Remodel Plans Stall
ZBA Gets Caught Up in Cross Traffic on Regulations
Story and Photo By John Thomas
At Tuesday night’s Zoning Board of Appeals, meeting concerns were raised regarding developer Phil Vogt’s plans for his building at 23 Washington. They were much the same concerns as were mentioned at the public hearing of the Planning Board a week ago. The concerns related to the impact the addition of a third story and 20’x24’elevator/stairwell tower would have on adjacent buildings. After the public discussion, the ZBA had some questions of its own regarding the best procedure for rendering a decision, primarily because of the historic overlay in the area.
In addressing the board, Mark Alianello went over the five SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) questions the board must consider before granting the variance. In brief, they are: 1. Will the variance requested create and undesirable change with respect to other property owners, or will it create an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood? 2. Can the applicant achieve similar results with other methods? 3. How substantial is the variance requested? 4. Will granting the request create an adverse effect on the environment? 5. Is the need for the variance self-created? A positive answer is no reason to deny the variance.
Mr. Alianello had mentioned the FAR (Floor Area Ratio) requirements. The zoning codes specify a ratio of floor space to lot size allowed in the downtown area. In the historic district, the current ratio is 1.22 to 1, that is a building can have 1.22 square feet of floor space for every 1 square foot of lot size. This is possible with a multi-story building but appears to limit how many stories a building could have. He said the plans submitted by Mr. Vogt have a FAR ratio of 1.5, and should be allowed. Most of the buildings in the village have a FAR ratio that exceeds 1.22. The engineer pointed out, three-story buildings are allowed in the village. Mr. Alianello said the elevator/stairwell tower is being added to the rear of the building and will not affect the front. He said Mr. Vogt intends to remove some tattered vinyl on the rear of the building and restore the original brick. Alianello said he did not feel the plans would not have a significant impact on the area.
Corey Auerbach, an attorney with Barkley and Damon, was hired by several downtown business owners to review the plans. They were concerned that any future tenants of 23 Washington might create excess noise for the apartments they own on both sides of Mr. Vogt’s building. He pointed out that the ZBA must weigh the benefit to the applicant against the detriment to the community. He said residential windows in the adjoining building would be “within feet” of the addition to the building. The attorney claimed the addition of the elevator/stairwell tower in the back and the third floor would increase the building’s size by 25%; that would represent a substantial change to the historic district. He added currently there are no cooking facilities (read: restaurant) on the second floor of any downtown buildings. Auerbach said due to the lack of specific plans regarding the building’s use, Vogt is asking the ZBA to “write him a blank check.” The attorney rejected Mr. Anianello’s analysis of the FAR exception, and said the 1.22 FAR ratio is in the code, and the ZBA should not be “second-guessing the wisdom of a previous board.” He said that is the existing law and if there is something wrong with that law it should be changed. Auerbach said it is unusual for a developer to come to a board without a specific plan and it could set a precedence if Vogt is granted the variance. Village Planner Gary Palumbo said it is not necessary for a developer to submit a specific retail plan for renovating a building. He added if a restaurant wants to move into the building, they would have to submit a separate special use permit.
Mr. Vogt addressed the board; he said he is renovating the building to have tenants. He thinks a restaurant is unlikely, and none is planned at this time, but added if the opportunity comes to have a restaurant, he will rent to them. He did say the most likely place for a restaurant is on the third floor. Vogt pointed out there are a lot of outside dining areas in the village, and all of them are surrounded by living spaces. The developer said he had simply taken each floor and divided it by two and called it eight possible businesses. The developer said it is possible that tenants might use up more or less than half a floor. He said he wants to improve the exterior of the building. (Note: although Vogt did not mention at the meeting, removing the alpine style roof from the front of the building is part of his plans). He said the rear of the building is unsightly and he would be improving that portion of the building as well.
The public hearing was closed, and the Board began a discussion on the application. The board has 62 days to render its decision, and it seemed clear it was not close to deciding. Village Planner Palumbo gave an overview of the SEQR issues as they relate to the building itself. But he did not seek answers from the board at that time. The discussion turned to the next steps in the process. At the Planning Board meeting last week, the board had not made a determination because the application was before the ZBA. Now the ZBA seemed reluctant to render a decision until the Planning Board acts. Mr. Palumbo said he was trying to resolve the “chicken-egg” problem the board was facing. He pointed out because 23 Washington is in the Historic Overlay District, a more involved Type I SEQR action is required. He said both the ZBA and the Planning Board should conduct a coordinated review, with the Planning Board acting as lead agency. After the review, both agencies would make separate determinations. Mr. Palumbo said he would come up with a timeline for the next review steps, and said the Village hadn’t done a project of this nature recently. Mr. Alianello asked if the board could pin down what they are requesting of Mr. Vogt, adding there seems to be a creeping increase of requirements. A motion was made to table discussion on the application because the board wants more time to understand what is being presented, and the Planning Board has not yet made a SEQR determination. The Planning Board will not be meeting in April because they will not have a quorum. Another meeting of the ZBA was set for May 2nd, and the meeting was adjourned.