Town Re-Opens Historic Protection and Ridgeline Zoning Issues

County presence at Butterfield Hospital site also discussed 

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

The Philipstown Town Board last week re-opened two potentially controversial rezoning issues, reviving plans for a historic protection overlay and revisiting the question of ridgeline protection. It took no action on either, beyond setting dates for a workshop session, Aug. 31, to consider the historic preservation overlay and a public hearing on Sept. 7 on new language for the zoning code on ridgeline and hillside protection. Adopted May 5, the new code contains discrepancies between the text and ridgeline map. Covering a wide-ranging agenda at the formal monthly meeting Aug. 4, board members also defended the $1 annual rent charged by the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company (GVFC) to the Depot Theatre for space in the old fire station. Earlier in the evening, it heard State Sen. Greg Ball report on state legislative activity. [See Sen. Ball Tells Town Board of Albany Reform, Tax Caps, Fracking, and More]

The proposed zoning overlay supersedes a version briefly included in the then-draft rezoning last winter, but removed in March when the board decided to pursue what Supervisor Richard Shea called a more “holistic” approach. According to the draft distributed Aug. 4, the measure – the Historic Preservation Use-Flexibility Overlay (HPUFO) – is designed “to encourage the preservation of and adaptive re-use of historically significant buildings, structures, and/or properties that will preserve and promote the town’s rural character [and] historical past, and contribute to tourism, the tax base, and economic development.” The Town Board would extend, or refuse to extend, HPUFO status to prospective sites. HPUFO inclusion would spare the property from compliance with other zoning regulations that might hinder adaptive re-use – such as conversion of an old mansion to a small conference center. Under the proposed overlay provisions, applications for construction work on the relevant properties would be required to demonstrate how the project furthers those goals. They also would need to obtain site-plan approval. The original historic protection overlay was sometimes viewed as aiding renovation of Castle Rock, the medieval-like castle perched on the mountain above Route 9D. However, in dropping that overlay from the rezoning package this spring, board members noted that Philipstown is dotted with historic properties that could be affected by such protections. Board members Betty Budney and Barbara Scuccimarra led the renewed effort to craft a proper overlay. The two “have been working really hard on a draft and we’re going to keep pushing forward,” Scuccimarra said on Thursday.

Ridgeline protection
Through a “technical amendment,” the board also proposes to tweak the zoning code on ridgeline protection. “There was some confusion as to where the visible ridgelines were,” Supervisor Shea explained. “Mapping every ridgeline in town is not something we were willing to bite off right now.” Yet, according to the draft amendment, such extensive mapping is what it would take to bring the current zoning law into sync with the accompanying map. As the draft points out, “the zoning text states that the map shows – visible ridgeline no-build areas – while the map itself does not show such areas. In order for the map to show these areas, considerable viewshed analysis would be required.” The amendment calls for site-plan review for structures with 500 square feet or more of floor space, or more than 20 feet tall, and a land disturbance of 2,000 square feet or more, if the parcel lies within the ridgeline and hillside protection area. Buildings constructed there could not exceed 30 feet in height and not project above the ridgeline when seen from a publicly accessible place.

Putnam County and Butterfield Hospital
Board member Nancy Montgomery updated her colleagues on recent discussions by the Putnam County government regarding the old Butterfield Hospital site. Philipstown and Cold Spring officials seek a partnership arrangement with the county to share a government services facility and create a senior-citizen center. “I’m a little concerned” about the some of the talk by county officials, who questioned the need for a county site in Cold Spring, she said.“I think it’s important for the county to step up and have a presence over here.”

“We do send an awful lot of tax revenue over to Putnam County,” Shea said. “And we do need some of that money to come back,” in the form of a complex that includes a center for elderly residents. “Our seniors need it. We’d like to partner with the county.”

“It’s time,” Anthony Merante, town Planning Board chairman as well as a Nelsonville trustee, commented from the audience. “You have to go somewhere else for all the facilities.”

Shea observed that Putnam Valley’s public senior center offers state-of-the-art programs and employs a staff of more than a dozen, but is too far away for Philipstown residents, who need something here. “We’re committed to this,” he said.

GVFC-Depot Theatre lease
By a majority vote, the board approved a new lease for $1 a year for the Depot Theatre to use space in the old Garrison fire hall on Upper Station Road. From the audience, Garrison resident Joe Regele objected to the low rent. “The Philipstown theater is the Philipstown theater. It’s not the Garrison theater,” he told the board. “That [lease] really is just a subsidy of Philipstown by Garrison residents. I don’t understand why Garrison taxpayers should be on the hook.”

“The building exists. It was under-utilized,” Shea said of the old fire station. “The Garrison Volunteer Fire Company offered it; they set the rent. We understand” the point, he assured Regele. “We just disagree with you.” Board member John Van Tassel compared the GVFC-theater arrangement to use of North Highlands Fire Department meeting rooms by Scouts and other community groups. However, he suggested that perhaps the theater could pay a share of utility costs at the old fire station.  Shea, Van Tassel, Montgomery and Budney voted to approve the lease.  Scuccimarra voted “no.”

By the same majority, the board approved a $5,000 allocation from the Recreation Department as a town contribution to a study planned by an inter-jurisdictional committee reviewing the state of youth sport fields in Philipstown. Montgomery said the town share came from Recreation Department fees. “We don’t want to hit the taxpayers,” Shea added. Scuccimarra said she opposed the measure because “I haven’t been privy to any of this” inter-agency deliberation “and I really don’t feel comfortable” casting a supportive vote.

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