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Thread: Village vs. outskirts

  1. #1
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    Village vs. outskirts

    Our town is running up against what I see as an interesting problem. The zoning, written in the 50's seems to address primarily the issues of property outside the village center. As a result, all of the houses located in the Village are pre-existing, non-conforming (due to lot sizes and setbacks). This means that for anyone to do any work on their home in terms of small additions, etc., they need to get a variance, and typically the variances are granted, because the ZBA recognizes the hardship. It is my belief that a variance should be the exception, not the rule? Or is that crazy?

    Anyway, I'm working with some others in my town to look at how to adapt the code to address the discrepency and allow for the natural density of the Village to be supported. Aside from the New Urbanist form-based codes, is anyone aware of a code that addresses this type of a situation in a sensible manner?

    Thanks for any help you can offer!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DomArch
    It is my belief that a variance should be the exception, not the rule? Or is that crazy?

    Anyway, I'm working with some others in my town to look at how to adapt the code to address the discrepency and allow for the natural density of the Village to be supported. Aside from the New Urbanist form-based codes, is anyone aware of a code that addresses this type of a situation in a sensible manner?

    Thanks for any help you can offer!
    Your absolutely right in that a variance should be an exception rather than a rule. Variances can be costly (depending on what your town charges) and have legal complications, especially in small towns with longstanding feuds between neighbors. You will probably end up having to adopt an overlay district of some sort that addresses the village core specifically. Though you could probably go to town with all the New Urbanist mumbo-jumbo I would recommend keeping it simple with regard to setbacks, encroachments, height and such.

  3. #3
         
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    I worked once in a town that has a very similar situation. The original coal mining "Old Town" did not comply with the 1960s suburban zoning that was placed over it. We did an in-house study and then an overlay zone which decreased the setbacks to something closer to the existing situation and greatly reduced variance requests.

    I would not recommend an overlay zone but a whole new zone district that matches the existing situation and allows for reasonable additions and improvements to homes and businesses. Don't try copying someone else's standards. They may not be any better than the suburban stuff you already have. Keep it as simple as possible.

    If you have alleys in the area look at minimal setbacks that still allows people to back out of garages. The place I work at now requires a 20 foot setback off the alley which is way too much and does not match what was built before zoning. You might even look at prohibiting new driveways on streets if alley access is available and is the norm for the area.

    Talk to your Fire Department / Building Inspectors about the minimum they need between detached structures with openings in the interior sidewalls if the original town had homes close together. If bulk is a concern you might look at limiting the FAR to restrict monster homes but only if its a problem. Look at the typical lot size and how any new FAR limit would apply. Use local examples to show your commission or council what different FARs look like. Look at your variance history to see if your new standards would address most home owners' desires for new additions. Have fun! Its your chance to fix a propblem that has ruined too many small towns in this country.

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    Thanks, and....

    Thanks for the suggestions. One question: what, exactly, is the function of an overlay zone, and why would/wouldn't you recommend it? (I'm an architect with very little formal planning experience - dangerous, I know....)

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    This is commonly dealt with through the use of Village Districts or some type of overlay dist.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Clarification, please

    Are you trying to address the Town zoning code, or the Village's?

    Irvington is a seperate Village municipality, so the Town zoning has no standing within the village corporate limits.
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

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    which town are you talking about?

    Irvington NY has only one code....there's not a separate town and village

  8. #8
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    There are two good ways to approach this. First would be to survey the typical village housing and write a zoning district for that district. Be sure to include a floor area ratio if the Village houses are relatively small in relationship to the lots. Second would be to allow reductions within the "village" area by conditional use permit, rather than variance. (That may only be a California solution. It allows variations without the strict variance findings.) Outline the characteristics you want in the village, adopt a set of findings that could be used to support a use permit application, and make decisions on a case by case basis -- supported by findings.

  9. #9
         
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    Quote Originally posted by DomArch
    Thanks for the suggestions. One question: what, exactly, is the function of an overlay zone, and why would/wouldn't you recommend it? (I'm an architect with very little formal planning experience - dangerous, I know....)
    Overlays typically, but not always, keep the original zoning and permitted uses in place but changes things like yard & bulk standards like minimum lot area, lot coverage, setbacks, height, and FARs. Overlays may be easier to get approved since you can tell property owners that we are not really changing your zoning. Some people are married to their zoning and don't want a change even if it is broken. However, overlays cause confusion because the underlying zone still has the same name (like R-1 or whatever) as other places in the community but the standards are different. They are hard to trac over the years as staff changes. I have found overlays where I work now and those who have worked here for over a decade did not know about. They were lost, stuck in a file for 20 years as we updated the zoning map year after year and had a major change to the code. To me its easier to create a whole new zone district with its own standards and then change the zoning map to reflect that area you want to apply it to. Zoning and Planning issues and terms can be very confusing to the public and even to planners. I think that using overlays just makes it too confusing and it shouldn't be that way.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DomArch
    Irvington NY has only one code....there's not a separate town and village
    What am I missing?

    Isn't Irvington a Village within the Town of Greenburgh? They each have seperate zoning codes.
    Last edited by SGB; 23 Jun 2006 at 4:13 PM.
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  11. #11
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    I am currently managing a major project in my municipality that deals exactly with this sort of problem. The original zoning code was written in the 1950’s and due to its suburban type standards effectively created places that were (sometimes not so) legal non-conforming in nature. This led to a burdensome case load for the Zoning Board of Adjustment and new developments that were anything but urban in nature.

    What we did was to first spend the money and adopt an entire new zoning code more suitable to the traditional development patterns of the municipality. Then, to make the transition, a translation table was created that switched the old language to the new regs. We are now in the process of mapping the land uses in each neighborhood and then changing the zoning maps where necessary to bring them closer to the actual uses. Thereby allowing for more contextual future development and correcting most non-conforming uses. It’s a bit of an exhaustive process but has been very successful and popular with the citizens who bother to pay attention.

  12. #12
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    Oh, I see what your asking. Yes, the village is within the town of Greenburgh. I'm not 100% clear on this, but the villages w/in the town are separate entities and have their own zoning regulations.

    Sorry for the confusion.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DomArch
    Oh, I see what your asking. Yes, the village is within the town of Greenburgh. I'm not 100% clear on this, but the villages w/in the town are separate entities and have their own zoning regulations.

    Sorry for the confusion.
    Ok, so back to my original question:
    Are you trying to address the Town zoning code, or the Village's?
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  14. #14
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    Just the village. The village itself, however, has two distinct components - a very urban main street and side streets and then a much more suburban outlying area.

  15. #15
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    Wow. That sounds very ambitious. If you don't mind my asking, how much would one budget for such an undertaking? Also, I assume your municipality already employed a professional planner in some capacity? And how long is the process taking?

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