Chatham sees light at end of zoning tunnel

CHATHAM–The Town Board held a special meeting with Town Planner Nan Stolzenburg June 6 to present a draft of the proposed zoning code. Over 40 people turned out at the Tri-Village Fire House to hear what might change in a law that has been under review for nearly a decade by one committee or another.

Town Supervisor Maria Lull, who spoke before the presentation, said the town has been working on updating the zoning law since the board adopted the Comprehensive Plan in 2009. She said that close to 100 people have devoted time to updating the law. The proposed new zoning law is intended to reflect the goals laid out in the Comprehensive Plan.

Ms. Lull stressed that the meeting was not a public hearing. The board plans to hold that in July. A hearing is required before the board can vote on whether to approve the new zoning. “Tonight is not intended to be a debate or a question and answer period,” Ms. Lull said, reading from a prepared statement.

Ms. Stolzenburg, who has worked on and off with the town since 2004 and was hired in 2016 to help update the zoning law, called last week’s event “an information opportunity.” She said the board did want comments on the proposed updated zoning and that there were cards at the meeting so people could write comments. Supervisor Lull said that residents could email any board member with comments.

Ms. Stolzenberg talked about the town’s Comprehensive Plan Implementation Group (CPIG), a committee that had gone over the zoning code line by line in recent years. Before the CPIG, the Zoning Implementation Committee (ZIC) had reviewed the zoning laws for 2012 to 2016 and suggested updates. Ms. Stolzenberg said that the CPIG did incorporate some of the work of the ZIC review.

She also said that the town formed a Roads Committee, which made many suggestions about the town’s rural roads that are now included in the proposed zoning law. The board also plans to have a committee look at highway and road standards.

Ms. Stolzenberg said the proposed law includes recommendations from the Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan the town adopted and she noted that the town had a water resource plan that also went into the zoning law proposal.

Ms. Stolzenberg said that the updated proposal addresses “hot button” items that were not thought of in the Comprehensive Plan, like solar panels and storage pods.

She said the CPIG had updated and added definitions, adding that the committee hoped “we’re giving you a document that is easier to follow.”

“We have to be clear about the rules,” she said of zoning, stressing that this would give the town’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals “adequate tools” to make decisions.

Ms. Stolzenberg went through an outline of the changes. She said the new law also added “zero lot lines” in the hamlets; allows for one principal use per lot instead of two; added use of net density/average lot sizes as well as procedures to monitor “lot splits”; a new site plan section; a new section on home occupations, which has to do with home offices; a noise section; and short-term rentals, like the online Airbnb service.

She talked about adding a “density bonuses” that could be given to property owners as an incentive for them to give the town desired amenities, like open space on a large plot of land.

There was a discussion about ridge lines and environmental issues. She said the proposal adds two environmental protection overlay districts, but that the zoning maps, which shows the zoning districts, have not changed.

She took some questions from the audience, but she stressed that she and the town’s attorney for land use would be looking at written questions and concerns people have.

The CPIG is not done with its work. Though the committee has presented the proposed zoning law that Town Board members are now reviewing, they still need to review and recommend updates to the Subdivision Law.

In the handout the board presented at the meeting, there was a note saying that “there were 104 land use regulatory recommendations that came from the Comprehensive Plan. 80 of 104 are completed in this phase. 11 items to be implemented in the Subdivision Law update. 5 items to be implemented in the Road/Highway Specification update. 8 items to be discussed still.”

Supervisor Lull said that information about the public hearing will be posted on the town website, chathamnewyork.us.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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