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 local governments are trying to resolve a controversy that surfaced last week so that a proposed Canton Comprehensive Plan can move forward to adoption.

In response to the concerns, officials held a 45-minute conference call Thursday with Jaclyn Hakes of MK Engineering & Land Surveying, the Clifton Park company that was hired to help develop the comprehensive plan.

Officials are now working to schedule a joint meeting for three elected boards: Canton Town Board, Village of Canton Board of Trustees and the Rensselaer Falls Village Board.

James T. Smith, a Canton town board member, said he’s hopeful a consensus will be reached by the three municipalities because Oct. 30 is the deadline for adopting the comprehensive plan.

Mr. Smith said the consensus during the phone conference was to remove West Front Street from the waterfront overlay district in Rensselaer Falls that’s included in the plan.

There was also support for adding language in the plan that spells out requirements for an overlay district, he said. Those would include site plan review, a public hearing and input from the county Planning Board.

Mr. Smith and Village Trustee Carol S. Pynchon are cochairs of the comprehensive plan committee that’s been working for more than two years on a plan that’s supposed to serve as a blueprint for the future.

“I’d hate to see a $54,000 comp plan go down the tubes over a single issue,” Mr. Smith said Monday. “I have to believe there is a way to resolve this so that doesn’t happen.”

During a Sept. 16 public hearing in Rensselaer Falls held to get input on the draft plan, some community members said they were opposed to a section that created a waterfront overlay district in a residential zone on West Front Street.

John and Bonnie Danis, 101 W. Front St., were the most vocal, arguing that they were opposed to the overlay district because it would allow some types of commercial development on their dead-end street along the Oswegatchie River that’s zoned for residential use.

A 4-acre parcel on West Front Street in the proposed overlay is owned by Steven and Lisa Hammond who are the parents of Rensselaer Falls Village Mayor Michael Hammond. The Rensselaer Falls Village Board has been in support of keeping the street in the overlay district.

The overlay district also includes Front Street on the east side of the river, but community members have not voiced opposition to that because it’s already zoned commercial.

Besides Mr. Smith, also participating in the conference call were Mrs. Pynchon, Canton Town Supervisor Mary Ann Ashley, Canton Village Mayor Michael Dalton, Mr. Hammond and Karin Blackburn.

Mrs. Pynchon said the elected boards will have to discuss the issue further before deciding what step to take. The three boards have until the end of October to adopt the comprehensive plan.

“We’re trying to come up with a place where we can move forward,” she said.

Mr. Danis said he’s not against commercial development in Rensselaer Falls, but not in a residential area. A waterfront overlay district would allow public venues for live music and other events.

“I’m not against venue. They just need to be in the right place,” he said. “If this were proposed for the Martin Tract, there would be holy hell.”

The Martin Tract is a residential housing development on the western edge of the village of Canton.

Mr. Danis said he also disagrees with the idea that the comprehensive plan should be used to guide a community’s zoning decisions.

“The whole issue is that zoning should be driven by development, not the other way around,” he said.

Mr. Danis said he believes the village board should focus its development efforts on vacant buildings in the commercial district where streets are wider and infrastructure is in place such as lighting and sewer service.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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