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Copake activates team to look at housing

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COPAKE—Copake has decided to give itself a little time to figure out what the town can do to address a big issue—housing.

Part of the strategy involves enacting a town law to establish a six-month moratorium on major subdivisions, which the Town Board did unanimously at a special meeting held February 28.

The other part of the strategy is to activate a “SWAT team.”

In her January 12 report, Supervisor Jeanne Mettler said that the Town Board’s “careful fiscal policies” over the years coupled with the significant economic growth (a nearly $19 million increase in the town’s assessed value in just the past year) have benefited the individual taxpayer.

“The flip side of the increased value of housing in Copake is the increased cost of housing and the resulting housing crisis. This is not just a local crisis; there is a housing crisis in Columbia County, and in her recent State of the State address, New York Governor Hochul recognized this as a statewide crisis,” Ms. Mettler said.

But the supervisor believes the housing issue is one that the town can tackle.

She said the town can take a complementary approach to those efforts already in progress. Columbia County has appointed a committee to deal with the issues. The county has also entered into a three-year contract with Columbia Economic Development Corp. to address housing, and a housing coordinator has been hired. There is also a local three-town committee (Hillsdale, Ancram and Copake) which has been discussing strategies for making affordable housing more available in the Roe Jan area. “Both the county and three-town committee are taking a ‘deep dive’ into this huge issue to try to understand the complex causes and to find and suggest viable solutions.”

At the supervisor’s suggestion in January, the town board appointed an ad hoc short-term working group…“to study the Zoning Code and come back to the board within two months to make suggestions as to amendments which would facilitate the creation of more moderately priced houses.” The Town Board is “not asking them to engage in an in-depth study of the housing crisis—that work is being done elsewhere. This is a SWAT team, charged with working quickly but thoughtfully to recommend practical strategies to address the lack of housing.”

Planning Board Chairman Bob Haight was appointed to the new team along with Meredith Kane, who serves on other housing committees and Deputy Chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals Dale Peterson. The town’s land use attorney, Ken Dow, will also work with the team.

Mr. Haight told The Columbia Paper this week by phone that he had initially suggested the major subdivision moratorium to see if there are specific ways “to possibly make it easier” to create workforce housing.

Mr. Haight said the team has been working since its appointment to study the Zoning Code, last revised in 2018, and will report to the Town Board at its next meeting “about where we’re heading.” He said it might be possible to allot a certain percentage of future major subdivisions to workforce housing.

In the Town Code a major subdivision is defined as “a subdivision of land resulting in the creation and net increase of five or more lots or the construction of one or more new public or private roads, or any other subdivision classified by the Planning Board as a “major subdivision” due to its probable impact or conflict with town planning and zoning documents, or otherwise in accordance with this chapter.”

While the moratorium is in effect, the Copake “Planning Board shall not commence or proceed with review of any new application for a proposed major subdivision within the Town of Copake, and no major subdivision shall be approved or authorized,” the law says.

Under the moratorium law’s section on legislative purpose it says, “The Town is currently actively examining the issue of affordable housing, to which the Town’s subdivision regulations are highly relevant.” New York Courts have held that a temporary moratorium on the subdivision of land is “a reasonable measure designed to temporarily halt development while the town consider[s] zoning charges” and is “a valid stop-gap or interim zoning measure.”

The question the Town Board wants answered, according to the supervisor is: Are there fairly simple amendments which would facilitate the creation of more moderately priced houses?

The Town Board will hear more on the subject at its March 9 meeting at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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