By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Philipstown’s formal public hearing on the planned rezoning law ended on Wednesday (Feb. 16) with low attendance and few questions, often focused on the size and paperwork required for subdividing lots in the key environmental areas and the establishment of a soil mining district. With about 22 in the audience at its peak, the hearing in the Town Hall continued a session begun a week earlier in the Haldane Central School gym that drew about 80 participants.
Development in the OSO
East Mountain Road resident Richard Butensky questioned the board’s rationale for some of the provisions regulating development in the Open Space Conservation Overlay district. In particular he wondered why the proposed rezoning demands that in the OSO lots be a minimum of 15 acres for a conventional subdivision — a typical suburban-type development that the rezoning text describes as a contributor to troublesome sprawl. He suggested that very few parcels in Philipstown would accommodate development of the nature affected by the rule. “I’m asking why the OSO is even necessary,” he told the Town Board. Supervisor Richard Shea, who also lives on East Mountain Road, characterized the OSO as an attempt “to maintain open space and undeveloped land, promote preservation of habitat,” preserve critical environmental areas, prevent sprawl and fragmentation of green areas, and implement the goals of the town’s five-year-old Comprehensive Plan. He also contested Butensky’s assessment that only a few parcels would fall under the OSO strictures on development. “It’s 6,000 acres of property. It’s more than a few,” he said.
Butensky argued that the town should buy lands deemed crucial to preservation of open space. Otherwise, he said, “there better be a damn good reason to take them away from them [owners]. This is people’s land that they paid good money for.” Implementation of the Comprehensive Plan is not a good enough reason to constrain the property owners, he said. “That’s not really enough to support it for this challenge in court” that would likely to arise over the 15-acre conventional subdivision lot size, he said. “How is that number not capricious and unnecessary?” Shea replied that the minimum size had to be set at some level, especially in the interests of preserving undeveloped nature of the land. He also emphasized that even in the Open Space Conservation Overlay district, “you can develop the property.” One way, he said, is through creation of a conservation subdivision, which — unlike a conventional suburban subdivision — clusters the houses near one another and keeps open, natural areas around them. “There are bonuses” to use of such a development method, as opposed to the suburban-style approach, he added. The rezoning draft states that conservation subdivisions “may include a variety of lot sizes.”
The supervisor agreed with Butensky and Ming Wang, who has told the board of her interest in developing her land, that the rezoning should spare OSO owners from the costs of filing duplicate paperwork. The proposed rezoning code states that a developer must provide a conservation analysis, detailing the presence of wetlands, watercourses, woods, hills with slopes of more than 20 percent, farmland, and similar features, when applying to the town for approval to build either a conventional subdivision or a conservation subdivision. The draft text likewise specifies that the town Planning Board can determine that a conventional subdivision would not be appropriate and tell the applicant to devise plans for a conservation subdivision instead, which could ostensibly entail filing of more paperwork. “It is a good point — to have a mechanism where you aren’t doubling the work or making it redundant,” the supervisor concurred. Audience member Kim Conner, who serves on the Planning Board, noted that even under the current zoning prospective developers encounter expenses and requirements. “To say that things are going to cost a lot under the new zoning, I don’t see that,” she said.
Soil mining concerns
Another East Mountain Road resident, Rodney Webber, questioned the parameters of the soil mining overlay district, which would cover a section near Route 9 in the northernmost end of the town. “You’re allowing mining outside the industrial zone. You’re increasing the area,” Webber said. Councilman John Van Tassel and Shea responded that under the existing law, soil mining could occur along much of Route 9, at least from Route 301 to the Dutchess County Line. “Just because there’s an overlay doesn’t mean the whole area is going to be mined,” Councilwoman Barbara Scuccimarra added. Shea likewise pointed out that the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation would be involved in soil mining questions as well. “Soil mining is regulated by the DEC,” he said. “We have very little control over it. ”
When the sparse audience posed no further questions, the board members voted 5-0 to close the public hearing. Shea announced that they will continue to accept written comments until the end of the month and then discuss what further changes, if any, to make in the draft law.
Nine districts, eight overlays
The rezoning would establish nine districts:
1. Rural Conservation (RC), “to promote land conservation, agriculture, forestry, recreation, and the preservation of open space, as well as other compatible rural uses, by encouraging such activities and by discouraging large-scale residential development, while allowing low-density residential uses.”
2. Institutional Conservation (IC), “to preserve existing institutional uses of property of 20 acres or more that maintain significant amounts of contiguous open space and/or historic structures.”
3. Rural Residential (RR), for “residential uses in a rural setting at a lower density than is allowed in the hamlets.”
4. Hamlet Residential (HR), with “the traditional scale, density, and character of residential hamlets such as Continental Village, as well as residential neighborhoods surrounding designated hamlet-mixed use areas.”
5. Hamlet-Mixed Use (HM), for “creation and expansion of hamlets in the traditional scale, density, architectural style, and mixed-use character of the existing hamlets of Garrison and Garrison Landing and of the Villages of Cold Spring and Nelsonville.”
6. Suburban Residential (SR), “to maintain the character of existing suburban density residential developments and to allow a limited extension of suburban growth patterns.”
7. Highway Commercial (HC), for “commercial uses that rely heavily on automobile and truck access and that would not be compatible with a hamlet mixed-use area.”
8. Office-Commercial-Industry-Mixed Use (OC), “for light industrial, service commercial, office, and research facilities,” along with, “where compatible, housing and limited retail commercial development intended to support the primary uses or to provide adaptive re-uses for existing commercial or industrial buildings.”
9. Industrial-Manufacturing (M), for “industrial and related uses that are not compatible with most commercial, office, or residential uses, in isolated and well-buffered locations.”
In addition, to “provide additional protection of important environmental resources” as well as “permit certain types of economically productive uses that would not otherwise be allowed,” the draft rezoning superimposes eight “overlay districts”:
- Floodplain (FPO), “to control development within the 100-year floodplain in order to minimize flood damage and protect water resources.”
- Cold Spring Watershed (WSO), “to protect the water supply of the Villages of Cold Spring and Nelsonville, which includes the entire watershed of Foundry Brook.”
- Aquifer (AQO), encompassing the entire town, “to protect groundwater resources that provide drinking water for private wells and” could later “provide public water supplies.”
- Open Space Conservation (OSO), to offer special protection for tracts of 30 or more acres found on the Philipstown Open Space Index.
- Scenic Protection (SPO), “to protect the character of scenic resources in the town, including designated scenic road corridors and the Hudson River viewshed.”
- Soil Mining (SMO), “to provide appropriate locations for soil mining to occur where landowners can achieve a reasonable return on their land from sand and gravel mining” without adverse impacts on their neighbors.
- Mobile Home Park (MHO), to cover “appropriate locations for mobile home parks.”
- Historic Preservation Adaptive Re-use Overlay (HPO) “to allow use-flexibility for the adaptive re-use of buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places that are on parcels of 15 acres or more, in order to provide economically viable ways to rehabilitate, maintain, and re-use them.”
Photo by L.S. Armstrong
Interesting article and great questions by Mr. Butensky. How is it that Kim Conner, who does not see the economic impact of the rezoning, failed to mention that she is on the board of directors of HHLT and a strong proponent of the rezoning?
The writer (Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong) was slightly off the mark on the part of the dialogue that she quoted between Richard Shea and me. The open space overlay severely limits the use of properties over 30 acres. A property of 29.99 acres next door to the 30 acre property would not fall under these restrictions. When asked why 30 acres was the magic number, Mr. Shea replied that they had to draw the line somewhere (originally that line was drawn at 50 acres and then 25 acres before being changed again to 30). This, to me, was the primary point of our exchange. It is the arbitrary nature of the Open Space Overlay that I am questioning. Simply justifying these restrictions by saying that they carry out the objectives of the Comprehensive Plan is not a cogent argument.
Also, while Mr. Shea was able to come up with the gross acreage that falls under the overlay, he was not able to come up with even an estimate of how much of this land is even qualified for development under existing zoning restrictions. In addition, the large institutional tracts that all fall into this overlay have been given exemptions and privileges that should also exclude them from his gross figure (Mr. Shea has also never been able to justify the different treatment of these institutions). Such severe restrictions must be justified with a lot more evidence of their benefit. And even then, if the zoning crosses the line and becomes a taking of property or its useful purpose, the owners must be compensated.
Simply foisting an extra set of restrictions on one group of homeowners because their property happens to be a little larger than their neighbors’ does not seem fair. We are all stewards of the land and should all shoulder the burden of that stewardship equitably.