Zoning may thwart Habitat

Valatie law calls for storefronts at street level

VALATIE–The mayor says Columbia County Habitat for Humanity is interested in renovating a two-family house on the corner New and Main streets. But Habitat can’t pursue the renovation unless it also creates a new commercial space along with its housing units.

The problem, Mayor Diane Argyle said at the November 12 Village Board meeting, is that village zoning laws in that part of the village require property owners doing any major renovations to create ground floor commercial. The mayor said that the owner of house offered the building to Habitat, but the zoning map shows that the house, which is empty and in need of repair, lies within a business overlay district that includes Main Street and parts of New, Williams and Mechanic (Route 203) streets.

Mayor Argyle said Habitat has questioned whether the board ever approved the zoning regulations, but Village Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons said that two laws, one adopted in 2000 and another in 2008, expanded the business zone.

Mr. Fitzsimmons also said that getting a use variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals would be nearly impossible. “This is pretty strong,” he said of the language of the law. If a property owner in this business district makes any renovations costing more than 50% of the assessed value or involving more than 50% of the floor plan, the owner must make the first floor a commercial space. Apartments are permitted on the second floor.

Mr. Fitzsimmons said the law was intended provide cohesion in business district instead of the mix of storefronts and housing units that exists now. The village did enforce the law recently with a rehabbed building along Main Street, though Mr. Fitzsimmons told the board the issue has only come up a couple of times.

Mayor Argyle said her major concern with the law is that many homeowners in the area don’t know about the law. “I believe it’s an unfair law,” she said at the meeting, suggesting the commercial use law should focus more on Main Street and not the more residential areas on the side streets.

The Village Board can change zoning laws, though Mr. Fitzsimmons said the Planning Board is asked for an opinion when changes are proposed.

Mayor Argyle said she would like to reach out of residents in the area and business owners to see how they feel about the law. Mr. Fitzsimmons suggested sending a letter to the property owners in the overlay zone about the issue. Mayor Argyle said the board would hold a public hearing on the law at the regular January meeting.

The mayor suggested a moratorium, stopping the law from being enforced until the board decides whether or not to change it, but Mr. Fitzsimmons said that was not necessary, telling the board that Habitat “can’t do anything unless and until we change the law.”

Calls to Habitat were not returned in time for deadline.

Another issue the board dealt with this week involving commercial space is the sale of the former village hall. The board set a low bid of $25,000 for the little building on Main Street that village government moved out of last year. The board opened two bids at the meeting, one for $10,001 and the other for $10,000. Board members rejected both bids and said they will to publicize the sale of the building. They did not set a date to receive more bids.

Also at the meeting the board:

Discussed plans to purchase a screen for the sewer plant to help filter out materials that have been causing issue with the new grinders. Mary Beth Bianconi, who is managing the $3.2-million sewer upgrade project for Delaware Engineering, said the screens will help keep costs at the plant down. Since the village has a $2-million grant and a 0% interest loan to pay for the project, the $320,000 screen and building needed to house it will not increase the village debit service.

Heard Ms. Bianconi discuss testing at one of the village wells for the influence of surface water. The year-long testing by Delaware could not prove either way whether water from Kinderhook Creek was getting into the well. Ms. Bianconi said the state Department of Health, which asked for the testing, will most likely tell the village to filter the water in that well. She said it was not an expensive project for one well and told the board, “Other than this issue, your water is very clean.”

Approved spending $3,300 for the December 14 WinterWalk, which is organized by the Valatie Economic Redevelopment Association (VERA) with a parade organized by the Santa Claus Club. The event goes from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. along Main Street.

Heard Mr. Fitzsimmons say that he is working on a deal with Verizon to rent the cell tower on the water tower in the village for $2,000 a month. The village was getting $1,500 in rent for a different cell phone service company.

The next board meeting will be Tuesday, December 10 at 7 p.m. in the Glynn Municipal Building on Church Street.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

 

 

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