Decision affecting new condos postponed

Residents have until March 20 to deliver written comments on proposed zoning changes

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  • Pictured are sketches of the townhouses BT Holdings plans to build. The Village of Chester has added a definition of townhouses to a proposed zoning revision that some residents say will unfairly burden single-family homeowners.

By Ginny Privitar

— Chester village trustees agreed to postpone voting on controversial new zoning changes after two trustees and some members of the public expressed concern about the rushed nature of the proceedings.

Some proposed zoning changes

Multiple family dwelling (definition) — A detached building containing three or more residential dwelling units, which may include apartments, cooperatives, condominiums and townhouses.
Townhouse (definition) — Each dwelling unit should be held in separate ownership and may be located on commonly held land with other townhouses, or on a separate tax lot.
Height exceptions — A range of structures, from flagpoles to cooling towers to solar panels, would be exempt from height limitations.
“Land-banked” parking — Up to 25 percent of off-street parking spaces required with new development may be left open space to be converted to parking later, if needed. Within three years, if 85 percent of existing parking spaces are used during “peak hours” over several days, the village board may ask the developer for more spaces. Developers would have to provide 1.5 parking spaces for efficiency and one bedroom senior units, and 2 spaces per two-bedroom senior units, with a 0.25 space reduction granted for affordable units.
Units per building — No building will have more than 24 dwelling units except for projects having 60 or more units. The maximum units per building may be 40.
For complete changes see

Some trustees after a public hearing Monday night were willing to vote immediately on the zoning changes that will affect the newly annexed 61-acre site of the proposed BT Holdings development and other future development village-wide. But Trustee Tommy Bell said concerns expressed by the public during the hearing should be looked into. He said if he had to vote that night, he would vote no.

What the public said

Several residents voiced their concerns at the public hearing on proposed zoning changes to village code.
Leslie Smith:
Leslie Smith said there needs to be a clearer distinction between condos and townhouses, terms sometimes used interchangeably. She asked if townhouses will be assessed at the lower condo rate. She said she understands that the proposed changes will allow some units to be built on commonly, rather than individually, held land, which is taxed on its rental value.
Smith looked up an example: 28 Pewter Circle in Sugar Loaf, with a lot size of 87 by 149 feet, includes the land underneath the dwelling. In 2013, the land was assessed at $41,600, and the total assessment was $258,200. It is taxed as a single-family dwelling. In Whispering Hills, where land is not owned in common, a three-bedroom condo is assessed at $76,000 and a two-bedroom at $69,000.
Smith said the assessor’s office told her that condos are assessed differently: on the rental value of the unit. There apparently is a formula, but no one at the assessor’s office was able to tell The Chronicle what that formula is. The assessor is new and has not yet had to assess any condos.
Smith said the former assessor, Andrea Nilon, estimated that it cost each single-family homeowner $744 a year to subsidize condominiums. "I think that’s something you should consider when you’re looking at these projects."
Gordon Shehab :
Gordon Shehab said he couldn’t find a definition of "affordable units." He also objected to the part that states: "No building will have more than 24 dwelling units except for projects having 60 or more units the maximum units for a building is 40."
“I love Chester and the way it is now," Shehab said. "If we start allowing for increasing density it’s just going to snowball. And instead of projects having 60 or more units, I think developers will say 'Hey, let’s make sure we have 200 units.' That’s not going to look very good for Chester. And it’s going to be a large population in a small area with the attendant problems. It’s going to require more services, more police, more clean-up, whatever.
"Why are we changing this? I know the developer wanted 50 units per building...and I am sort of reading between the lines and this may be somewhat of a compromise, but I don’t know why we have to compromise with developers. If a developer comes into a community and they want to build — wonderful — but they have to conform to what the existing community is."
Clif Patrick:
Clif Patrick noted confusing wording about required building setbacks from the curb: “It says it shall be a minimum of 40 feet. And the next sentence (mentions) an average meets a minimum of 30 feet.”
Patrick also asked what will happen when the “land bank” for parking when its provision expires. “What if three years pass and the economy picks up and people start buying more cars, then we’ll be in the same situation as Whispering Hills, where parking is so tight. I think the village has to be very careful not to cut itself short on the parking for the site.”
He also questioned the allowance of parking spaces. If a condo owner is allowed a maximum of two vehicles per unit, he asked, what’s going to happen with two vehicles per unit, when you’re only providing one and one and a half spaces accommodation? It sounds like a contradiction."
Tracy Schuh:
Tracy Schuh took issue with the proposal’s wording that landscaping be “suitable.” “Suitable for whom?” she asked. The planning board, the developer, the site?
In reference to items that would now be excluded from code height restrictions under the proposal, such as water or cooling towers, Schuh said: “I’m just a little concerned about outright exclusion of certain things that were at the discretion of the planning board. If there was no problem with it in the past, why remove it now? Why undermine the code?”
Concerned with increasing the density in the senior buildings, Schuh said: “Going from a building of 24 units to 40....Just thinking about what the massive size of that building will be and now we’re talking about seniors — if there’s a fire — clearing out a building of 40 people, seniors, I just felt that was a concern.”
Schuh recommended the village write some ridge preservation code to protect highly visible area.
Regarding public notice of meetings, Schuh said she did not get the Times-Herald Record, and that she looked online for the notice but could not find it. She recommended that the village use The Chronicle, which, although a weekly, does update its website daily for public notices.

The public now has until March 20 to send their comments to village hall.

Trustee Betty Jo Bono also said she would say no if the vote were held that night. Holding up a sheet of paper that contained the village’s latest changes to recommendations made by the planning board, she asked Rick Ramsdell, the planning board chair, if he had a copy of it. He said he'd just received it only that day. His answer set off a buzz in the audience, already upset about the short notice given of the public hearing itself.

Bono said she would be guided by the planning board’s recommendations.

Mayor Philip Valastro said he was responsible for getting the information to Ramsdell late.

Developer Frank Nussbaum's property, known as BT Holdings, spans the town-village border. The lion's share was in the town, which does not have the water resources or infrastructure needed to support 240 townhouse-style condominiums and 100 senior citizen rental units. The village does.

The town agreed, only after a court injunction, to let its acres go. Town officials preferred that the site retain town zoning, not the high-density development proposed in the BT Holdings site plan.

But Supreme Court in late 2012 cautioned the town "to proceed henceforth in a timely manner to avoid any improper deferrals or delays."

Changes questioned

Some members of the audience said the proposed zoning changes seemed designed to accommodate BT Holdings. Some board members denied this.

Nussbaum was at the hearing with his planner, Ann Cutignola. The village’s planner, Kristen O’Donnell, and village attorneys, Ian Schlanger and Randy Baum, were also on hand.

The hearing was a last-minute surprise to many, some of whom only found out that day. According to Mayor Valastro, the village board posted a notice about the hearing in The Times Herald Record on March 6. Many in the audience said they do not subscribe to the Record, the only paper the village uses for public notices. A notice is usually posted five days ahead. The hearing notice was posted four days ahead.

Owners of single-family houses in the audience complained they would be subsidizing townhouse owners if the proposed changes were made. The "townhouse" definition proposed says "each dwelling unit should be held in separate ownership and may be located on commonly held land with other townhouses, or on a separate tax lot." The owners of units on commonly held land are usually taxed at a lower rate.

Audience members also said the number of parking spaces a developer would be required to provide is not enough, and that the section on how many residential units a building could have lacks clarity.

For more about the suggested changes, see the related article and visit this village link online:

Editor's note: A correction was made to the original article to regarding the public notice requirement. Additional corrections were made to a version of this story that appeared briefly online Thursday morning.

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