Mapping the future: Voorheesville updating zoning laws

— From the village of Voorheesville
The village of Voorheesville is set to codify some of the recommendations made in the comprehensive plan adopted last summer, including the creation of seven new zoning districts. 

VOORHEESVILLE — A public hearing for the proposed overhaul of the village’s zoning code is set for Thursday, March 28.

The hearing comes about 15 months after the public hearing at which the  Village of Voorheesville Comprehensive Plan — the blueprint for the zoning code’s update — was presented to residents for the first time and was met with a mostly positive response.

Two-and-half years ago, two controversies led the village to develop a comprehensive plan. One was an application by Stewart’s Shops for a special-use permit to build a gas station near the Vly Creek. The other was a proposal for a planned unit development that would have allowed Saint Matthew’s Church to build rental apartments on 7.7 acres of vacant land next to the church on Mountainview Street, and also would have applied to the other half-dozen tracts of 7.5 acres or more in the village.

The general intent of the update to the village’s zoning code, the proposed law states, “is intended to direct the physical growth and development of the Village of Voorheesville.” And, more specifically, the purpose of the proposed update “is to exercise the Village’s right to protect its citizens by controlling the use of land to protect the public health, safety and general welfare, and to carry out locally established goals and objectives in accordance with the Village of Voorheesville Comprehensive Plan…”

To achieve the proposed law’s intent and purpose, a new zoning map is presented for adoption.

The new map takes the village’s existing seven zoning districts: Residential A; Residential B; Residential C-1; Residential C-2; Business A; Business B; and Industrial, and changes or adds another seven districts as well as two overlay districts:

— Mixed-Use Business/Residential (number 1 on the map);

— Conservation (number 2 on the map);

— Main Street West (number 3 on the map);

— Main Street East (number 4 on the map);   

— General Business (number 5 on the map);

— Creekside Commercial Business (number 6 on the map);

— Multi-family residence (number 7 on the map); and

— Wellhead and Aquifer Groundwater Protection Overlay Areas (see separate overlay areas map).

New Districts

To avoid another incident like the one that set into motion the creation of a comprehensive plan and subsequent proposed update to Voorheesville’s zoning code, the proposed law states specific purposes for each of the zoning districts, “which are intended to provide guidance and detail as to the Village’s vision for each district, and to aid decision-makers in making discretionary decisions.”

Along with stating each zoning district’s purpose, the proposed law lays out in detail permitted uses: 11 different residential uses; 17 infrastructure, institutional, and community uses; and nearly 60 business uses. The bill then says whether or not each use: is permitted, requires a site-plan review and approval from the planning board, requires special-use permit review and approval from the planning board, or is prohibited in each of the zoning districts.

For example, an accessory apartment — more commonly known as an in-law apartment — is a permitted use in 10 of the 13 zoning districts, provided it goes through a special-use permit review and is approved by the planning board.

— Residence Districts A, B, C-1, and C-2 (already existing)

These zoning districts, which make up a majority of the land-use area in the village, have been “established to promote primarily residential uses along with customary residential accessory uses and essential services.”

In addition to customary residential uses, the proposed law also allows schools, “major home occupations,” and senior housing to be built, with a special use permit.

Residential District A allows for low-density uses and larger lots with larger homes, while Residential Districts B, C-1, and C-2 will allow for high-density uses on smaller lots with smaller homes;

— Mixed-Use Business/Residential District (number 1 on the map)

The purpose of this zoning district would be to promote development with housing that is diverse in type and size, and contains a mix of non-retail commercial and recreational uses.

“A further purpose of this district is to ensure development that occurs in this location is ‘village-like’ in form and scale,” the proposed law states;

— Conservation District (number 2 on the map)

The purpose of the Conservation Zoning District would be to protect about 12 acres of railroad-adjacent wetlands on West Street; to do so, only “very-low density” and “low-intensity” uses are allowed;

— Main Street West (number 3 on the map) and Main Street East (number 4 on the map) districts

“These districts are established to focus ‘main street’ style development in this traditional commercial area of the Village,” the proposed law says. “Overall, the purpose of both districts is to strengthen this area as a cultural and business core in the Village.”

That such a small area would be broken into separate districts, the proposed update says, is to reflect the more “residential nature of the west side” of Main Street, where lots are configured and set back from the street differently than those lots on the east side of Main Street;

— Business B (already existing) and General Business (number 5 on the map) districts

The purpose of these two business districts, according to the proposed law, “is to allow for and focus on a variety of commercial uses including retail, service, accommodations, restaurants, and more intensive, car-oriented businesses.”

The two districts would support commercial activities that supplement the existing businesses along Main Street, the proposed law says.

The General Business District, according to the proposed law, would have retail and service businesses; while the Business B District would be less focused on retail businesses and more focused on service-oriented, office, and wholesale businesses;

— Creekside Commercial Business District (number 6 on the map)

Established as a “gateway” to Voorheesville, the Creekside Commercial Business District is considered a “character district,” which, according to the proposed law, is important to the village.

This area, the proposed law says, has a “complex set of attributes, land uses, traffic patterns, pedestrian needs, and environmental conditions that must be considered during all future development here.”

The bill does not allow “formula businesses,” like Stewart’s Shops, in new zoning district.

In June 2018, Stewart’s announced that it would put the former Smith’s Tavern on the market because the comprehensive plan recommended that formula businesses, which, according to the plan, did not promote the desired character for the new district. The plan also prohibited “petroleum dispensing” or storage so near the Vly Creek.

Other specific purposes for creating the Creekside Commercial Business District, the proposed law states are to: “Promote human-scale land uses that create a gateway to the Village, extend the traditional streetscape character and aesthetics of Maple Avenue to this area, and promote adaptive reuse of existing structures; minimize impacts to the Vly Creek and its floodplain; address the critical pedestrian (bike and walk) and safety needs here and promote development oriented to a walkable environment; and minimize adverse impacts on an already heavily trafficked road.”

— Industrial District (already existing)

The Industrial District, according to the proposed law, allows for heavy industry and light-industrial manufacturing provided that normal business activity does not “constitute a fire hazard or emit smoke, glare, noise, odor, or dust,” and does not negatively impact the aquifer or environment;

— Multi-family Residence District (number 7 on the map)

The district’s purpose is to recognize the existing multi-family development at Pheasant Run, and, according to the proposed law, “to promote multi-family housing types there to meet the housing needs in the Village and to allow for higher density multi-family dwellings”; and

— Wellhead and Aquifer Groundwater Protection Overlay Areas (see separate overlay areas map).

The purpose of these districts is to protect the village’s groundwater supply, and “to promote quality drinking water and to preserve public health.”

Some prohibited activities and uses in the Groundwater Protection overlay area include:

— The outdoor and uncovered storage or stockpiling unlicensed vehicles, salvage metals, manure, coal, or de-icing chloride salts;

— The construction or operation of underground facilities to store petroleum products, hazardous toxic materials, or toxic waste, “except where secondary containment and leak monitoring systems are installed”;

—  The construction or operation of aboveground facilities to store petroleum products, hazardous toxic materials, or toxic waste, “except where secondary containment structures are installed, and fluid level gauges are installed.”

Some prohibited activities and uses in the Wellhead Protection overlay area include:

— The construction of septic systems that are capable of discharging 1,000 gallons of waste per day;

— The underground or aboveground storage of petroleum products, except when the storage is used for on-site consumption;

— The underground or aboveground storage of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and other hazardous toxic material or waste; and

— The use of septic systems in new multi-family dwellings.

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