Public hearing scheduled for proposed Town of Florida property annexation

The owner of a parcel of land within the Town of Florida has filed a petition with the City of Amsterdam requesting the land become part of the city rather than the town. A public hearing required by New York State law to discuss the issue is scheduled for October 25 at 6PM at city hall.

The owner of the land, Dr. Pervaz Choudry, who currently resides in Illinois, has entered into an option-to-purchase contract with the Tribes Hill Heritage Center. The property is adjacent to the city line and located east of the city between Route 5s and the New York State Thruway.

The center’s vision is to build a multi-building educational and cultural facility on the land. As well as showcasing Native American arts and crafts, the vision calls for the creation of schools to teach skills such as leather working, wood crafting, blacksmithing, culinary arts, and other subjects. Another facet of the vision is to provide space for shops that sell crafts, food, and other merchandise produced at those schools, as well as space for vendors to sell goods during Native American pow-wows and other events held on the grounds.

Since retail merchandise and food sales are not allowed under the current “industrial business park” zoning designation for the land, a request was sent on behalf of the center in September 2017 to the Town of Florida, requesting a change in the zoning of the property to a “mixed use” designation which would allow for a wider range of uses. The request included a notarized letter from Choudry’s attorney affirming that the center has an option-to-purchase contract with him.

In January of this year, the Town of Florida Planning Board submitted a request to the Montgomery County Planning Board to re-zone Choudry’s property, as well as approximately seven others in the same zoning district to “mixed employment district” which would allow for a wide range of uses such as shops, restaurants, parks, farming, hotels, museums, certain types of manufacturing plants, offices, and others.

County planning board approval is required for the change, given the properties’ vicinity to the state highway and the thruway.

Along with the request was a letter from Attorney Deborah A. Slezak on behalf of the town planning board, stating that the requested change in zoning designation for the properties is consistent with the town’s long term goals and comprehensive plan. She also wrote that there had been “zero development” on the properties in twenty years under their current zoning designation and that “it made sense to add commercial to encourage development and ‘play off’ the expected changes in the City of Amsterdam.”

The change was approved by the county planning board later in the month. Since then, however, the town planning board has yet to give final approval on the change.

A petition to have the City of Amsterdam annex the property was received by the city on August 27. On September 12, the common council voted on a resolution to pursue the annexation, which was also signed by Mayor Michael Villa.

Reached for comment after the vote, Villa said, “This is a section of land that has potential, whether it’s this project or another project. I don’t think that we can turn down opportunities for economic development, because a certain planning board doesn’t want to take it up, or doesn’t want to hear the possibilities, or doesn’t want to change the usage.”

“Times are changing,” said Villa, noting that the city had recently updated their own zoning map.  “You can’t operate in 2018 under zoning laws that were enacted 25 to 30 years ago, it just doesn’t work.

“I’ve thought about this long and hard because I’m friends with [Town of Florida Supervisor Eric Mead] and the Town of Florida is a good neighbor. But I thought it was the right thing to do for the city at this time.”

Requests for comment sent to Mead have not yet been returned.

Under New York State General Municipal Law, testimony and evidence may be presented at the upcoming public hearing concerning the validity of the petition, and as to whether the annexation is in the over-all public interest.

Within ninety days of the public hearing, the law requires that both the town board and city council vote on whether the annexation should go forward, based on the information discussed at the hearing. If both governing bodies vote in agreement, the annexation will proceed. Otherwise, the city may apply to the New York State Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for a ruling.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.