Voorheesville Village Board to vote on land-use plan that would create six new zones

– From Village of Voorheesville Comprehensive Plan

The draft of Voorheesville’s comprehensive plan proposes adding six zones to the seven that are law already.

VOORHEESVILLE – On June 26, the village board will vote on a comprehensive land-use plan for Voorheesville that was 18 months in the making. If passed, it will lead to the creation of six new zones.

Trustee Richard Straut told The Enterprise that the village would look to rewrite its zoning code all at once. In December, Straut said that could be a four- to five-month process.

Mayor Robert Conway said at a June 7 public hearing on the plan that it had been in the works for a year-and-a-half, which, he said, “In the world of comprehensive plans is considered fast-tracked.”

The plan had to be fast-tracked because two years ago many village residents were upset over a proposed planned unit development district, or PUD, that would have allowed Saint Matthew’s Church to build an apartment complex next to the church and also would have applied to the other half-dozen tracts of 7.5 acres of land in the village.

Stewart’s Shops’ proposal in 2016 to build a new store on the site of the former Smith’s Tavern had been a contributing factor as well in Voorheesville’s decision to develop its first comprehensive land-use plan. Last week, Chuck Marshall, who works in real-estate development for Stewart’s, told The Enterprise that Stewart’s planned on putting Smitty’s up for sale, since proposed zoning recommendations in the comprehensive plan would not allow for a shop to be built.

At the June 7 public hearing, Nan Stolzenburg, a consultant hired by the village who worked on the plan, told residents that the comprehensive plan is just that: “A plan; it is not a law,” she said. “It is not adopted like a law; the things that are in the plan, they don’t just become reality.”

Stolzenburg said that any of the land-use regulations that are suggested in the plan would still have to be drafted, incorporated into the zoning code, and adopted as law. Each of the suggested regulations, she said, would have to go through its own public hearing and environmental review.

The comprehensive plan, Stolzenburg said, can be boiled down to three questions:

– What are the current conditions in the village?

– What is the future direction desired by Voorheesville?

– What can the village do to attain its vision?

Current conditions

“What is going on in the village now? What are the current conditions? what are the environmental resources?” Stolzenburg asked. “What are the community resources? What do the people in the community feel about what is going on in the village? It takes the pulse of what is going on now.”

To find these things out, a steering committee was appointed to develop the plan, and, to gain community input, it held meetings with village businesses, and cultural and recreation organizations as well as the school district. The committee also held “a public visioning and planning workshop” and conducted a village-wide survey to “further identify the needs, wants and desires of the community.”

The strengths of the village, the committee found, were its community character, for example, its small-town feel, streetscapes, and history; the beauty of the surrounding landscape; the excellent school district; and the Memorial Day event.

Weaknesses included the need for infrastructure upgrades, like sidewalk maintenance and connection, lighting, sewer, and bike facilities; a “lack of central hub for communication and information sharing”; the perception that the village is unfriendly to business; and high school taxes.

The current economic condition of the village was established as well.

An analysis found that:

– An estimated 874 individuals work in the village: 34 percent in  government, including public education; about 32 percent in manufacturing; about 8 percent in retail; 7 percent in construction; and about 3.5 percent in food services. About 90 percent of those who are employed in the village live elsewhere, the plan notes;

– Eight percent of employed residents worked within the village, while 60 percent worked elsewhere in Albany County;

– Almost 28 percent of employed residents worked in public sector; about 14 percent in health care and social assistance; about 10 percent in retail; and 7.5 percent employed residents worked in the professional, scientific, and technical services;

– Retail stores in Voorheesville generated $30.3 million in sales in 2012, while restaurants generated $1.3 million;

– There are 43 commercial and industrial properties in the village – excluding properties classified as apartments – with a total assessed value of more than $14 million;

–  The largest private-sector employer in Voorheesville is Atlas Copco, with about 280 employees;

– According to the Environmental Systems Research Institute, the median household income in the Voorheesville Trade Area (which encompasses all New Scotland, the eastern halves of Berne and Knox, and parts Bethlehem and Guilderland. The area has a total population of nearly 51,600, of which about 6 percent reside in Voorheesville) is $81,633;

–  Households in the Voorheesville Trade Area have a median disposable income of $58,724, with retail spending potential estimated at $1.2 billion annually.

– In the Voorheesville Trade Area: 10.5 percent of households have an income under $25,000; almost 18 percent earn between $25,000 and $49,999; about 17 percent make between $50,000 and $74,999; about 14 percent make between $75,000 and $99,999; about 20 percent earn between $100,000 and $149,999; 10.5 percent make between $150,000 and $199,999; and 10 percent of households have an income of $200,000 and over.

Desired future

Question two, Stolzenburg said, is really “motherhood and apple pie statements,” that express the lofty goals of where the village wants to be a long-term. “The goals are very important in order for the village to continue looking down the road,” Stolzenburg said, “or else you end up wandering around trying to get to the end product.”

The question about future direction, she said, is answered with the vision statement and a series of goals that are articulated in the plan.

Voorheesville’s  (shortened) vision is:

“In the future, the Village of Voorheesville will be a safe, secure community welcoming to all. We will be successful in maintaining our quaint and distinctive community – characterized by having traditional neighborhoods, a vibrant business community, places to gather ... [and] an active and involved community culture, and an exceptional school district … We will sustain a walkable Village with well-maintained roads … The Voorheesville community will support our local businesses and we will take advantage of our unique character and assets, such as the Rail Trail, to promote smart economic growth … Housing in Voorheesville will be affordable to all generations and consistent with our traditional Village character … For all these reasons, Voorheesville will be a wonderful place to live, work and raise families.”

In the plan, multiple goals are grouped by theme:

– Community character: “Maintain the village’s small town character,” according to the plan, is one goal;

– Environment: “Enhance the protection of vital open spaces and natural resources including the Vly Creek, floodplains and wellhead protection areas”;

– Walkability: “Increase connections between sidewalks and all parts of the Village with new multi-use sidewalks, pathways, and the Rail Trail”;

– Business development: “Provide a supportive and business-friendly environment, including small agricultural operations in appropriate locations”;

– Housing opportunities: “Control scale and intensity of new housing to ensure consistency with Village’s character and infrastructure capacity”;

– Infrastructure: “Address and manage stormwater runoff”;

– Village capacity: “Plan for the needs of an aging population”; and

– Recreation: “Encourage additional community events and activities, especially those that increase intergenerational involvement.”

Attaining its vision

“How do we get to there?” Stolzenburg asked. “What are the things that the village and its partners – and the various organizations and entities that are in the village – can do to work together to attain that vision and goal?”

In the comprehensive plan, she said, that is laid out in a series of actions, strategies, and programs that could be implemented over time.

New zoning

The comprehensive plan proposes establishing six new zoning districts; currently, there are seven.

The current zoning districts are: Residential A; Residential B; Residential C-1; Residential C-2; Business A;  Business B; and Industrial.

The plan states that the proposed zoning districts “should place critical importance on how new uses and structures perform to meet the development expectations of the Village.”

The proposed districts, the plan says, represent very different locations within the Voorheesville, and each has a unique role in the community that the village wants to maintain or promote.

The six proposed districts are:

– Mixed-Use Business Residential (number 1 on the map), which currently lies in the Industrial Zone:

This district, the plan says, should be designed to be consistent with traditional development patterns that are found elsewhere in the village, and should be designed in a way to connect the district to more developed parts of the village.

The plan says that land in this district can be devoted to both residential and non-residential uses, and, that a mix of uses should be allowed, including single, two-family, and multi-family homes as well as space for offices, and service or civic organizations;

– Conservation (number 2 on the map), which currently lies in the Industrial Zone:

Lying in the 100-year floodplain, this proposed district, the plan says, contains regulated wetlands, and is also a village-designated aquifer protection area.

This proposed district should allow for open space or low-impact recreation uses such as trails or pathways, according to the plan. “Very-low density” single-family homes could be feasible if they are permitted by the New York State Departmentment of Environmental Conservation;

– Main Street East (number 3 on the map) and Main Street West (number 4 on the map), which currently lies in the Business A Zone:

The two proposed Main Street districts, the plan states, should allow for a variety of small businesses and mixed uses, and “continue to prohibit multi-family homes but allow for one and two-family homes and for the conversion of a structure into no more than two apartments.”

The splitting of the districts between East and West, the plans says, is to reflect the different lot configurations in Main Street West and to reflect the more commercial nature of the lots in Main Street East;

– Creekside Commercial (number 5 on the map), which currently lies in the Residential A, Residential B, and Business A zones:

Situated in the Vly Creek  floodplain, the proposed Creekside Commercial district is an important location in the village because it has “a complex set of attributes, land uses, traffic patterns, pedestrian needs, and environmental conditions that must inform the framework for future development here,” the plan says.

That new district, under the proposed plan, would not allow for a Stewart’s Shop let alone one with a gas station attached.

That’s because as a “use,” Stewart’s Shop “does not promote the desired character for this district.” Specifically, it is a “Formula Business,” which according to the plan is “required by contractual or other arrangements to be virtually identical to businesses in other communities because of standardized architecture, services, merchandise, decor, uniforms and the like.”

Other prohibited uses would affect a Stewart’s shop and gas station from being built as well. The plan recommends against businesses that “store petroleum and/or chemicals” or are “petroleum dispensing”; and

– Multi-family (number 6 on the map), which currently lies in the Residential B Zone:

“This district should allow for multi-family dwellings at a higher density along with accessory uses to serve that development including, but not limited to recreation areas, open space, parking lot, garages, maintenance buildings, and utility structures,” the plan states.

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