The Montgomery town board recently kicked off the comprehensive plan process, which might be the answer to residents’ woes as they mobilize against large-scale development in the town.
The town board approved a request for proposals (RFP) for a planner and a resolution for an advertisement for a comprehensive plan committee at their regularly scheduled meeting on July 11. The RFP, which has a deadline of Aug. 12, kicks off the process for the creation of a new comprehensive plan.
A comprehensive plan is a document that establishes the land use policy of a community and presents goals and a vision for the future that guides official decision making. The plan is usually created after a lengthy planning process involving public input from all sectors of the community. New York requires zoning law be adopted in accordance with the plan, so the plan provides the backbone for local zoning law.
Much of the comprehensive plan—and, in result, the town’s zoning code—dates to the plan’s last successful update in 1988.
“Montgomery’s [comprehensive plan] is out of date and not matched with current reality, so it doesn’t appear to match with what the community wants and it’s unclear that its kept up with market realities,” Orange County Planning Commissioner David Church said.
Church said an updated comprehensive plan is the key to attracting businesses that residents may find desirable. Montgomery’s current plan takes a rather passive approach, allowing the market to drive the kind of industry coming into the town.
“I would certainly recommend any municipality be a little more active in what choices they have and go out of their way to take a measure of what the larger community wants and match that to market realities,” Church said. “Set up some programming that would attract the kind of business activity they want, not just sort of react to whatever comes in the door for a permit.”
While local governments cannot force certain types of businesses to come in, they can attract certain sectors of business by offering incentives such as downtown revitalization projects or partnering with private entities such as local chambers of commerce, Church said.
Government can also streamline the process and permitting for the businesses that residents may find desirable.
The current comprehensive plan identifies the Bracken, Stone Castle and Neelytown Road areas of the town as prime areas for small industries, office and truck related facilities. The plan also identifies areas with good transportation networks and access to state roads—such as the I-84 interchange by Stewart Airport—as prime locations for industrial and commercial growth.
Even in 1988, the plan identifies truck transportation and warehousing as drivers of growth.
“Truck and warehouse related facilities will offer the biggest support to Montgomery’s economic base in the future,” the plan states.
Since zoning follows the master plan, a swath of land along the southern end of the town is zoned office/business, industrial park, interchange commercial and industry, and general industry.
Montgomery’s push for industrial growth is also represented at the county level.
The 2019 Orange County master plan identifies much of Montgomery as a “priority growth area,” or an area that has the services to support commercial, industrial and higher density residential growth. However, the plan states growth should be sustainable in these areas.
“While the County encourages growth within the [priority growth] areas, it is critical to note that growth should be sustainable and be based on the available infrastructure and other resources of that community,” the Orange County comprehensive plan states.
Administrations have tried to update Montgomery’s comprehensive plan since 1988. In 2004, after several public hearings and an extensive review process, the town board adopted a revised version of the comprehensive plan.
The 2004 comprehensive plan was followed by rezoning, which included the adoption of local law number four of 2004. The local law re-zoned several districts, reduced density allowances and excluded certain environmental features from lot area calculations. The Orange County Planning Department disapproved of the local law, which it stated would limit affordable housing by through the limiting of multi-family housing.
The 2004 Comprehensive Plan, Local Law Number Four and Five were voided in 2008 after the court case Land Master Montgomery v. Town of Montgomery declared the plans were unconstitutional for exclusionary zoning.
While Local Law Number One and Two of 2010 updated portions of zoning and the town comprehensive plan, the majority of the overall zoning and plan is from 1988.
An update to the town’s zoning could be the key to discouraging future warehouse projects such as Project Sailfish or Medline—both million-square-foot-plus warehouses—that have raised fierce opposition from residents. There are 22 active commercial site plans currently under review by the planning board.
Meeting after meeting, resident after resident have walked up to the front of the room to tell the planning and town boards they are gravely concerned these warehouse projects will ruin their quality of life.
Residents worry about huge trucks traveling through the village and town, rattling homes’ foundations, navigating around tight intersections, causing safety concerns for pedestrians and traffic, ruining roads and causing traffic jams.
They worry that water sources will be contaminated, and streams will be overrun from the runoff from millions of square feet of paved surfaces. They worry that big industry means noxious pollution and loss of wildlife habitat. Residents fear ugly buildings will deface what’s left of the rural landscape.
“When you have warehouse and distribution center, one after the other after the other, all you end up being is a truck stop,” Montgomery resident Leah Wescott said at the July 11 meeting.
While residents cheered when the town board approved a resolution for the comprehensive plan committee, a common criticism heard from residents at town board meetings is the plan should have been completed years ago, which might have prevented large warehouse projects like Medline or Project Sailfish from ever applying.
As a result, many residents have also called for a moratorium on commercial development while the town completes the process for its master plan.
A moratorium has been enacted in the town before. In May 2002, in the midst of the process for creating a new comprehensive plan, the town board adopted a six-month moratorium on residential developments in excess of three dwelling units.
Concerned residents have created a Residents Protecting Montgomery group in order to organize against the project. Their Facebook page, No Medline in Montgomery, had 206 followers as of July 21.