MALTA — On Monday night, homeowners from a busy stretch of Route 67 in Malta persuaded town officials to postpone a vote that would promote more commercial development in the area.
“My mind was made up until you folks came out,” stated Councilwoman Maggi Ruisi. “I listened, and I heard you.”
The Malta Town Board scheduled the May 1 public hearing for its Route 67 South Side Rezoning Amendment. Its passage by the board would affect the future of undeveloped property between the Exit 12 traffic circles and Brownell Road.
New construction is already underway a short distance farther west near the intersection of Route 67 and Eastline Road.
For an hour there was a lively discussion among Malta homeowners, who filled the town complex parking lot to capacity, and board members led by Supervisor Vincent DeLucia.
DeLucia ended up accepting a motion to table the related resolution. It would rezone several parcels of Route 67 land on either side of Ruhle Road into a new commercial (or “C2”) district.
“I’ve seen dramatic changes in the town of Malta in my 70 years of living here. I recall almost every bit of growth,” DeLucia reported after the public hearing and unanimous vote to table the measure.
There were rezoning supporters in the room, but a majority of homeowners vented their frustrations about more traffic along that heavily traveled stretch of Route 67.
“I think you’re going to have a real fight on your hands with people in this neighborhood,” predicted Route 67 resident Mark Sickler.
“The value of our property is going to go down if it becomes C2” commercial zoning, added Andrew James, a homeowner from Settlers Ridge North.
“Malta as a whole is being overdeveloped. It’s lost what Malta was in terms of being a community,” James said. “That has us upset.”
Betsy Marré, a resident of Settlers Ridge South, said more drivers should be ticketed by law enforcement for “doing 90” in the 45 mph zone on that part of Route 67; and that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) should upgrade the entire section of roadway before any new construction plans are approved.
That should include turn lanes specifically designed by the DOT to accommodate Ruhle Road traffic, Marré told the board.
When approached after making her statements at the podium, Marré asserted that “town board members are making decisions without proper due diligence” and are “not understanding commercial property vacancy” rates.
Her husband Ernie Marré questioned how the rezoning amendment came to be voted on in the first place. He also argued that local property values, and Malta’s quiet rural appeal, could be “adversely impacted” by more commercial development on Route 67.
The Marrés and several other speakers referred to the difficulties faced every day by local drivers who turn left to enter Ruhle Road, or try to exit in either direction.
“Are we going to get some consideration?” Ernie Marré asked board members. “It sounds like it’s almost a done deal.”
“We’ve considered all of these things. We’re not operating in a vacuum,” DeLucia responded.
Ultimately, Councilman John Hartzell made the motion to table the rezoning resolution, explaining that the current town board is simply making “mid-course corrections” to a master plan passed 17 years ago by a previous board.
“When we all came to town government this course had been charted,” Hartzell said.
Both Ruisi and Hartzell stated that they hailed from rural communities, and that land preservation in general is an important topic to them.
Councilman Craig Warner went even further, saying his own family members had opposed excessive development much like the Malta homeowners do now.
“We take what you say very seriously,” Warner told those in attendance. “I understand what you said and it will be considered.”