Beacon Planning Board Supports Zoning Petition

Public hearing will continue next month

By Jeff Simms

The Beacon Planning Board has voted to recommend that the city council approve a petition by a group of landowners to “downzone” seven parcels to slow residential growth in their neighborhood.

The planning board made its decision in relatively quick order during its monthly meeting on Tuesday (April 12), saying that the parcels, as presently zoned, are inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.

The petition, which was filed in February, names seven parcels — two on South Avenue and five on Wolcott Avenue — inside Beacon’s Main Street-to-river “linkage zone,” an area designated in 2013 for expanded growth to support nearby Main Street businesses. The seven properties are also part of the city’s Historic District and Landmark Overlay, and the petition argues that the linkage and historic districts are incongruent.

Drawing its boundaries from the west end of Main, along Wolcott Avenue/Route 9D and down to the Metro-North train station at the riverfront, the linkage zone allows for Beacon’s most dense residential development, an effort on the city’s part to support businesses and create a “vibrant” connection between Main Street and the river.

A map showing the liking zone in Beacon. (Click to enlarge.)
A map showing the liking zone in Beacon. (Click to enlarge.)

The petitioners argued that linkage zoning on their properties conflicts with the comprehensive plan, which was enacted six years earlier and, due to the area’s historic nature, allows only “medium” density development of five to nine units per acre. For that reason, the landowners argued, the seven parcels should revert to their pre-linkage zoning.

City Planner David Stolman said on April 12 that the parcels would be “much more consistent” with the comprehensive plan if returned to their previous zoning. “If I were looking at it, I’d look at the whole linkage district and see if there’s anything else that stands out like a sore thumb,” he said.

The comprehensive plan was adopted in 2007 and serves as the blueprint for development and growth citywide. Mayor Randy Casale recently appointed a 14-person committee to study the plan and recommend whether, and how, it should be revised.

The catalyst for the rezoning request, which has drawn support from a number of neighbors to the area, was the River Highlands, an approximately 70-unit complex proposed for the vacant lots on Wolcott just south of the Reformed Church of Beacon. Residents also feared that two houses adjacent to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on South Avenue could be demolished and rebuilt as “Main Street-style buildings” under the linkage zoning.

Church representatives said during a public hearing last week that they have no immediate plans to sell either house. And although it’s likely that St. Andrew’s will sell the lots for development eventually, church leaders pledged to do so in a way that’s consistent with the feel of the neighborhood.

A representative from Unicorn Contracting, the developer behind the River Highlands proposal as well as the Butterfield project in Cold Spring, declined to comment. The River Highlands proposal has only been in front of the Beacon planning board once, for a preliminary presentation in November.

Neither Unicorn nor St. Andrew’s representatives signed the property owners’ petition. City statutes, however, allow for the review of properties within a zoning district if 50 percent of the property owners in a given block in the district sign a petition requesting the review.

A public hearing on the petition held last week by the Beacon City Council is scheduled to continue at the council’s May 2 meeting. Council member Peggy Ross said this week that there may be a third option between the parcels’ present zoning and a blanket reversion to pre-linkage zoning.

“We will have to take a new look at it,” she said, “because I think, personally, that it needs a gradation — as it gets closer to Main Street there should be more density.”