October 14, 2010

Town Board's second zoning conversation

The Town Board tackled zoning again last night. I'm happy to report that more people were there to watch - six of us plus a WHCU reporter. We all strained to hear, I'm afraid, but fortunately the board distributed copies of the notes they were working from, based on their previous meeting.

Much of the discussion swirled around the question of whether to include Commercial Riding Facilities as a use. That rolled into questions about different kinds of agricultural uses, what would happen if the use was deleted, and then into the broader question, which David Bravo-Cullen raised during the public meeting, of Section 500:

Uses which are not explicitly permitted are prohibited

Councilman David Makar suggested changing the language of that clause to make it positive, stating that uses which are listed are permitted, and dropping the "prohibited" language. Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner encouraged the idea, but Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins explained that it would allow anyone with a use they could define outside of that table to do it anywhere. New York State law generally gives property owners the benefit of the doubt unless municipalities explicitly close the door to such possibilities.

One other piece that spun out of that discussion was Environmental Planner Dan Kwasnowski asking whether another residential zone - neighborhood residential - might be a better place to put the more restrictive zoning, while allowing "rural residential" to feel more openly rural. I spoke in favor of that idea, as it just doesn't make any sense to me to apply zoning that feels like it was written for Ellis Hollow to large portions of the Town.

The other subject that got extensive discussion was mining, especially gravel pits. This is complicated because the state issues permits for mines removing more than 750 cubic yards, while the Town issues permits for smaller ones. The state won't grant permits that violate Town zoning, however. There were questions about whether it made sense to limit mining by zoning district or by something more like a minimum lot size with setbacks from environmentally sensitive areas.

Group homes of various kinds got a look, and the Board opted to remove much of the language from the Congregate Care Facility and Senior Home definitions which limited those uses to older residents. Also, the site evaluation criteria for Elder Cottages were combined with those on accessory apartments, and the conversation about cabins was intriguing. They have to be owner-occupied, but don't have to have electricity or plumbing. However, heat must be from renewable sources - no coal stoves or propane.

There was also an issue with multi-unit developments built on the same lot in multiple phases with financing from different lenders. Despite some question as to whether this was properly a zoning issue, it seemed clear that this was at least a potentially destructive situation.

This meeting felt a little more together than the previous one, though I suspect a lot of that is helped by building on the previous conversation. I still didn't have much sense that the Board could get through this quickly, but I guess we'll see what happens. I worry that they're still polishing when they should step back a little and look at the zones, but at least they stepped way way back and considered what Section 500 was about. We'll see.

Posted by simon at October 14, 2010 9:45 PM in
Note on photos