July 15, 2010

General thoughts on the new draft zoning for the Town of Dryden

I've had a few people over the past few days ask me something like "you don't really like the new draft zoning, do you?" In general, I'm afraid they're right.

I didn't think the previous draft was perfect, but I was generally happy with the direction it took. It had a clear heritage from the decade or so of work that went into the Comprehensive Plan, and if it had passed verbatim I could have lived with even the more annoying nits. (They are easily fixable, I think - it just takes a bit of effort.)

Unfortunately, most of what I've found in reading the new drafts is disturbing. I've already noted the "War on Woodworking", but that's really just an especially annoying nit. The new parts that worry me, which I'll explore in greater detail as I find time to write, include:

  • The hamlet zoning density blasted up from a little over four to as much as ten units per acre, while still specifying, well, little vision for what a hamlet should look like. They also pulled the hamlet designation from Etna and McLean, leaving it only in Varna. Perhaps they knew the new version wouldn't make Etna or McLean residents excited supporters of either the zoning or future water and sewer infrastructure.

  • The commercial zoning now supports residential densities cranked up much like those proposed for hamlets, and I'm not sure that's really what most people had in mind when commercial zones were discussed earlier. There's mixed use, and then there's apartment complexes. They're not the same thing.

  • I'm not sure what's going on with the Optional Traditional Neighborhood Development Overlay District (OTNDO). The plan suggests that "The purpose of the Optional Traditional Neighborhood Development Overlay District (OTNDO) is to provide development alternatives for landowners located at the periphery of villages and in hamlets that do not currently have water or sewer. These areas are specified as an overlay district on the Zoning Map" - but there's no sign of OTNDO on the map. It sounds like Etna and McLean should be in there, and maybe my section of 366, but it's only described in text. (It also doesn't sound like they plan to reserve it as an option rather than designating areas now, which makes the absence more confusing.)

  • I didn't love the description of Conservation zones in the previous version - it was more complex than I'd really like. A somewhat similar proposal had been dropped from the Comprehensive Plan's discussion of subdivision. This new version, though, seems to make Conservation zones impossible to understand without walking through a long series of examples on specific parcels with particular constraints. It seems very different from the calculations for the other zones, enough that it's hard to compare its results.

I'd encourage everyone with a bit of time to read the new drafts and study the new map, and come to your own conclusions. I hope (and expect) they'll be different from mine.

My own conclusion is that there's no way at all I can support this new draft. It wrecks the parts I felt most valuable while complicating other issues. I recognize that the current zoning is a mess, but every meeting about this has emphasized that it's something we want to get right and then not mess with for a while. At this point, I think that "getting it right" has to mean taking another look rather than rushing to pass a broken law. I don't want to have to spend the next few decades cleaning up the mess this seems likely to create.

Posted by simon at July 15, 2010 5:11 PM in
Note on photos