? I realize that there’s all these other layers, but if you have public hearings and people speak up and it’s about zoning changes and it’s still up to a vote of a few people then how are the people being represented?”
Town Board member James Smith said once the plan is adopted each individual community will determine how it’s carried out.
The vote to approve the comprehensive plan came after the three boards voted to revise by adding this language: “When and if development is considered in the waterfront overlay district, an added layer of review will be required, including site plan review, special use permit and the St. Lawrence County Planning Office guidance to ensure compatibility with underlying allowed uses and minimize impacts on adjacent properties.”
Mr. Hammond abstained from voting on the plan because his parents, Lisa and Steven Hammond, own a 4-acre parcel of property in the proposed waterfront overlay district.
Controversy about the parcel was first raised by John and Bonnie Danis, 101 W. Front St. The couple did not attend Monday night’s meeting.
Three local governments are trying to resolve the controversy because it took more than two years to create the plan and the deadline for adopting it is Oct. 30.
In response to the concerns, officials held a 45-minute conference call with Jaclyn Hakes of MK Engineering & Land Surveying, the Clifton Park company that was hired to help develop the comprehensive plan. The firm will be paid roughly $53,000.