November 16, 2011

Comments on zoning for tonight's public hearing

I can't be at tonight's public hearing on the zoning, as I'll be at Village Hall helping out at the Dryden Town Historical Society's talk on the Southworth House.

As regular readers here will know, I'm not entirely sold on the new zoning. As much as I would like to go through the whole (finally released) draft and nitpick it, I decided to focus on the component I see as most likely to create major problems. Those problems will affect not just neighbors but anyone using our state highway, and change the tone of conversations about extending water and sewer in the future.

To the Dryden Town Board:

I recognize that you have put substantial work into the proposed zoning law, and I am glad that what you are considering passing right now does not include the badly broken subdivision law. There is, unfortunately, still one extremely ugly component in the zoning law that I would ask you to remove - or at least to amend out quickly.

Earlier drafts of the zoning law had a "commercial" zone which, like other non-residential districts, allowed four units per acre of housing in addition to the retail typically expected of a commercial zone.

There were complaints that the commercial zone was drawn to too small an area, so the Town appears to have added every parcel that ever was commercial to the map. This created a very strangely spotted map.

At the same time, the Town shifted from "commercial" to "mixed use commercial", a very different thing. Mixed use commercial allows, per ยง606, up to ten units per acre in areas where there is public water and sewer available. It is called "mixed use", but there is nothing in the zoning that requires these uses actually be mixed.

No other zone in the Town in the current zoning permits more than four units per acre. Even allowing for the addition of the Varna Master Plan's probable likely higher density for that hamlet, many of these formerly commercial zones are much more likely to sprout apartment complexes than retail establishments.

The combination of the Town's scattering commercial zones across the map and redefining commercial to mean "highest density housing allowed in the town by right" will lead to many unpleasant surprises for neighbors as well as housing in locations that were better suited for commercial use - and chosen expressly because they were good places for commercial use.

This approach is also in direct contradiction to the 2005 Comprehensive Plan's discussion of lessons learned from the problematic Route 13 corridor area, where much of the commercial zone has been placed:

The Rte. 13 corridor between Irish Settlement Road and Etna Lane poses a particular planning challenge. High traffic volumes adversely impact the utility of land adjacent to the highway for residential development. Also as the corridor experiences further development in the future, there is the potential for substantial increases in the level of congestion on Rte. 13 unless steps are taken now to control that potential.

The conflicts that have occurred where commercial and industrial development has occurred in close proximity to residences are an ongoing land use issue within the corridor. In several instances long-time residents of the area have been adversely impacted by new non-residential development adjacent to their properties. These newer industrial or commercial enterprises are seen as exacerbating the impact of the heavy traffic on the road. (61)

The Design Guidelines, now appendices to the main document, address some details of this, but the problems begin here, in the main body of the zoning.

I urge you to correct this major flaw in the zoning - by removing Section 606 - before it creates genuine controversy, about either either the placement of housing or the value of extending infrastructure.

I've objected to this for over a year, with little result, and it would be difficult at this point for the Town Board to strike Section 606 and references to it without holding a new public hearing, so I don't expect action on this. However, I also don't plan to let it go quietly.

If you can make it to the hearing, it's at 7:00pm at the Dryden Town Hall, 93 East Main Street (Route 392), Dryden. You can find the introduced law here.

Posted by simon at November 16, 2011 3:55 PM in
Note on photos