In recent months Lloyd’s Town and Planning Boards, as well as the Comprehensive Plan Committee, focused their attention on zoning code changes applicable to planned retirement communities and the highway business district. The Ulster County Planning Board [UCPB]was critical of an initial draft from Lloyd, saying it was too restrictive, but a new draft that came out this month has deleted and changed many key provisions that were in the original May draft, making it more favorable to developers.
At a recent Planning Board meeting Chairman Scott McCarthy acknowledged that recent zoning changes were compiled from conversations that included himself, fellow board member Sal Cuciti, Councilwoman Claire Winslow, Supervisor Fred Pizzuto and Land Use Attorney Paul Van Cott.
Cuciti pointed out that significant zoning changes were made and included in the September version and asked how that happened.
“A lot of it was changed [and] a lot of it got deleted,” he said, referring to the current zoning proposal. He said it appears that the changes were in response to the negative comments from the UCPB.
“They think we want dense urban areas on Route 9W with apartments and that these apartments are going to be linked by walking paths. That’s never going to happen; there is nobody in Highland asking for dense environments on 9W and there is nobody that thinks you can walk around from these communities to other communities on 9W; it’s not safe. The county comments are so out there.”
The new version of the Highway Business District [HBD] zoning allows for more apartments than the May version. The percentage of the project that can be apartments has increased from 30% to 50%. For example, in the initial version, a 10,000 sq/ft building could have 3,000 sq/ft allotted to apartments but the new wording allows 5,000 sq/ft., running counter to the intent of the HBD that is aimed at favoring businesses over apartments.
The distances between buildings [setbacks] have been decreased. In May the setbacks in the HBD were listed at 60 feet on the side, 120 feet side totals and 60 feet rear setbacks but in the September draft the new figures are 35 feet on the side, 70 feet side totals and 35 feet in the rear.
Lot coverage in the HBD has been increased from 30% to 40%, which includes the building and the parking lot, but even at 40% it will be less dense than the current zoning of 50%.
The density of the proposed new Planned Residential Retirement Development [PRRD] zone has also been increased. The allowable number of houses has tripled. The May version of the code stipulated the number of independent living units [homes] that could be built in a PRRD could only be up to 50% of the number of assisted living rooms. These homes would be used by people who were not in need of assisted nursing care. Initially, if there were 100 rooms in the assisted living section of a PRRD project, then the number of homes permitted was capped at 50. The September version, however, tripled this number and would allow a developer to build 150 homes in a PRRD.
Minimum building setbacks in the PRRD zone have also been reduced. In May, the proposed front setback was 100 ft plus the number of feet its length exceeds 100 ft. For example, a 300 foot long building would have to be setback by 300 feet.
In the May version, the side of a building would have to be setback from the property line by the number of stories multiplied by 2 and then add 100 feet. For example, a 35 foot building multiplied by 2 is 70 ft and add 100 ft to that for a total of 170 feet.
Also the May code called for the rear setback at 100 feet from the lot line.
In the September revision, all these were cut back – front, side and rear – to 50 feet from the lot line. The setbacks of parking lots was also decreased from 100 feet down to 50 feet.
The PRRD zoning calls for developers to go through a pre-application process. To receive a Planned Residential Retirement Development [PRRD] designation, developers must submit a conceptual plan, with drawings, architectural renderings and a description on how their PRRD conforms to the town’s zoning requirements. One provision allows the Town Board to consider modifications right up front. It states that developers, “shall set forth any proposed waivers or modifications from any of the requirements of this section, including but not limited to use, density or area requirements, that would be needed for the proposed PRRD with justification for the relief sought.”
Lloyd’s land use attorney, Paul Van Cott, has publicly stated on several occasions that the Town Board has wide latitude and discretion over large development projects and could reduce the density figures or may reject a project outright because they believe it is not appropriate for a particular site. This is the same legal firm, who behind closed doors in early July, advised the Town Board that if they did not vote to grant a waiver from a town moratorium to allow an Assisted Living Project to go to the Planning Board, they would be sued by the developer.
This matter spilled over into the September 16th Town Board meeting. Councilman Joe Mazzetti’s motion for a super majority to override the UCPB and keep the board’s original PRRD failed by a vote of 3-2, with Councilpersons Winslow, Pizzuto and Auchmoody voting no and Mazzetti and Guerriero voting yes.
Mazzetti warned against the revised zoning version.
“This is a developer pushing a law to make the most profits. We as a board worked hard on the other [zoning] law to make a town that we’re proud of, to have a vision that we have” he said. “We all embraced the [zoning] changes we made and we all worked diligently...and now I find it mind-boggling that some people [councilpersons] have gone in a different direction. Statements were made that developers waited long enough.”
Mazzetti said a zoning plan should not be revised based on a developer’s wishes and desires or to maximize profits.
“So do we want to sell our soul to every developer or do we want to have a community that we’re proud of?” he asked.
Mazzetti said the UCPB can only advise because the power resides in the Town Board, “and we could have done that tonight.” In addition, he urged the board to begin interviewing for a new land use legal firm, “because they are incompetent based on the sole reason that they took $54,000 of our taxpayers money without ever telling us that the PRRD had to match the Comprehensive Plan.”
Councilwoman Winslow blamed Mazzetti for the high legal fees because he made the zoning changes so strict, “that the county came back and wouldn’t hear of it. So with this [revision] we met in the middle so we could get approval and we could move out of the moratorium and start developing some of our property in our town reasonably and respectfully for our residents.”
Winslow praised the town’s Land Use attorneys for being readily available and explaining any of the finer points about a project. She said the town has done a great job for its residents because the revised zoning changes should find favor with the UCPB.
“These projects are good projects and these projects have been downsized. The Villages is a nice project that is coming through...and it’s smaller,” she said.
Mazzetti pointed out that the Villages Assisted Living proposal in its new format has a footprint that is actually larger than the previous one. The project only appears smaller because the Assisted Living building is just one phase of the original much larger project that will cover nearly 53 acres. The developer’s attorney has admitted to this point and has indicated that the developer [Mark Sanderson] will return at some point for the other two phases of his original proposal.
The Town Board voted 3-2 to move the newly revised zoning changes to the Ulster County Planning Board for their comments, with Winslow, Pizzuto and Auchmoody voting yes and Mazzetti and Guerriero voting no.