Officials aim for zoning tweaks in Chatham village

CHATHAM–The Village Board held a workshop meeting last week to review proposed changes to the village zoning law. Mayor John Howe said at the beginning of the meeting that a village committee had presented these changes to the board and to the public at meetings in 2017 but that the process was “derailed” due to other village issues. He said that now many of the members of the Village Board are newly-elected and they needed to understand what the proposals would change.

Mayor Howe, who was elected in March and took office in April, did stress that approving these zoning changes and updates was a priority for him and that the board would have a public hearing on the changes in September.

At the July 30 meeting he also said, “This is the Village of Chatham, not the Town of Chatham or the Town of Ghent.” The village has it’s own zoning law and village codes. The Town of Chatham is currently discussing proposed updates to the town zoning law, which is separate from the village. The village straddles the line between the towns of Chatham and Ghent but the towns’ zoning laws do not affect the village.

The committee appointed by the Village Board started work on zoning in 2015 after the Village Board approved updates to the village Comprehensive Plan. The committee has recommended changing some definitions, use tables and the zoning map.

Lael Locke, who was on that committee, said during the review that the committee was looking at keeping the village a “small-scale, walk-able, affordable community”

At the meeting, committee members reviewed the proposed updated zoning map, which shrinks the “residential suburban zones” and changed the historic overlay district. They also discussed the change in definitions, adding definitions for fast food restaurants, family dining, group homes, health/fitness centers and more.

There were also changes suggested to Home Occupations that would distinguish between major and minor.

Village Attorney Ken Dow, who has reviewed and worked on the proposed zoning, said that “most of the changes are clarifications.” He pointed out that there were about 34 new definitions. He also said the changes would “streamline” the application process for getting a special use permit.

There was some discussion about updating village codes, like regulations on food carts, which are not a zoning issue. Mr. Howe said he knew that the village codes are an issue and would need to be looked at.

“Ken will continue tweaking this,” said Mayor Howe about he zoning changes, but he wants to have a public hearing on the changes by early September, adding that after the public hearing, “we shall vote” on accepting the changes.

The definitions and the zoning map are at the village website

One issue not addressed in the proposed changes is a definition of short-term rental (STR). Mayor Howe said that would be a future discussion. “It will be a public conversation,” he said if the village decides to add regulations on rentals like the ones offered on the website Airbnb.

The zoning code does have a definition for dwelling that was amended to say “a building, or portion thereof, arranged, intended or designed to be occupied by one or more families living independently of each other upon the premises” and there is a separate definition for dwelling (accessory), which says in part that it is “a dwelling unit which is subordinate to the principal one-family dwelling in terms of size, location and appearance, and which provides complete living facilities….”

The committee and the board talked about having accessory dwellings on properties for rent or for family members to live in. Trustee Lenore Packet, the only board member who was on the board during the original discussions about the zoning, said that some people use their property for short-term rentals to pay their taxes. “I think we have to keep an open mind,” she said of the zoning. And later in the meeting she talked about not having regulations on something, like STRs, before they are a problem. She also said of the issue with housing, “There are a number of homes for sale in the village that are affordable.”

Members of the committee pointed out that the timeline for updating the Comprehensive Plan is 5 to 10 years and that this whole process should start again soon.

Mr. Dow pointed out that the even once these changes are approved, additional changes can be made.

“The here and now is what it is,” said Mayor Howe, saying the board can’t spend too much time looking in a “crystal ball” to deal with future zoning issues.

The next regular Village Board meeting will be Monday, August 12 at 7 p.m.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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