Options emerge in land-use controversy

The Oswegatchie River meanders past a property on West Front Street in Rensselaer Falls. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times (Mende)

CANTON— Three options have surfaced in response to opposition raised about a proposal to allow some types of commercial development in a residential zone in the village of Rensselaer Falls.

Local elected officials say they want to resolve the controversy so that it doesn’t derail a proposed Canton Comprehensive Plan that’s been worked on for more than two years by a 15-member committee with assistance from MK Engineering & Land Surveying, Clifton Park.

During their joint meeting Tuesday night, the Canton town and village boards decided that the three elected boards responsible for adopting the plan should try to come up with an agreement soon because the plan is supposed to be adopted by the end of October.

At some point within the next several weeks, the Canton Town Board, the Canton village board and the Rensselaer Falls Village Board are expected to vote on the plan, which is supposed to serve as a blueprint for the future for those three communities.

It’s also a document that may help the communities leverage different grant funding.

Zoning in those communities is supposed to be updated to match priorities identified in the plan. Developing the waterfronts along the Grasse and Oswegatchie rivers with more recreational opportunities, including live music, was identified as a priority.

The plan hit a snag this summer when John and Bonnie Danis, 101 W. Front St., Rensselaer Falls, raised concern about a proposed waterfront overlay district included in the plan that would allow some types of commercial development on a portion of West Front Street that’s zoned residential.

The waterfront overlay district also includes waterfront area on Front Street, but that’s already in a commercial zone.

The county Planning Board also had concerns about creating a waterfront overlay district in a residential area.

The 4-acre vacant parcel on West Front Street the Danis couple is concerned with is owned by Lisa Hammond and her husband Steven. Their son, Michael Hammond, is the mayor of Rensselaer Falls and is a member of the Canton Comprehensive Plan Committee. Mrs. Hammond is the clerk and tax collector for the Town of Canton and for the villages of Canton and Rensselaer Falls.

Timothy Danehy, a Canton town board member who serves on the Comprehensive Plan Committee, said the committee was not made aware that the overlay district was being added to the comprehensive plan.

“This was never discussed by the comprehensive plan committee. Never,” Mr. Danehy said. “The first time I saw it was when the draft plan was presented.”

During two public hearings this week, he said he’s only heard opposition to the overlay.

“Not one single person has said anything about why this is a good idea,” Mr. Danehy said. “Unless somebody can tell me why it’s a good idea, it’s not a good idea. And I really don’t want to see it torpedo the whole comprehensive plan.”

Mr. Hammond said the plan’s consultant suggested two options: entirely remove the overlay district from the plan or revise the overlay district description by requiring that a special-use permit be obtained before commercial development can move forward.

Town Board member Robert Washo suggested a third option: keep the overlay district in the plan, but limit it to the commercial zone on the east side of the river, which means remove West Front Street from the overlay district.

“In my opinion that would satisfy what we heard from town and village residents last night, it would satisfy comments from the county and it would allow residents on the east side of the river on land that’s already commercial,” Mr. Washo said. “That seems like it’s a very fair compromise, in my opinion, where all the parties would be satisfied with that.”

Canton Village Mayor Michael Dalton said he doesn’t think the village board should be heavily involved in a discussion about whether a waterfront overlay district is created in the village of Rensselaer Falls.

“I quite frankly think the town and village of Rensselaer Falls have to work this piece out,” Mr. Dalton said.

Carol S. Pynchon, a Canton village trustee, said she has shared concerns with project manager Jaclyn Hakes of MK Engineering about the overlay district during phone conversations earlier this week and would like to arrange another phone call.

“I think we should have a follow-up call with the mayors and the supervisor and maybe the conversation among all those parties can then be shared with their boards,” she said.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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