By John Cropley/The Daily Gazette
CLIFTON PARK AND HALFMOON — Halfmoon remains the most active housing construction market in Saratoga County and, by some measures, the entire Capital Region, with multiple projects underway to accommodate a growing population.
Construction permits for 2,466 units of single- and multifamily housing were issued by the town from 2007 through 2017, and its population grew an estimated 13.5 percent from 2010 through 2017.
In a distant second place at 2,079 permits was its neighbor to the south, Colonie, a town with more than triple Halfmoon’s population.
Meanwhile, growth is tapering off in Clifton Park, Halfmoon’s more populous neighbor to the west. Over the past five years, Clifton Park was just barely among the top 10 municipalities for single-family construction permits issued. It missed the top 10 for multifamily permits altogether.
The Capital District Regional Planning Commission uses U.S. Census Bureau statistics such as these to analyze growth trends in the Capital Region’s four most populous counties: Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady.
The continued growth of suburbs reflects the changing lifestyle preferences of Americans and the desire of zoning and planning officials for more growth within their towns, said Mark Castiglione, executive director of the CDRPC. Builders wouldn’t construct homes where customers wouldn’t buy them or where regulators would make the process too difficult, he said, citing an old maxim: Who we are as a people and how we should live is the essence of planning.
New York is a home-rule state, Castiglione said, so the CDRPC acts only in an advisory role. Each town sets its own path to the future — and Halfmoon is on a growth curve.
“I look at the town of Halfmoon as a continually growing town,” said Town Supervisor, Kevin Tollisen.
Key factors that make it attractive and drive the growth are very low taxes, by upstate New York standards, easy access to the Northway, good schools, and close proximity to retail, entertainment, larger cities and wilderness. It’s also developing recreational amenities such as trails and a new spray pad, so there are things to do in town.
“We want Halfmoon to be a place for people to enjoy living,” Tollisen said.
With all these new houses and new residents come growing pains, and chief among them traffic congestion. It is perhaps worst near Exit 8A but is bad in multiple locations during rush hour.
“We are trying to address the traffic concerns that are happening,” Tollisen said. “That’s been a big issue for a long time, but [the state Department of Transportation] has recognized that.”
Millions of dollars worth of new turn lanes and signal upgrades are in the works to help ease the flow, he said.
Tollison doesn’t have a theory about why Clifton Park grew first and grew larger than Halfmoon.
“The reality is both our towns are growing,” he said. “They’re growing together; it’s not a competition.”
Tollisen said he and Clifton Park Supervisor Phil Barrett regularly work together on things that spill across their shared border, such as expanding recreational trails and reducing traffic congestion. The two towns also collaborate in other ways, such as sharing an animal control officer.
GROWTH SLOWING IN CLIFTON PARK
Clifton Park Director of Planning John Scavo said growth has slowed in his town for several reasons. Chief among them is a decision by town officials more than a decade ago to mandate more open space around new construction in the western third of the town, as a way of preserving its more rural character. Three acres of space is required for each new housing unit, compared with just a half-acre in the eastern two thirds of town.
Meanwhile, there is not much developable land left on the east side that doesn’t bring challenges such as hills or wetlands. And more recently, the town has tried to steer development in the town center away from single-family houses, to create a more walkable mix of retail and multifamily residential space, Scavo said.
The plan is to cater to adults who are trading large homes where they raised their children for smaller, lower-maintenance residences, he added.
He said the limitations are a fundamental difference from Halfmoon, resulting in more construction happening there.
“A lot of it comes down to just the community’s vision — what do they want to look like,” Scavo said.
Like Halfmoon, Clifton Park wrestles with traffic, especially when many of its 37,000 residents head off to work each morning as commuters in steadily growing nearby towns cut through Clifton Park to get to their jobs.
“The biggest issues that we’re seeing with traffic is the (morning) and (evening) peak demand,” Scavo said. “A lot of that is regional growth passing through Clifton Park.
“Routes 9 and 146 in the morning — all it can take is one accident to turn a 15-minute commute into a 45-minute commute.”
For travel within the town, Clifton Park is working for greater interconnection of its neighborhoods. Not to the point that bypass routes are created that will funnel traffic through subdivisions, but enough that residents can walk or bike from place to place on a quiet street rather than feel compelled to drive on a main road.
This isn’t always popular.
“There are people who will say, “I want my cul de sac because I can put a basketball hoop at the end,” Scavo said. And he understands the concern, but the goal is not to move cars from main to secondary roads, it’s to make a more walkable community.
It has been a memorable decade for Scavo, who started in 2008 as the town was reshaping its vision for housing development and as the nation was beginning an economic crisis that choked off much housing construction.
“We had a lot of projects that were approved right up to the housing crash that were shelved, and it wasn’t until 2010 that they started,” he recalled.
Both Clifton Park and Halfmoon benefit from their proximity to the massive state government operations in and around Albany, with tens of thousands of dependable jobs, as well as the high-tech research and manufacturing centers a few miles south and north on the Northway.
But the Capital Region’s growth trends eventually may act as brakes on the development boom there, said Castiglione at the CDRPC. The population growth in the Capital Region is robust compared with the rest of upstate New York but weak compared with the nation as a whole.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects slower population growth through 2050, he said. Clifton Park went from roughly 24,000 residents in 1980 to 36,000 in 2010 and is projected to have 42,000 in 2050. Halfmoon has a similar trajectory for those years: 12,000, 22,000 and 27,000.
Slower growth isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Castiglione said, but it carries different ramifications that alter the planning process.
SINGLE FAMILY CONSTRUCTION
U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by the Capital District Regional Planning Commission shows the top 10 communities in the Capital Region for single-family house construction permits from 2013 to 2017:
- Halfmoon 744
- Colonie 722
- Guilderland 356
- Ballston 351
- Bethlehem 310
- Malta 288
- Wilton 287
- Clifton Park 285
- Saratoga Springs 284
- Stillwater 166
- Moreau 162
TOTAL RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION
The CDRPC also tallied the most active markets for single-family and multifamily housing construction permits from 2007 to 2017:
- Halfmoon 2,466
- Colonie 2,079
- Saratoga Springs 1,574
- Bethlehem 1,205
- Wilton 1,193
- Albany 1,135
- Malta 1,074
- Rotterdam 1,054
- Ballston 959
- Guilderland 841
The following community data at assorted dates from 2010 to 2016 was gathered by the CDRPC for (left to right) Clifton Park, Halfmoon, Saratoga County and the four-county core of the Capital Region:
Population at 2010 Census: 36,705 21,535 219,607 837,967
Median resident age: 42.1 40.5 40.9 39.6
Residents with college degree: 66.2% 55.39% 51.2% 47.4%
Minority population: 10.8% 10.1% 7.3% 17.6%
Number of households: 14,102 9,286 88,296 342,135
Median household income: $97,000 $71,741 $74,080 $63,213
Per-capita income: $44,999 $40,745 $37,583 $32,527
Households below poverty level: 3.3% 7.9% 6.8% 10.7%
Total housing units: 15,069 10,657 101,985 378,947
Single-family houses: 12,467 5,979 69,581 229,543
Owner-occupied housing: 82.1% 64.1% 72.7% 64%
Median owner-occupied value: $276,800 $239,300 $238,600 NA
Median gross monthly rent: $1,158 $1,087 $1,026 NA