Planning Board Backs Museum Zoning

Also, approves new home on Lake Celeste Drive

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

The Philipstown Planning Board last week backed a zoning law change to allow museums and art galleries to operate in the office-commercial-industrial district. But it also sought barriers to prevent building owners from gaining approval for one use only to change course after opening.

At its Dec. 13 meeting, the board instructed the town’s attorney, Steve Gaba, to draft a letter to the Town Board sharing its views.

The zoning change and the Planning Board’s reservations were inspired by Magazzino, an Italian art warehouse that opened in June 2017 in a renovated factory on Route 9 and was open only by appointment. Three months ago, Magazzino recast itself as a museum, run by a nonprofit, with regular hours.

Magazzino Italian Art (Photo by Marco Anelli)

Last March, the Town Board began discussing a change to the zoning law to allow museums in the office-commercial district. It presented a proposal in June, but pulled it back for further tinkering. On Dec. 6, it again postponed action on a draft measure (that covered art galleries as well as museums), citing concerns about the tax implications of the change.

In late fall, the Town Board had also requested the opinion of the Planning Board, which took up the request on Dec. 13.

Gaba noted that the Planning Board had approved Magazzino as a warehouse but that it “then took on the personality of a museum or art gallery,” which “resulted in some confusion in town.” Consequently, “rather than allow use of ‘warehouse’ to be stretched,” the Town Board decided to revamp the zoning. Under the proposed measure, “if Magazzino were so inclined, they could come in and clean up their use” and formally get the Planning Board’s blessing as a museum, he said.

Planning Board members said they supported revising the law. However, they balked at allowing owners to change the use of a building after the board authorizes its plans and function.

“Intent matters a great deal,” said Planning Board Member Neal Zuckerman, who urged the town to adopt safeguards, so that a project’s stated function “has to last some period of time,” such as three years.

He pointed out that a warehouse is considered a lesser usage of a building, because, unlike a museum, it does not involve public access, hours of operation and related considerations. He also endorsed remarks that Kim Conner, another Planning Board member, made to the Town Board on Dec. 6.

On that occasion, Conner described Magazzino as “an asset to the community” and said she realized that a venture can evolve after opening. At the same time, she cautioned: “I know it’s common to do something and ask forgiveness later. I’m not saying ‘don’t do this’ [zoning update], but I’m always concerned about precedent.”

Lake Celeste

With little discussion, the Planning Board on Dec. 13 approved a 2,500-square-foot home and garage on a 20-acre parcel off Lake Celeste Drive. It made its approval contingent upon fulfillment of conditions such as improvements to the private lane.

In September, the board conducted a lengthy public hearing at which neighbors and the Lake Celeste Association’s lawyer opposed the project, criticizing it as an intrusive threat to a quaint road and community.

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