Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Wait and See…

By Yael Goldman | Business

MALTA – While town officials reshape the downtown vision under protection of a limited moratorium, developers are working to attract commercial tenants.

Paul Loomis, president of the Malta Business and Professional Association (MBPA), calls this phase the “wait and see.”

“There’s a lot of uncertainty. We have a big factory coming in and people want to know what’s coming with it,” Loomis said, referring to increased demand for goods and services. “What can we expect; will they stay and shop here?”

Residents and stakeholders are anxious to see retail businesses move into Malta, and are looking at two indicators: the moratorium and Ellsworth Commons.

The town board recently adopted a nine-month “limited site plan” moratorium on construction in the Downtown Overlay District, a measure that buys time to draft new zoning laws under the revised master plan adopted earlier this year. The district is, roughly, a 1.8-mile stretch of Route 9 between Knabner and Cramer roads.

“We still have the zoning from the old vision on the books today; that needs to be changed and that takes some time to do,” said Anthony Tozzi, town building and planning coordinator.

Essentially, the measure prevents new projects exceeding revised building height and setbacks from breaking ground before the board has time to rewrite and enact its new zoning laws. It does not halt or prohibit construction over the next nine months, and existing multi-use projects can move forward as originally permitted under the previous master plan. At the same time, the planning board will consider new development that adheres to the updated guidelines.

“Moratoriums are funny things: there is a perception out there that the moratorium is bad thing, [but] it is actually a very beneficial planning tool,” Tozzi said.

Albany Partners, LLC, was not impacted by the moratorium for either of its multi-use projects. The developer is behind the hotly contested Ellsworth Commons, a large-scale build-out positioned across from the town center on Route 9; and Blacksmith Square, a complex with 27,000 square feet of commercial space and 170 apartments split between two buildings that will probably break ground in spring 2012 near Routes 9 and 67.

“We certainly took advantage of the master plan as it was approved in 2006; both Ellsworth and Blacksmith are within those guidelines,” said Bruce Schnitz, a principal of Albany Partners.

A portion of the community responded negatively to the size of Ellsworth Commons, and that was a significant factor in the town’s decision to revise its master plan. In a way, the moratorium will prevent another similar plan from slipping in before the new zoning laws are written.

With the moratorium on the table, focus is shifting from the size of Ellsworth to what will be moving in and when. “A lot of residents have been asking me what’s going in there,” said Town Councilperson Tara Thomas. “They’re very anxious to see how this first project, Ellsworth, is going to take off and how it’s going to contribute to the needs of our citizens.”

If Ellsworth Commons is an indicator of what kind of businesses will open in Malta, then the next phase will be crucial.

The first and only commercial tenant will arrive in November: DNS Electronics, a Japan-based company that will take up a 4,500 square-foot space in the first finished building. Schnitz said Albany Partners is currently negotiating with another 12 commercial tenants that won’t be signing a lease until the spaces are complete.

“We are speaking with restaurants, dry-cleaners, wine stores, doctors, dentists, coffee shops, salons – your typical commercial office/retail kind of users,” Schnitz said. Scott Lansing of Lansing Engineering, a 14-year Malta resident, said he would like to see the kind of retail growth Ellsworth is meant to attract, and is hopeful the town will be able to draw it.

Lansing is just a few weeks away from breaking ground on his own mixed-use project – a 34,000-square-foot building at 2452 Route 9 to be built in partnership with Jersen Construction. The structure will house 7,500 square-feet of retail space and a drive-through bank module on the first floor, and professional office space on the second and third levels.

The building does not yet have tenants, and although Lansing is confident he’ll fill the space once it is constructed, he doesn’t expect to do so with retail. At least not initially.

“I picture it as more for quasi-professional offices – insurance or real estate [companies], or something to that effect,” he said. He pointed to nearby development as an indication of what to expect.

To be continued…

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