Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Planning Board and Local Law No. 5

Proposed Local Law No. 5, which has come to be known as "the Stewart's law," was referred by the Common Council to the Planning Board for a recommendation in July. In August, the board decided it didn't have enough information to comment. In September, it couldn't take action because there wasn't a quorum present. This past Thursday, after hearing John Friedman, attorney for The Applestone Meat Company, present the proposal for a meat vending machine facility at 21 Green Street and scheduling a public hearing on the project for November 8, the Planning Board once again turned its attention to the proposed zoning amendment known as Local Law No. 5. 

After much conversation, guided by Planning Board chair Walter Chatham, who told his colleagues, "The Common Council is in favor of this," the Planning Board agreed to the following statement of its position on the proposed amendment: "After lengthy discussion, the Planning Board has agreed to support in principle Local Law No. 5 but would like to see SmartCode principles, specifically the 'suburban retrofit toolkit,' incorporated into the site plan requirements. We strongly believe that ultimately SmartCode should be applied to zoning throughout the city."

Chatham maintained that, as a consequence of following SmartCode precepts, "the fear of a large, vacant gas wasteland doesn't happen, but a business that has been here for many years can stay." He also asserted, "The prettiness of the town is more important than being able to get in and out of a gas station." Planning Board member John Cody optimistically opined that being required to follow SmartCode precepts would be "a good example for Stewart's going forward." 

The discussion of Local Law No. 5 was very Stewart's specific. Mitch Khosrova, legal counsel to the Planning Board, reminded the board that they were discussing a local law and that they had been concerned in the past about doing things piecemeal. He also pointed out that there was no mention of SmartCode in Article 8, the part of the city code that defines the duties of the Planning Board and the grounds for its decisions. Chatham suggested that language be inserted in the law "that people benefiting from the amendment must use SmartCode precepts."

From the beginning of the Stewart's saga, which has been going on for more than a year now, there's been a concern about spot zoning--changing the zoning to accommodate one property owner to the detriment of others. Since Scali's signed on to the appeal for a zoning change, and it was decided the amendment would apply to all areas of the city zoned R2 or R2H (there are three zoned R2 and two zoned R2H), no one seems to be worried about spot zoning. When Gossips noted that the zoning amendment would apply to all R2 and R2H districts, Council president Tom DePietro asserted there was nothing in the other areas zoned R2 or R2H to which the change would apply, and he was right. There are no businesses other than Stewart's and Scali's that meet this requirement set forth in the law: "the non conforming use has been established and has operated continuously for a period of greater than twenty years in the R-2 zone." Scali's is actually in an R2H district, which makes the proposed law seem to suggest that only Stewart's would be affected by Local Law No. 5.

Local Law No. 5 has been sitting on the aldermen's desks for three months now. The Council wasn't required to wait for a recommendation from the Planning Board, but it did. Now it remains to be seen if the Council will go ahead and vote on enacting the law as it is currently written, or if the law will be amended to make conforming to SmartCode precepts a requirement for any expansion of a nonconforming use. It would seem that the law has to be amended if Stewart's is to be allowed to expand without that expansion being the "large, vacant gas wasteland" we presumably all want to avoid.

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