Village Board of Trustees Hold Special Meeting to Review New Viewshed Legislation | January 29, 2008

The Village Board of Trustees held a special meeting on January 29, 2008 at 7:30pm. The purpose of this meeting was to hear a joint presentation from the Viewshed Committee, Village Planner Bonnie Franson and Attorney Mike Donnelly with regard to Proposed new Local Law #2. This law will outline new Viewshed Overlay Districts within the Village and new building standards within those districts.

Mayor Stebbins began the meeting by thanking all those who have been
involved in the process of creating the proposed legislation. He then turned things over to Gary Glynn of the Viewshed Committee.

Mr. Glynn began his remarks with a brief history of the Viewshed Committee, whose initial charge was to identify key visual landscapes within the Village, which if altered would diminish the historical and aesthetic character of Tuxedo Park, and then to recommend changes to our current zoning code, which would allow for protection of these critical areas. After much discussion as well as time spent hiking, driving and boating within the Village, the committee came to a consensus regarding which areas they felt should be identified as critical to the viewshed. With the help of Village Planner Bonnie Franson, the committee divided these areas into two districts, which have been named Gateway and Ridge. The Gateway District encompasses those landscapes visible from either of the gateway roads entering the Park (Tuxedo Rd and South Gate Rd) while the Ridge District encompasses those landscapes visible from the main roads circling the Lakes or from the Lakes themselves.

The proposed legislation sets new standards for building within these districts and will apply to additions to existing structures as well as new development.

The standards require structures to blend in with the land through the use of specific materials and colors that fit the surrounding landscape and limits them in terms of height and size. In addition, structures cannot be built on certain areas, which have been identified as high spots. Any new construction that is clearly visible, must use vegetation as a screening device to minimize the visual impact of that structure on the viewshed. Finally, under the proposed legislation no new driveways will be allowed on either Tuxedo Road or South Gate Road in the Gateway district.

Mr. Glynn went on to explain that the Village’s current prohibition from building on a ridgeline is not an effective method for protecting the viewshed as the appeals process allows applicants to get around the prohibition. This new legislation will more clearly define the process and provide the proper framework for legally protecting our viewshed.

Following Mr. Glynn’s remarks, Village Planner Bonnie Franson explained in detail the methods used in creating each of the districts as well as the extensive research that was completed with regard to overlay zoning and the use of zoning techniques to protect a viewshed.

Finally, Mike Donnelly, Attorney for the Village Zoning Board of Appeals, outlined the procedural steps involved in enacting the legislation. He also discussed the importance of “grandfathering” existing properties, which will become noncompliant should the law be enacted. In addition, he talked about the need for a Conservation Easement, which will be necessary in order to enforce screening of highly visible properties by way of vegetation.

Following the presentation, the Trustees were invited to make comments and ask questions.

Trustee Shaw began by inquiring of Bonnie Franson whether the research showed any studies conducted in communities with similar laws that show the effects the legislation has had on land values. Ms. Franson responded that she did not have any such information. Mike Donnelly commented that any zoning change will affect land values, however this is not a solid reason to reject the law.

Trustee Darby inquired as to whether or not the new legislation will lift the Village’s current prohibition on building on ridgeline and was informed that as it is currently written, it will not. However, Mr. Glynn commented, the standards required by the law should make the prohibition unnecessary moving forward. Trustee Darby also inquired about existing homes within the proposed districts and if they would be required to comply with the physical standards laid out in the legislation. Mr. Glynn responded that the intention was to “grandfather” in existing homes, which would make them exempt from these standards. However, moving forward, any additional construction on existing properties would be held to the new standards. Trustee Darby then expressed some confusion as to why the proposed legislation should be enforced primarily by the Planning and Architectural Review Boards rather than the Zoning Board when most of the issues addressed by the law are ones that fall within the province of the Zoning Board. Mr. Donnelly replied that the Zoning Board of Appeals deals primarily with applicants who have been rejected for one reason or another by the Building Inspector and not with the siting of properties or the materials with which structures are built. Finally, Trustee Darby commented that while he is in full support of the original intent behind the proposed legislation and thinks that the committee has done an excellent job in capturing the proper objectives, he believes the law needs some “tweaking” and he will reserve further comments and suggestions until after feedback from the Planning Board, Board of Architectural Review as well as the public has been given.

Trustee Hansen inquired about the appeals process and Mr. Donnelly responded that applicants who are unable to come to a consensus with the Board of Architectural Review may appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals (it is rare for communities to provide for an appeal from the Planning Board to the Board of Zoning Appeals) however, the role of the Board of Zoning Appeals must be more clearly defined within the parameters of the law. Trustee Hansen then commented that he felt the purpose behind the law was commendable and while the proposed package is a good one, it is fairly extensive and therefore, it is crucial that the Trustees take their time in reviewing the legislation and gathering feedback before moving forward. He then commented that in his opinion many of the restrictions laid out in the law are vague and must be more clearly defined. Trustee Hansen also inquired about the methods by which properties within the districts had been selected and was informed by Bonnie Franson that the parcels had been selected by driving and boating around the lakes as well as the use of aerial photography to determine which properties are clearly visible within those districts. He went on to comment that the legislation would divide the properties into two categories: those more sellable and those less sellable and that perhaps any new building standards should be extended to include the entire Village. He went on to point out that 2 of the 3 proposed subdivisions currently before the Village Planning Board are not within either of the proposed districts and therefore will not be held to these more rigorous standards. Finally, Trustee Hansen asked about 4 existing foundations, which exist within the proposed districts and whether or not these houses could ever be returned to their original specifications under the guidelines of the new law. Mr. Donnelly replied that provided that the properties were “grandfathered” along with other existing structures, they could be rebuilt. Otherwise, under the proposed legislation they cannot be constructed to their original specifications.

Trustee Worthy had no questions or comments.

The discussion was then opened up to the public for questions and comments. Sara Cassis commented that she applauds the idea behind the proposed legislation and believes that many of the suggested standards should also be applied to other properties within the Park. She suggested that in the long run, the legislation would protect property values in the Village, as it will ensure that the community does not become “built out”. Kathy Norris inquired whether or not the applicant process would change under the new legislation and was informed that it would it not. She went on to comment that the proposed standards and restrictions would devalue properties within the proposed districts and therefore discourage new people from purchasing those properties. David McFadden commented that he feels the language in the law is capricious, vague and arbitrary and that he can foresee delays in the process for applicants should the Village choose to enact the law as it stands. He went on to suggest the addition of a Special Use Permit, which he feels, would provide more clarity for applicants. Mr. Glynn responded by explaining that it was the desire of the committee to keep the application process within the Village Board system and he asked Mr. McFadden who he felt should issue such a permit. Mr. McFadden responded that he was not prepared to answer the question at that time. He then continued on to say that if enacted the law will limit architectural style as well as the legitimate desires of landowners within the proposed districts. Mr. Glynn responded by restating that the purpose of the law is not to limit architectural design or to prohibit landowners from building, but rather to minimize the effect of new structures on our viewshed. JoAnn Hanson, Planning Board Chair, commented that the new legislation would provide the Boards with the tools needed to encourage structures that blend in with the environment rather than bolder structures that might not fit in with their surroundings. Susan Goodfellow expressed her concern over dividing the Village into separate areas, held to different standards and suggested that the Trustees consider the entire Village and its shared values when implementing new standards which will affect all residents. Bruce Gebhardt commented that there has not been enough analysis done and implored the Trustees to conduct a more broad-based analysis of the long term effects that the legislation might have on property values, local schools and economics in general.

Both the Village Planning Board and Board of Architectural Review are expected to review the proposed legislation and offer comments and suggestions to the Board of Trustees moving forward. In the meantime, residents are encouraged to submit any questions, comments or concerns they might have to Debbie Matthews at the Village Office.

Following the Viewshed discussion, the Board discussed the proposed “Fraud Hotline” which would allow residents to report any suspected fraud or illegalities on the part of Village Police, Village employees or elected officials. A bid has been received from Lighthouse Services Inc. in the amount of $552.50 a year to institute such a hotline. The Board voted unanimously in favor and then discussed the protocol for handling complaints received.

Next, the Board unanimously approved the decision to implement a higher reimbursement rate for third party work conducted by the Village DPW.
Finally, a motion to withdraw from Orange County’s Workman’s Compensation program was unanimously approved on the condition that a letter be sent to the county informing them that the Village does not waive any legal rights in this involuntary termination.

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