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Business park proposal still alive despite opposition in town of Florida

TOWN OF FLORIDA — The owners of roughly 500 acres of farmland in the town of Florida are still seeking a zoning change to allow a business park in an agricultural district after the proposal drew backlash from residents, although the project developer could change.

Mick Mullins of Mullins Realty representing the landowners told the Planning Board on Monday that Winstanley Enterprises “took a little step back” from the project as Adam Winstanley suggested last month after the proposal faced widespread opposition from residents.

“He wants us to have discussions, this is what we’re doing. He was our preferred developer, he may still be our preferred developer,” Mullins said.

Winstanley’s public statement that the company may withdraw from the project altogether has attracted interest from other developers if plans are able to move forward, according to Mullins.

The first step would require the approval of a Planned Unit Development (PUD) rezoning of about 500 acres just south of state Thruway Exit 27 owned by Karen and Larry Francisco and Nadler Brothers Inc. of Ballston Spa from agricultural to industrial and commercial.

The land would subsequently be used for the construction of a business park on either side of Route 30 along Thruview Drive and Belldons Road. Initial concept plans call for three warehouse-style buildings spanning 300,000-to 2 million-square-feet.

A full site plan defining the project would not be drafted until the PUD application has been approved, Mullins noted. The ultimate project developer would also be identified at that point.

Only the Florida Town Board has the authority to approve or deny a PUD. Applications must first be reviewed by the Planning Board to make a recommendation to town officials.

Arguing for a favorable recommendation, Mullins said the land targeted for the PUD is best suited to commercial uses based on its proximity to the Thruway and bordering a light industrial zoning district in the city of Amsterdam.

“The Franciscos and Nadlers have had these two properties in their families for decades and the locations of these properties is what dictates the value,” Mullins said, pointing to the nearby availability of utilities and Thruway access. “It provides the ideal situation as to why there is the demand here for a business park.”

Farmland owned by the Franciscos and Nadler Brothers further south that is not involved in the project plans would serve as a buffer to preserve the community’s agricultural identity, according to Mullins.

“These two properties do not move the needle on agricultural work in the entire town,” Mullins said.

Around two dozen residents made clear during a public hearing last month that any loss of farmland was unacceptable. Protect Our Farmland, a local grassroots group, submitted a petition to the Planning Board on Monday signed by 188 residents against the proposed rezoning.

“The town of Florida citizens have spoken and we do not want this type of growth in this area of our community. This is not responsible rezoning and it is not in the best interest of our agricultural lands,” the petition states.

Protect Our Farmland in its petition reminded the board of the many concerns brought forward by residents.

“Rezoning this property would destroy valuable farmland; tarnish the rural character of our town; clog roadways; strain our infrastructure; pollute our air, soil, and water; burden our volunteer fire department; provide no financial benefits to the citizens of our community; and invite many detrimental effects,” the petition states.

Landowner Larry Francisco rejected the insistence of other residents that the property must remain unchanged.

“For somebody else to tell me what I can do with my property is not right,” Larry Francisco said.

Mullins and Steven Wilson of Bohler Engineering sought to dispel the community’s concerns in a response letter submitted to the board earlier in the day Monday.

Project representatives argued the proposal would supply needed room for business growth in keeping with objectives in the town’s comprehensive plan without impacting the character of the agricultural community since only 25% of the PUD area would actually be developed.

Residential development of the farmland would be more destructive, involve greater traffic and put a larger financial strain on the town than the proposed business park, according to the response letter.

Any potential traffic issues related to the business park would be identified and addressed during the site plan review process.

Although there is no townwide tax, Mullins said Florida would benefit from the development that would boost the town’s already inflated total assessed property value to capture a larger share of local sales tax revenues distributed among municipalities in Montgomery County.

New property taxes collected by the fire district would more than cover the projected annual cost of responding to calls related to the business park, according to the response letter.

“No more boot drives, we don’t need that any more with all that money. There will be nobody to go on the calls,” Planning Board member Peter Rea commented.

In the event of an actual fire at warehouse facilities, Mullins indicated that installed suppression systems normally handle the brunt of the work.

Acknowledging the town won’t be able to “satisfy” all residents, Mullins suggested the town’s failure to approve the application could result in the properties and surrounding farmland to instead be used for large-scale solar projects subject to approval by the state superseding local review and regulations.

“An alternative if we do not do the PUD business park district is that there is also continuous demand from the solar companies and we have resisted that,” Mullins said.

The town is already familiar with the process after the 90 megawatt High River Energy solar project that will span over 500 acres was approved by the state last year over the objections of local leaders and residents.

“Not everyone can be made happy in all situations, so a project like this, what we look at is for the well-being of the town in its entirety,” Mullins said.

The Planning Board members agreed that more time was needed to consider the response letter from project representatives before making a recommendation to the town officials. The board expects to render an opinion during the next meeting on Sept. 12.

Reach Ashley Onyon at aonyon@dailygazette.net or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.


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