Comprehensive plan committee focuses on updating Amenia’s goals

AMENIA — The Comprehensive Plan Committee continued the work of updating the town’s 2007 comprehensive plan at its regular meeting on Tuesday, June 11, focusing on an approach to town goals and concluding with a broad discussion of retaining the rural character of the town for future generations.

One by one, the committee reviewed the wording of the town’s goals as listed in the plan, last updated 17 years ago, identifying the need for affordable housing as a goal.

During the two-year period spanning 2011 and 2021, 47 building permits were issued, and two applications were filed for subdivisions in 2022 and 2023. There are now 156 apartments throughout Amenia, with monthly rent running between $1,500 and $2,500 per month.

“We have to look two or three generations ahead,” said committee chairman Ken Topolsky, noting the current aging population and reminding committee members to think of who will move into existing properties in the future.

Discussion sought to define how to gather and present relevant information to each of the town’s committees to assist them with considering their own goals and how to achieve them.

“Anything we say should be open to interpretation,” Topolsky said.

Committee member Tony Robustelli said he had worked on the 2007 plan without input from town committees, terming it a grassroots effort.

Discussion turned to preserving farmland and open space. The committee noted that its work is not to change zoning regulations.

“We are trying to give guidance for the future,” Topolsky noted.

Climate smart measures, sustainability and aquifer protection were goals discussed by committee member Michael Peek as a means of promoting a healthy, safe community. He also spoke of growth bringing the need for alternate means of transportation.

Grant funding was a subject raised by committee member Vicki Doyle who reported that a Dutchess County planning official had indicated that if grant funding is to be applied for, then specific wording needs to be incorporated into the final plan.

Measures to alleviate local food insecurity were seen as a goal to be included in the comprehensive plan.

Topolsky said that the needs of seniors and the Hispanic population should be accommodated in the plan. Committee member Nina Peek felt that those interests are included within other goals.

Committee member Bill Flood suggested that if any future improvements are proposed for Freshtown Plaza, then sidewalk extension to reach the plaza should be required for safe pedestrian access.

Gentrification came under discussion

“It takes very little to create gentrification,” Topolsky said. “Anyone who moves into the community wants to be the last person who ever moved to the community.”

Following discussion, member Nina Peek arrived at a goal structure to present to each town committee. First, the committee would define its broadest goal. Then the goal would be broken into necessary objectives to support the goal. And finally, each objective would enumerate strategies recommended to achieve a measure of progress.

For example, she explained, a goal might be to promote agriculture. An objective might be to support farming, and a strategy might be to start a farmers’ market.

During public comment, resident George Bistransin spoke of the value of protecting large parcels of farm acreage and to find a way to discourage breaking large parcels into smaller lots. He also suggested establishing maximum footprints for structures.

Active discussion ensued, including Nina Peek’s view that if the town pursued a policy to promote such large expensive parcels, there would need to be a balanced approach to allow for areas of higher density, perhaps in the town commercial center. If that system were to be a reality, Peek said, then greater infrastructure would be needed to support the higher density.

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