By Michael Turton
One meeting at a time, the Special Board drafting a new Comprehensive Plan for the Village of Cold Spring continues to inch closer to completing its task. On Nov.16, at a workshop convened by the Village Board, Special Board chair Mike Armstrong and fellow special board members outlined major provisions of the draft plan for members of Cold Spring’s four standing committees: Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Historic District Review Board and Recreation Commission. Those committees now have until Nov. 30 to submit written comments including any suggested changes to the proposed plan. The Special Board will then make final revisions before recommending the Comprehensive Plan to the Village Board which then becomes the plan’s steward.
Ted Fink, a principal in the consulting firm Green Plan which has assisted the Special Board in the final phase of the planning process, outlined numerous advantages of drafting the new plan: not the least of which is simply having up-to-date information. The current plan, adopted in 1987, contains data that is 30 years old. Fink said that the new plan can also open the doors to new funding. He said that New York City received $800,000 to upgrade an existing bike path and the Town of Rhinebeck received $15,000 to undertake a sidewalk improvement demonstration project. Both had up-to-date plans in place. Once the Comprehensive Plan is adopted, Fink said that other levels of government including the Town of Philipstown, Putnam County and New York Sate must take its provisions into account when undertaking projects that affect the village. As an example he said that because the plan calls for making the village more “pedestrian friendly” those governments must adhere to that objective when undertaking road improvements.
Questions regarding the legal status of the Comprehensive plan came up more than once. Cold Spring village trustee Airinhos Serradas asked Fink to “answer yes or no” in inquiring whether or not the plan will be law once adopted. Fink replied simply, “no.” What may be more important are Fink’s and Armstrong’s explanations regarding what the Comprehensive Plan actually is and what they think needs to happen after it is adopted. “This isn’t about making law – it’s about making policy. It is a policy document. It does not have a lot of detail – by intent,” Armstrong said. When quizzed a second time Armstrong said that the plan is a “”¦commitment to a set of principles, not detailed rules.” Fink added, “You don’t want a document that ties the Village Board’s hands if everything is too prescriptive.” That approach, he said, would result in public hearings and SEQRA reviews being required frequently.
The “rules” Armstrong referred to come into play after the Comprehensive Plan is adopted. From that point on, changes to the village’s land use regulations, including detailed zoning regulations must conform with the Comprehensive Plan’s recommendations. The process that produced the 1987 Comprehensive Plan has been criticized because it was not followed by zoning changes that would have implemented that plan’s recommendations. Fink was clear in what he thinks should happen after the new plan is adopted. Referring to what has worked best in other communities he said, “The most consistent approach has been to take the Comprehensive Plan’s recommendations and chart out a direction that moves towards it [revised zoning]. If you do it in dribs and drabs you lose momentum. What has been most successful is to adopt the plan and then start right into zoning changes.”
One change that the plan puts forward is a possible shift to “form-based zoning,” at least in parts of the village. Form-based zoning evaluates proposed uses based on their impact on a neighborhood or the village rather than enforcing a narrowly defined list of acceptable uses. Armstrong said that the plan addresses economic vitality objectives in part by encouraging mixed uses, including the ability of people to work out of their homes, something that form-based zoning can address. Fink said that form-based zoning may not be appropriate for the whole village but that it could be very effective in new developments such as the Marathon area. “There’s a learning curve on many of these issues,” he said and “There are entire textbooks written on from-based zoning. You don’t just jump into that.” Fink said that a good example of a successful development using form-based zoning can be found in the Town of Warwick. A housing project there incorporates traditional neighborhood designs. “To look at it, it could have been developed a hundred years ago.” He said the development has proven very popular, that new units are still being built, and that sales exceed “McMansions” being built in the area.
Parge Sgro, who serves on the Planning Board, questioned the wisdom of what he called the “many good wishes in the plan” and wondered aloud about the need to control growth in a village with an “antiquated infrastructure.” Armstrong agreed, underlining the plan’s name in his response. “It is a comprehensive plan” he said, putting extra emphasis on the word comprehensive. “You have to consider the infrastructure. You can’t go jumping ahead with [building] apartments. You have to consider what’s in the Comprehensive Plan.”
The cost of enforcing new zoning regulations was also raised. “We’re a small village with limited funds. We only have a part time building inspector” said Arne Saari, chair of the Historic District Review Board, hinting that a full time building inspector might be needed if there is increased development. “Put it in your report!” responded Armstrong, a reference to the fast-approaching deadline for standing committees to submit their comments.
Kathleen Foley, a member of the Historic District Review Board said “There is an educational moment here.” She was referring to concerns that have been raised regarding that board’s review process and calls for a more “streamlined and user friendly process.” She asked for specific details regarding the feedback that the Special Board has received in order for the board to respond. “It sounds like you have learned a lot” she said. Foley, a land-use planner, supports the recommendation that the Comprehensive Plan be updated every five years. “When it is looked at more frequently it is not as traumatic, not as jarring.”
One of the plan’s suggestions, that may seem jarring to some residents, is the possibility of extending Lunn Terrace, making it a through street and connecting it with the Marathon-Kemble Avenue area. Village trustee Chuck Hustis expressed concern over that possibility. “I can’t envision that” he said. Armstrong said that traffic flow is a village-wide issue, including the Kemble-Marathon area. “We said, ‘What are the options?'” he said. “One solution is the Lunn Terrace extension, but standing back we want to look at all possibilities. We’re not advocating it as the thing to do.”