Rezoning the Town of North East

The Town of North East and Village of Millerton’s 2019 Comprehensive Plan guides the creation of the town’s updated zoning code. This map from the plan shows the existing zones in the Town of North East.

Town of North East

Rezoning the Town of North East

NORTH EAST — Every first and third Monday of the month, members of the Town of North East Zoning Review Committee (ZRC) meet at 4:30 p.m. to discuss revisions to the town’s zoning code.

The current six-member committee includes Dale Culver, Bill Kish, Julie Schroeder, Ed Downey and Dave Sherman. It is headed by Edie Greenwood and advised by land use consultant William Agresta. North East Town Board members are frequently in attendance at meetings as well. Transparency is key to the process with agendas published in advance and a public Zoom link available.

The group was appointed by the Town Board to update town zoning code in accordance with the comprehensive plan approved in November 2019 and has been meeting since July 2020. The priority is to update the zoning code for the town’s commercial districts including the Boulevard District east of Cumberland Farms on Route 44; the Irondale District, which is north of the village along Route 22; and the Light Industrial District, where Harney Tea is now located.

The committee has now simplified the Boulevard into two districts East and West of Kelsey Brook, and drafted new regulations that will include a provision for residential housing above retail and multifamily apartments. “We are encouraging walkable, affordable residential alternatives adjacent to the village,” commented Greenwood.

The first full draft of the reviewed regulations relating to the commercial districts is now being prepared by Agresta. Next, the draft package of regulations will be sent to the ZRC’s land use attorney Dave Everett of Whitman, Osterman & Hanna for legal review, with a turnaround time estimated by Greenwood to take approximately three weeks.

By June, the ZRC hopes to present a final version to the Town Board. After review by the town’s attorney, the document will be sent on to Dutchess County Planning and Economic Development for its comments, which may take another month. Once all this expertise is combined in a final version, the town will publish the large document for all to see and then set a public hearing date.

The public hearing may send the plan back to the drawing board on specific issues.

“It’s a balancing act of competing interests and views,” Greenwood commented. “This project is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever been involved in — not just the details, but the realization of the impact zoning has on our community.”

Bill Kish, a member of the Planning Board and the ZRC, observed: “Completing and adopting updated commercial zoning is critical to ensure the town’s future economic viability. Our existing zoning regulations are almost 50 years old, which is one of the reasons why our commercial districts have fared so poorly in recent years.”

Completely updating the zoning code from 1977 is a huge undertaking. Two former attempts were not successful, and over the years, the town made changes by enacting specific laws. The result has been zoning regulations that are inconsistent and patched together.

“What we are doing is taking a giant step backward,” said Greenwood in an attempt to connect and update the original zoning laws with the 2019 Comprehensive Plan.

The biggest changes foreseen are permitting residential in commercial districts and being more heedful of environmental issues, Greenwood said.

In preparing the revised code, the ZRC took over a year to review, update and expand the 32 pages of definitions that are the foundation of every zoning code. For example, Greenwood cited the 1977 definition of “family” referenced “family, domestic servants and gratuitous guests” and will now read “family, staff and occasional guests.”

North East Town Supervisor Christopher Kennan, who frequently attends ZRC meetings, understands why the revision is taking so long: “I am deeply grateful to Edie Greenwood and to each of the six members of the ZRC committee. They have worked for three long years, usually meeting twice a month, to complete this gargantuan task. Imagine if you had to take every single item in your house out of the house, inspect it, evaluate it, and record it. Every single item — every single dish, every stick of furniture, each item of clothing, everything. And then think if wasn’t just you, but actually six people, who all had to agree on what it was, what its condition is, and where it should be put back! Think about it. That’s sort of what a zoning review like this involves. It is very, very detailed work. And soon enough, their work will be presented to the Town Board, and it will be in our lap. Thank you, ZRC!”

Once the Town Board officially approves of the commercial portion of the zoning revision, the ZRC will next begin the task of updating the Agricultural, Residential, and Land Conservation zoning code.

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