Jun 11, 2014 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The mayor and village trustees received an earful of resident concern and opposition last week regarding a village proposal to rezone the Ledyard Avenue/Route 20 entrance corridor into the village — what the board is calling the “Western Gateway” — as a way to promote economic development as well as to maintain the appearance and historical integrity of the grand homes on the road.
Calling it an ill-conceived and under-developed plan that could turn the spacious residential corridor into a village-soul-killing commercial strip, neighbors questioned numerous aspects of the proposed law, including the allowed commercial uses in the new zoning district, the availability and aesthetics of parking, the danger to the existing historic homes, the benefits and potential spot zoning for the owner of The Brewster Inn and even the way in which the village notified the neighbors of the proposed zone change.
Fresh off the controversy of the proposed – and ultimately withdrawn — zone change application for 4 Chenango St. in order to move the restaurant Circa to that location, village officials were unprepared for the Ledyard Avenue neighborhood opposition that was expressed during a public hearing at the village board’s June 2 regular monthly meeting.
“I was shocked — this has been discussed publicly for months and I have been working on the concept for a year, and Monday night was literally the first criticism of any sort I have gotten on the topic,” said Mayor Kurt Wheeler. “The innuendo that there was a lack of transparency is unfair and unfounded. Every aspect of this has been noticed, put on our website, discussed at meetings, signs put out, notices sent, etc. Much of that effort is beyond what is required — if we were trying to ‘pull a fast one’ we wouldn’t go out of our way to solicit input. The committee worked very hard to assemble a draft law that we felt served the public interest. Nonetheless, we will go back to work and try to address the concerns that were raised.”
The proposed local law to create a new zoning district and change the zoning of certain land parcels on both sides of Ledyard Avenue from Route 13/Lakeland Park to the western village boundary by the Trush property has been under consideration and review by the village for “quite some time” — nearly a year, Wheeler said during the meeting. The idea of the proposal is to emphasize new and more potential uses for the large old homes on Ledyard Avenue as a way to prevent deterioration of those properties, to maximize land use by allowing more commercial development and to help beautify the village entranceway area overall, he said.
The proposed local law “To amend Chapter 180 of the Village Code” — which is available for viewing on the village website or at the village office — would establish a new “Western Gateway” zoning district for the Ledyard Avenue area and change the R-10 and R-20 zoning currently there to the new zoning district.
The proposed new zoning district would allow single-family dwellings and residential accessory structures, as well as 10 different commercial uses with the issuance of a special use permit by the village planning board. Those commercial uses include: bed and breakfast, motel/hotel with not more than 30 rooms, “including spas and other related facilities;” office uses; conservation areas; public outdoor recreation; business or non-profit organizations renting canoes, kayaks and other forms of non-motorized watercraft; tennis clubs; museums; educational facilities; retail sales that are clearly an accessory to otherwise permitted non-residential uses; and mixed use of “otherwise permitted residential and non-residential uses.”
All uses not listed as permitted are expressly prohibited, according to the proposed law.
The village created a special committee of individuals representing the village board, the planning board and historical preservation board who worked for about three months to create the proposed law, and the proposal has been sent to the county planning board for review, Wheeler said.
Many of the Ledyard Avenue residents attended the public hearing and spoke out against the proposed law.
Attorney Max Gale, who owns and lives in the 1912 Colgate Cottage on Ledyard Avenue, went through a list of inconsistencies in, and concerns about, the proposed law.
“I’m not so sure as written it will accomplish your goal [to preserve historic homes on the street] — and I’m not sure it’s necessary to have a law to do this,” Gale said. “I’m afraid you’ll turn Ledyard Avenue into a commercial strip and people will leave or move away.”
Gale said the law:
—Does not define or limit what type of motels or hotels are allowed, such as whether national chains or family-owned are allowed.
—Does not explicitly state that existing structures must be maintained, and even includes a provision that allows destruction or demolition of existing structures.
—Says nothing about boat usage at the south end of the lake, including the possibility of someone building a marina.
—Offers no limitations on scope or size of office buildings that could be built.
—Has a definition of allowable “retail sales” so broad that “there is a likelihood of abuse there.”
—Does not adequately create allowable parking situations. Section 6 of the proposed law states that parking is not allowed between a building and the road, and parking between adjoining buildings shall not be closer than five feet to residential lot lines. Logically, Gale said, this indicates that parking will have to mainly occur at the back of a lot — or between the building and the lake — which would ruin the aesthetic views from the lake.
“As it stands, I don’t support the law,” Gale said, admitting that his reasons are “selfish” as a Ledyard Avenue resident, but also because he does not believe the effects of the law will be in keeping with the soul of the Cazenovia history and community. “The way this law is drafted, I think there’s going to be a lot of problems.”
Neighbor Bill Loftus also spoke to urge rejection of the proposed law, saying it will reduce Ledyard Avenue property values and drive the current street residents out of their homes. He said design, environmental impact, historical attention and traffic implications all must be addressed and presented for public review, and “by going about it this way you are opening the floodgate for any or all commercial development, now and in years to come; perhaps needless to say, development that you may not welcome.”
Loftus specifically addressed the parking aspects of the proposed law, which, he said, leaves a building’s side yard as the most likely place to build parking lots, which would have major negative effects and quality of life issues for avenue residents; not to mention the potential stormwater infiltration issues affecting the lake due to impervious parking surfaces. “I strongly disagree with the approach to turn homes into commercial properties,” he said.
Multiple people at the meeting agreed with Loftus’s argument, and said this has the potential to turn Ledyard Avenue into another Route 5 in Fayetteville, where all the old houses there have become law offices and dentist offices.
Loftus also said he and his wife felt they were not adequately notified of the village’s rezoning plans, and suggested the entire plan was part of a less-than-savory motive by the village to allow a single business owner on the road to expand.
Resident Sparky Christakos agreed with both of those sentiments, but more forcefully said he felt “duped” by the village and “insulted” that the village created the proposed law to benefit a hotel on the lake and to develop the Trush property. “That’s what happening here, but you didn’t tell anybody that,” he said. Gale added that such a motive to benefit a single business owner was “spot zoning.”
The reference of deeper motives referred to was the fact that Richard Hubbard, owner of The Brewster Inn, has been investigating the possibility of purchasing the two homes adjoining his property to the east with the intention of creating a bed and breakfast-type wedding venue.
Hubbard did not attend the public hearing, but afterward told the Cazenovia Republican that the motive implications were inaccurate. He said his business plans and the village’s rezoning proposal were “coincidentally simultaneous” and he had no idea of the village’s plans as we was making his own plans. He said he is still investigating the possibility of expanding his business, and has been working with the state historical society to preserve the historic aspects of the adjacent houses he is looking to purchase.
“I’m not trying to do anything that’s not pretty, that does not make sense,” he said. “And if we can’t get the prices right on it, we won’t do it at all.”
“I did not want this to be about me,” he said, which is why he did not attend the June 2 hearing.
On the other side of the issue, resident Priscilla Arthur said she feels she already lives in a commercial district, but the Brewster Inn has been a great neighbor. “I have no complaints,” she said.
Wheeler tried to field and alleviate all the residents’ concerns voiced during the meeting, saying multiple times that the intent of the proposed law was to protect the historic homes and to offer a smart and beneficial way for the village to foster commercial development in the Western Gateway district. He said there are “very stringent” protections in the proposed law for historic structures, and nothing in the law would allow current structures to be demolished simply to make way for something new and commercial to be erected. He said many of the issues raised about buffering, stormwater management and other concerns that residents said were not addressed in the proposed law are addressed — and would be managed — through other, already existing sections of the village code.
“Our intention is to serve the public interest,” he said. “I wouldn’t propose this if I didn’t think the community would benefit.”
Wheeler said that the entire rezoning proposal is only in its beginning stages, and the village welcomes community input.
He said he will reconvene the committee that drew up the proposed law and have it reconsider everything in light of the resident concerns raised at the public hearing. Any revisions to the proposed law that the committee makes will immediately be posted on the village website, he said.
The village board then unanimously agreed to hold the public hearing on the issue open until July 1, when they agreed to schedule a public hearing solely for this issue at 7 p.m. in the village office.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.