Esslie-Frenia Law June 2023 Leaderboard

Public can weigh in on new New Leb zoning

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NEW LEBANON–The face of New Lebanon would not change much under the zoning re-write proposal to be aired at a public hearing Monday, June 29. What would change is the emphasis of zoning, according to re-write committee member John Dax.

In a letter to the Town Board dated May 29, he said the “most significant changes are directed at preservation of open space, farmland, scenic views and small town character and protection of fragile natural resources such as water bodies and steep hillsides, all as required by the Comprehensive Plan.”

 The proposal would grant the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals “new, more flexible tools to encourage wise site planning that protects these values, including the authority to use incentives to promote clustered development, conservation and open space preservation,” he wrote. An “overarching goal” of the draft law, he said, “is to minimize the devotion of large open space areas to single residences and to identify areas that are appropriate for denser, pedestrian oriented mixed-use development.” 

The proposed new ordinance retains the six districts of the old one, renaming some, and adding six new “overlays”: Historic, Scenic, Hilltop/Ridgeline, Agricultural, Hamlet and Steep slope. The boundaries of the overlay districts have not yet been established.  The law “creates special requirements for uses located in the still-to-be mapped overlay districts” and new uses proposed in those areas will have to meet requirements applicable to both the underlying zoning district and overlay district,” Mr. Dax said in his report to the Town Board.

The single most important change, he told the board, is that site plan review by the Planning Board will be required for commercial and industrial applications, as it is for major subdivisions at present, as well as some applications within the new overlay districts. Site plan review, the letter said, “is one of the most common and powerful land use tools in modern zoning laws.”

Route 20 west of Route 22, site of the racetrack, automobile dealers and repair shops, abandoned vehicles, and several failed businesses, would not change under the law. The letter continued, “District boundaries remain substantially the same except along Route 20, between West Lebanon and the Route 22 intersection, where the changes have been made to reflect long-existing use patterns, to consolidate the districts and to add depth off Route 20 to certain districts.”

Mr. Dax said in an email response to a question about this aspect of the proposal that strip development happened in that area before the town adopted zoning laws. He said that the new law attempts to “encourage ‘nodal’ development rather than strip.”

Mr. Dax, who is also chairman of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, told The Columbia Paper properties now in violation of the zoning ordinance will not “get a free pass if they are non-compliant.” He said the proposal “tightens the rules barring junkyards and increases the regulation of auto repair and sales. But, enforcement is and has always been the critical issue.”

He said that in the past the town “was very lax about enforcement. That’s changing, but much remains to be done.”

The full 62-page document is available on the town website, www.townofnewlebanon.com.

The hearing begins at 7 p.m. at the New Lebanon firehouse, 573 Route 20.

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