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Public hearing suggests need to rethink zoning laws
The Tuesday (Sept. 7) meeting of the Cold Spring Village Board doubled as a public hearing on proposed changes to five chapters of the Village Code, part of an ongoing update of more than 500 pages of regulations that touch on nearly every aspect of village life.
No one in the small audience commented on chapters dealing with Signs and Placards, Subdivision of Land or Unsafe Buildings. But when it came to Noise (Chapter 76), one resident broke the silence.
Stephen Rose advocated a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, which, he said, exceed village noise limits. He also said the blowers’ gas engines are carbon-intense and that the particulate matter they stir up poses a health threat. He added that village workers using gas-powered blowers to clean streets are among the worst offenders.
“I feel like I’m being assaulted” when the blowers are in use, he said.
The hearing on noise regulations will remain open until trustees consider the comments from Rose, who was supported by two other spectators at the meeting.
Zoning (Chapter 134) produced the most discussion.
Donald McDonald, who served on village committees including the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Code Update, praised the board for its work but suggested improvement beyond the update is needed.
“There is too large a gap between the code and the ‘as-built’ characteristics of the village,” McDonald wrote in a letter to the board. That situation, he said, leads to decisions by the ZBA that can be arbitrary, subjective and vary over time.
He suggested a detailed measuring of the village, including every building and lot, to create a database.
“Informed, defensible standards and regulations could [then] be proposed and their potential effects reliably predicted,” he wrote.
Michael Reisman, a past member of the Code Update and other village committees, commented on the need for “conforming the code to the reality of the village,” adding the technologies to help do that are becoming less expensive.
Reisman also said there is a risk in making the zoning chapter too complex, which, he said, can make it difficult for residents to understand what is expected.
Eric Wirth, who chairs the ZBA, described the board’s work to improve the chapter as “heroic,” and submitted additional suggestions, questions and corrections.
Wirth said that under the code, the ZBA is “forced to legislate by granting substantial variances, over and over,” and that a “barrage” of minor variance requests, and red tape associated with them, is also an issue.
“The solution is not easy; it’s a problem that requires fundamental rethinking,” he said, suggesting that the village be mapped in two sections: “the old village and the new village.”
He said the current code suits the new village, but that the old village, which includes hundreds of non-conforming properties that are grandfathered in, requires a separate code.
In a letter from Putnam Independent Living Services, Joseph Guagliano urged the village to require more properties, including shops, to be made accessible to people with disabilities. The village, he said, can avoid violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York State Human Rights Act by proactively addressing accessibility in its code.
The public hearing on zoning will remain open until the board considers the comments received on Tuesday.
Juhee Lee-Hartford of River Architects, who is overseeing the design of a new wine bar and cafe at 15 Main St., told the board she had received verbal approval from the state for a variance that will allow an ADA ramp at the entrance that is slightly steeper than normally required.
However, she said the ramp allowed by the variance would be “a safety issue” for people in wheelchairs and others using the ramp.
Deputy Mayor Marie Early was dubious. “They granted you a variance and you’re saying it will create a safety hazard?” she asked.
“Yes, that’s my professional assessment,” Lee-Hartford replied, adding that the state urged her to seek an easement over village-owned property to allow construction of a standard ADA ramp.
Early said state officials, in recent discussions with the village building inspector, made no mention of an easement.
Mayor Dave Merandy also questioned why state officials would suggest an easement after approving a variance. “I don’t see how [the variance] would cause a safety hazard,” he said, later commenting that the state would not approve a variance that created risks.
When Lee-Hartford continued to argue for a less steep ramp, Trustee Fran Murphy commented: “The people who gave you the variance are experts in this; they didn’t do it for the fun of it.”
“This is the end of it,” Merandy said, adding there would be no consideration of an easement unless the state, which has yet to respond in writing, indicates the variance is not acceptable.
Trustees Kathleen Foley and Tweeps Woods both advised Lee-Hartford to wait for the state’s official response, then return to the board with the ruling.
The project has been aired at several previous board meetings as well as at the Planning and Historic District Review boards.
In other business …
- The village will again advertise for members of a community stakeholders group to provide input for an ongoing review of the Cold Spring Police Department. The first call for volunteers produced five applicants, the minimum number required for the group.
- The board voted unanimously to accept a plan recently submitted by the Parking Committee. The proposal includes a residential permit program on 11 streets east of the railroad tracks, areas and times for paid parking, designated areas for business owner and employee parking, and free parking areas. No timeline for implementing the plan has been set.
- The board unanimously approved a Share the Growth proposal presented by Philipstown Town Board Member Jason Angell that will ask Putnam County to share with local municipalities part of future increases in the retail sales tax it collects.
- A public hearing will be held on Sept. 28 to consider amendments to village code chapters on the Historic District, Streets and Sidewalks, Swimming Pools, and Vehicles and Traffic and one new chapter, Waterfront Consistency Review.