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Public gets second look at zoning update process

Dan McClelland

by Dan McClelland

A repeat version of the information session in May on the proposed revised zoning ordinance and land use plan this past Thursday morning at the Tupper Lake town hall generated a number of questions from some of the 20 or so residents who attended.

The event, organized by local code enforcement officials Paul O'Leary and Pete Edwards, was intended to give summer residents a chance to peruse the 145-page document and ask their questions.

The new proposal resulted from a more than year long study by code officials here, a group of local citizens and a downstate consulting firm, Randall and West.

Stuart Amell, who said that he and his wife Laurie own property in both the town and village, asked about the public advisory committee (PAC) that helped guide the rewrite of the 1990-vintage zoning plan.

Paul O'Leary said there were 13 members, including himself and Mr. Edwards.

Asked by the retired superintendent of schools from Syracuse if they were appointed by the town and village boards, Mr. O'Leary said they were “selected.”

“There was never a resolution appointing them as a public body by the town and village boards” to represent the town, the village and the community of Tupper Lake?” Mr. Amell asked and he was told he was correct.

“If they are not a public body, were there agendas and minutes of their meetings, and if so are they available for the public to review?” continued the River Road lot owner.

Mr. O'Leary said there were neither agendas published nor minutes kept.

“So how do we know what the PAC discussed?” Mr. Amell pressed. “How do we know about how those people felt” in their work producing the draft document?

He said he would have preferred to see how those members felt about specific changes proposed in the draft ordinance. “I think that's important!”

Mr. O'Leary admitted he didn't have an answer for him.

“So you mentioned no agendas and no minutes. So there's no way any of us in this room can go back and see what was discussed?” he continued to press Mr. O'Leary, who is also town assessor.

Mr. Amell also asked about the attendance of the committee members this past year and Mr. O'Leary called it “sporadic.”

Asked to expand on his term, Mr. O'Leary said there were some committee members who attended every meeting and there were some who could not attend them all.

“Were you satisfied with the attendance?” Mr. Amell asked, and Mr. O'Leary said he was, given that it was a committee of volunteers.

He said he was warned by the consultants that they would not get 100% attendance by the volunteers at every meeting. “They were all volunteers, after all!”

Mr. Amell said he has served on many committees during his career in education and in the communities where he has lived, “and when I volunteer to serve on a committee, I do my best to get there.”

The seasonal resident asked if there have been any meeting by the PAC since the first public information session on May 16.

Mr. O'Leary said a meeting was called but only two members attended in addition to he and Mr. Edwards: town councilman John Quinn and planning board chairman Shawn Stuart.

Mr. Amell asked if there had been any decisions made that meeting and was told there wasn't.

He asked about proposals made and Mr. O'Leary said there was one addressing the adjusting the proposed village center “to accommodate some properties on Oak Street. He said there was also talk about “adjusting some zoning boundaries to accommodate Paul Mitchell's operation off Main Street.”

Mr. Amell then asked: “Anything about camper trailers or recreational vehicles?”

Mr. O'Leary said the two members thought the wording should be left “as is” in the draft advanced.

Joel Soucy asked him to explain.

Mr. O'Leary said it was not the purpose of that morning's session to “go through every article” in the draft ordinance.

He then proceeded to take the audience of about 30 people through the steps that were followed in creating the new draft plan.

Of the steps taken so far, he said, they are currently at step three which at some point soon the PAC will “hand over” the draft document to the town and village boards for their consideration.

“The boards will review it and set public meeting” or meetings.

The process ahead also includes the completion of a State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) by law, he explained.

“-And at some point it may be reviewed and accepted!”

Representatives from both boards have said publicly in past months that the upcoming review of the new document will be both thorough and lengthy.

Mr. O'Leary said the start of the work began over a year ago when the consultants took at look at many community planning documents produced in past years like the community's Smart Growth and revitalization plans, as well as others, produced over time here.

“A land use code protects private property owners plus advances public interest,” he said of the purpose of any existing or new law. “It manages development expectations and results in a community vision of building businesses, residences and appropriate development,” including an adherence to the laws of the Adirondack Park Agency and the state housing codes.

Prior to starting the study too the contractors surveyed the community and the condition of its buildings, giving weight to historic areas, Mr. O'Leary told the crowd.

Some of the specific historic buildings were listed in his presentation.

He said specific desires in the changing of local zoning regulations were spelled out to the consultants by the PAC members in a series of meetings this past year.

There were three drafts prepared by the consultants in the course of their work that the PAC members reviewed, he told the audience.

One of his slides showed how zoning can influence the appearance of a typical chain store in a community. It used Dollar General as an example and showed how the use of reasonable zoning laws can take a garish appearance and produce one with tasteful architectural and site designs, for an overall better appearance.

He also showed a slide where the placement of buildings would be in the lots of the various zoning categories, with set-backs, widths and such clearly detailed. “It shows lot owners and builders exactly what they can do on their properties!”

He said it helps people prepare for their site plan reviews when they come before the planning board for permission.

He said subdivision regulations haven't been changed much in the new draft law.

Mr. O'Leary said the “relief” from some of these rules will continue to be found at the zoning board of appeals which is empowered to grant variances from zoning regulations.

One of the changes in the proposal was conforming lot sizes and building set backs in historical areas of the community “to match the historical character” of the neighborhood.

He gave as one example the Park St. business district where there are building set backs in the current law which don't exist, as most buildings abut the sidewalk. Without the changes, if a building was torn down and a new one was built to replace it, it would have to be set back and would look out of place. “So we changed the laws to allow a new building to be aligned with the existing ones.”

Also removed from the existing law were some “nuisance commercial uses” in residential neighborhoods.

“Architectural overlays were added for the uptown and downtown business districts to prevent demolition and insensitive changes.”

He also said the new plan added more graphics for building placements on lots and for sign regulations.

Mr. O'Leary said there were few changes to the community's overall zoning map, which shows which uses are permitted and where by zone, ie: residential, commercial, industrial, etc.

He noted that the existing code possesses some “very archaic parking parameters and we adjusted those.”

Future adjustments to the local zoning law will be able to be made “much easier” in the proposal advanced, he told the interested taxpayers. The law will also be available in electronic form from now on.

He touched on one hot button topic in the proposed law, an issue very important to Mr. Amell, who maintains a recreational trailer on his River Road lot where buildings are not permited.

“The current law use code,” according to Mr. O'Leary, allows that tents and trailers cannot occupy a site in a campground for more than 120 days a year. “That's it,” regarding those.

The new code allows the same thing in campgrounds but adds a 14-day limit without a permit outside a campground. Thirty-day and additional 90-day permits will be available from the town and village clerks. Also added is that they must have water and waste water systems on site, he explained.

The sign section of the code has been “totally revamped” with some large, tall neon ones outlawed.

The only use change in the proposed law is for heavy industrial ones near or next to residential neighborhoods, he stated.

Mr. O'Leary said the intent of the morning's session was to give seasonal residents an opportunity to review and discuss any of the proposed changes. Several of those people were attendance.

Stuart Amell asked how the proposed changes for recreational vehicles on local lots effect residents who store their units at their residences.

Mr. O'Leary said that so far neither the town or village attorneys have dissected the proposed document. “The two boards aren't going to act until their respective attorneys review it.”

He said the views of the two attorneys is going to weigh heavily on how to “best approach” this portion of the proposed code.

“I can see how there could be some real confusion here,” Mr. Amell told him.

“I ride around town and see many campers beside houses, which I'm fine with.” He said many are hooked up to electricity and water and people are staying in them.” Most times guests stay there when visiting.

He said he wondered how it affects people in his situation who keep recreational vehicles on their private lots on River Road and other areas” where buildings can't be built.

He said he hoped those different situations were kept clear and separate in any new code adopted.

What constitutes a travel trailer or recreational vehicle and a campground are defined in the draft, Mr. O'Leary told one summer resident.

The digital version of the proposal can be obtained by e-mailing him or Mr. Edwards, he said.

In response to another question from Joel Soucy about the 120- day limit for recreational vehicles, the town official said that was a stipulation for a campground setting in the existing code.

Mr. O'Leary said the code does not address the storage of an unoccupied recreational vehicle on private property.

“That may be something that needs to be clarified in the future,” he felt. “That's where the consultation with the two attorney may come into play.”

Mr. Amell said that the issuance of yearly permit for recreational trailers was a more reasonable approach and would eliminate a lot of time and paperwork for the town and village staff members if the 30-day and 90-day permits became law.

“There's a lot of campers in this area.”

Mr. O'Leary said there are growing number of recreational vehicles in this town and any final law should help accommodate those owners.

River Road resident Larry Reandeau said he believes the recreational trailer law change could make Tupper Lake into “a gated community.”

He said years ago he was looking to buy a house in a gated community and when he learned you couldn't park a recreational vehicle on your lot, he didn't buy the house.

“Tupper Lake is not a gated community. I have a permit to park my trailer on my lot. It's called my taxes!”

He proposed that provision in the proposal be scrapped. “I don't see a lot of trailers beside houses in the community...I don't see the mess!

Mr. O'Leary told Mr. Reandeau to address his concerns with town and village officials who will ultimately accept, change or reject this proposal.

“I'm listening,” noted Councilman John Quinn.

Trustee Clint Hollingsworth, who was also in attendance and who regretted that he was unable to serve on the PAC, given his business and personal time constraints, said it will be up to both boards to thoroughly dissect this plan before any decisions are made. “We are going to be moving very slow on this” after public hearings and after thorough study.

The planning board on its own cannot adopt this into law, he told the audience.

Peter Edwards said in all the PAC discussions there was no mention of preventing private property owners from storing their recreational vehicles on their properties.

He said that was a big, unfounded rumor going through town that week.

“So when you're done with your camper for the season, park it on your private lot.”

Mr. Reandeau and Mr. Hollingsworth both said they felt preventing recreational vehicles from being stored on people lots was implied in the wording of that article of the proposed code.

“It was not the case, not ever the case,” Mr. O'Leary said echoing Mr. Edwards' comments.

Mr. Quinn promised that clarification of that issue will be contained in any forthcoming legal review before the final drafts are examined by the two boards.

A resident asked if family or friends will be permitted to stay in a recreational vehicle next to his house during a visit here and Mr. O'Leary said they could. If the stay was longer than 14 days, however, the homeowner would have to secure a 30- day or 90-day extension.

“-And there may not even be a fee for those permits,” Mr. Edwards speculated.

Mr. O'Leary said there is no wording in the draft plan that calls for a fee for those extensions.

Mr. Amell asked if written comments have been submitted to the PAC or to the code enforcement officers since the May 16 meeting. Mr. O'Leary and Mr. Edwards said they have not received any.

He wondered about any discussion by the PAC of grandfathering existing people who currently have recreational vehicles from any changes in a new ordinance.

Mr. O'Leary said he thought some grandfathering of issues had been discussed at one point in the meetings.

Mr. Amell said he learned from a town official that if a person is grandfathered in from a new law “we're all going to be very happy.” However, he said, there is a punishment.

The punishment, he said, was campers could never be upgraded and if the property was sold the new owner could never place another recreational vehicle there.

Mr. O'Leary said grandfathering was discussed, but only discussed, with no action taken to include it in the final version.

Mr. Amell said if it does become law, his lot on River Road loses all its value, “because if I sell it or hand it over to my kids” the new owners can never upgrade the campers.

“Or if in ten years it's rotten and full of mold, I have to get rid of it but never be able to place another camper there.”

“Is that what the discussion was? Why would you even discuss something like that?” Mr. Amell pressed Mr. O'Leary, who said all the discussion amounted to was about the grandfathering question. That's what committee (members) and meetings do!”

Mr. O'Leary said all it amounted to was “brainstorming.”

“So if a tree falls on my camper, I can't get another one?” Mr. Amell asked him.

“It was just a discussion,” the code officer assured him.

“This is what concerns me, Paul. I didn't hear any of that on May 16. I went there with an open mind and I was hoping it was going to be fair for all of us,” Mr. Amell continued. Since the, however, he has heard many troubling things from elected leaders here.

“Discussing something and making it law are two separate things,” Councilman Quinn told Mr. Amell.

“I understand that,” Mr. Amell responded, adding that to even discuss something that could result in the devaluation of his property really concerns him as a taxpayer. He said the mere discussion of such a provision “really disappoints” him.

Larry Reandeau strongly suggested to the planners that a single line be removed from the start of article No. 3. The line is: “in each zone, all uses are prohibited, unless specifically permitted.”

“What you are doing is writing a law that stipulates” that all future uses- things we may not even know about- are prohibited.

“When our founders wrote the Constitution of the United States, they didn't envision air planes and electricity and other things, including the new technologies, but they made a document to protect the people of this nation forever.”

“But you're about to write a zoning law that prohibits all uses unless it's in the don't even know what things may happen in the future and what someone may want to do with their house” with new inventions. “That's got to come out of there!”

Pete Edwards said the line is contained in the current zoning law.

He said it was intended to prevent someone from putting a use in a zoning area it doesn't belong.

Mr. Reandeau said the line is subject to large interpretation and could be easily twisted by any attorney. “It needs to come out!”

Any questions or concerns should be addressed to the town and village boards “because they are the people who will ultimately strike things out or add other provisions,” according to Mr. O'Leary. “The PAC is done at this point. It is handing the proposal over to the two boards.”