SUGGESTED MODIFICATIONS TO THE "Hamlet Areas" SECTION OF THE PROPOSED COMPREHENSIVE PLAN, 1/22/04

 

D. A. Weinstein

 

[Please note that sections in ALL CAPITALS are suggested additions, and strikethroughs suggested deletions.]

The hamlets of Etna and Varna plan require an approach to land use and development that differs substantially from the rest of the town.†

 

THE GOALS OF DEVELOPMENT IN HAMLETS SHOULD BE:

 

1.† ENCOURAGE NEW DEVELOPMENT THAT WOULD INCREASE THE ATTRACTIVENESS OF THE AREA BY OFFERING A DIVERSITY OF DEVELOPMENT OPTIONS, INCLUDING TOWNHOUSES, DUPLEXES, SMALL MULTIUNIT COMPLEXES, AND MIXED RESIDENTIAL-COMMERCIAL.

 

2.† ENCOURAGE HOME OWNERSHIP.

 

3.† REGULATE HAMLET TRANSFORMATIONS SO THAT THE CHARACTER OF THE COMMUNITY IS MAINTAINED OR SHIFTS SLOWLY, NOT IN DRAMATIC STEPS.

 

Typically hamlets are more densely developed, with residential land uses mixed with or in close proximity to SMALL SCALE commercial development. Lots tend to be smaller and population denser than in the rest of the town.† HOWEVER, IT IS IMPORTANT TO MAINTAIN A HEALTHY BALANCE BETWEEN HOME OWNERS AND RENTERS.† THIS BALANCE ENCOURAGES LONG-TERM RESIDENTS WHO ARE INVESTED IN THE COMMUNITY.† Hamlets are attractive areas to live in because they can offer many of the amenities of village living.

 

To create a more attractive environment for new commercial and residential development within its hamlets the Town of Dryden needs to create new land use regulations.† THESE REGULATIONS SHOULD OFFER A MIXTURE OF OPPORTUNITIES, SOME THAT allow more dense development, on smaller lots and without the large yard setback areas typically found in suburban areas, AND SOME THAT MAINTAIN THE CURRENT AVERAGE OF ONE-HALF ACRE LOT SIZES. Another feature of hamlet development is the use of two story structures that house commercial, office and residential use under one roof. With more compact development, amenities such as sidewalks are also possible.

 

The residential development density proposed for the hamlet areas is A MAXIMUM OF 4 DWELLINGS PER ACRE.† As with the Suburban Residential areas of the future, the Hamlet areas would be comprised of several types of residential zoning districts with varying maximum allowed densities. Allowable lots size may be as low as 6,000 to 8,000 square feet where municipal water and sewer service are provided. Multiple residence zoning districts could be appropriate within the Hamlet areas. Mixed-use zoning that would allow, for example, apartment-style residences above ground floor commercial space would also be an appropriate land use tool. TO MAINTAIN THE BALANCE BETWEEN HOME OWNERSHIP AND RENTAL HOUSING, APARTMENT COMPLEXES SHOULD BE LIMITED TO A MAXIMUM OF 20 UNITS.

 

Higher density single-family residential development can be encouraged through the creation of zoning districts that allow detached and attached dwellings on small lots. Village- or hamlet-residential zoning districts have been developed elsewhere in Upstate New York to accommodate such development. These zoning districts encourage more compact development by reducing lot size requirements as well as setback requirements. Homes are allowed close to the street right-of-way, s† Side yard requirements are reduced to 5-10 feet or less and lot coverage limits raised.† THESE SPECIAL DISTRICTS SHOULD BE ESTABLISHED IN A MANNER THAT KEEPS THEM FROM DOMINATING A HAMLET, BUT MAINTAINS A MIXTURE OF DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES.

 

Crafting land use regulations and guidelines that would allow the hamlets in the town to evolve into attractive, vibrant communities will require considerable care. Clear guidelines for mixed use development that might combine residential with retail commercial uses are necessary to ensure that future development results in quality affordable housing, adequate parking, and a design and character that is compatible with the existing community character.† THEY MUST CONTINUE TO ENCOURAGE HOME OWNERSHIP.

 

SMALL AREAS WITHIN THE HAMLET COULD BE DESIGNATED FOR HIGH DENSITY OPPORTUNITIES WITH THE FOLLOWING STANDARDS:.

 

Specific standards for mixed-use areas must be in place that govern the location of structures relative to the public street right of way, the location of parking and buffers between areas of varying land uses and residential densities, including:

 

1. Setback and design standards for the street-facing facades of buildings. Maximum front yard setbacks are a tool commonly used in many communities, primarily to encourage return to the historic pattern of downtown commercial buildings being built at the edge of the public right-of-way;

 

2. No side yard setback requirements for attached structures, and minimal setback requirements for detached structures;

 

3. Limiting parking in front of buildings to that provided for on the street. Off-street parking must be located to the side or the rear of the property;

 

4. Increased lot coverage limits to 80 percent or more;

 

5. Strict definition of the types of retail or service establishments that would be allowed within the mixed-use area. Automobile-oriented businesses such as gas stations, convenience stores and fast food restaurants should be excluded as permitted uses;

 

6. Additional side- and rear yard buffers where a mixed-use zoning district would abut a residential district.

 

In communities where municipal water and sewer services are available lot sizes in the range of 11,000 square feet are used to encourage compact residential development in areas surrounding the core of a hamlet or village. After factoring in land for streets and public park dedications, these lot sizes can result in densities of 5 to 7 dwellings per acre. Because lot widths are generally between 25 and 50 feet, substantial savings in terms of infrastructure costs, including long-term maintenance costs, are possible with such a development pattern.

 

Specific standards for such development are critical, and should include:

 

1. Limiting uses to single- and two-family homes;

 

2. Street design standards that ensure on-street parking lanes, curbs and underground stormwater drains, and sidewalks;

 

3. Standards for landscape plantings within the public right-of-way, including spacing, types and sizes of trees and shrubs;

 

4. Provisions for garages, including prohibitions of free-standing garages in front yard areas, standards for alleys that could provide access to garages in the rear yard areas of lots, and for additional setbacks and shared driveways where alleys are not practical;

 

5. Maximum overall site densities, building height and bulk limits and maximum site coverage limits.

 

The small-lot approach to compact residential design within the hamlet areas should not be limited to higher density residential zoning districts. In Both Varna and Etna, compact residential development can be utilized in zoning densities where allowed densities could be one dwelling or less per acre, such as areas within the Fall Creek floodplain, or steep slope areas in and around Varna. Encouraging compact residential development in such lower density areas would allow the opportunity to create quality housing, while at the same time preserving substantial amounts of important open space within the community.

 

Municipal water and sewerage services give greater flexibility in designing a hamlet environment. These are available in Varna, but not in Etna. Etna however is close enough to the existing water and sewer lines that serve the area around the NYS Rte. 13/NYS Rte. 366 intersection, that extension of service is possible. Such extension of service can provide the catalyst for redevelopment of that hamlet and provide the infrastructure to support the envisioned Suburban Residential area to the hamletís west.

 

In addition to the recommended changes in land use policies within the hamlet areas, there needs to be an investment in the physical infrastructure of the hamlet areas, particularly in Varna.

 

NYS Rte. 366 in Varna, with its wide travel lanes and road shoulders and attendant 40-MPH speed limit, is designed solely to function as a highway that allows traffic to move quickly and effortlessly through the hamlet. The width of the highway and attendant 40 MPH speed limit, while successful in moving traffic, have had a significant adverse impact on the quality of life of Varna residents, and the character of the community.

 

The roadway should be reconfigured wherein its original primary function of quick and efficient movement of traffic be subordinated to it functioning as a village "Main Street." Toward this goal the Town should work with the New York State Department of Transportation to redesign and secure funding to rebuild the roadway to:

 

1. Eliminate the existing highway shoulders and replace them with curbing, tree lawns and sidewalks within the highway right of way.;

 

2. Provide for on-street parallel parking opportunities on at least one side of the on-street;

 

3. Create a safe intersection at FreesE Road and Mt. Pleasant Road;

 

4. Reduce the speed limit through the hamlet to 30 MPH.

 

Reconfiguration of NYS Rte. 366 from a road designed as a highway to one designed as a main street would significantly enhance the livability of Varna. This in turn would make the hamlet more attractive to investment in new family-oriented residential and neighborhood scale commercial development.