Town Looking to Simplify SUP Process

To both streamline the Special Use Permit process and to alleviate some of the Planning and Zoning boards involvement, Town Planner Andrew Bowen has initiated a Community Design Standard Ordinance.

“In looking toward the future of development and redevelopment of properties on Highlands’ Main Street and adjacent commercial corridors, the town has created a list of architectural standards to bolster community aesthetics,” says the guideline summary. “It is not the intent of these guidelines to set a formal architectural theme for the town; in contrast, the town encourages architectural creativity and eclecticism within commercial zoning districts.”

For decades, the majority of the Planning Board’s agendas have centered around the appearance and the legality of proposed changes to buildings or new construction.

With adoption of the “Design Standards” the Planning Board can focus on planning and not the enforcement of standards, said Bowen.

With the Design Standard Ordinance in hand, the Planning Director can issue Special Use Permits (SUP) as needed if the project presented hits all the marks in the ordinance – including meeting the standards set forth in the town’s Unified Development Ordinance – without involving the Planning or Zoning boards.

The ordinance, which was finalized at the June 26 Planning Board meeting, will be presented to the Town Board at its July meeting as the first step in adoption proceedings.

“Once adopted, the job of the Planning Board and even the Zoning Board will diminish greatly,” said Bowen. “The Planning Board’s job will now be to focus more on planning issues such as the Comprehensive Plan, which will keep the board busy for some time. As for the Zoning Board of Adjustment, it will indeed meet less frequently.”

Special Use Permits are required of all “changes of use” on a parcel, changes to the exterior of existing uses and if a variance is requested.

Whereas changes to exteriors won’t need to be heard by the Planning or Zoning boards anymore, changes of use and variance requests, which typically involve permission to extend into a front, back or side setback or extend a roofline, etc., will still be heard by the Zoning Board.

The reason is because a change of use and the granting of a variance could contradict standards set in the Unified Development Ordinance which is a quasi-judicial subject and the Zoning Board is the town’s quasi-judicial board.

Subjects in the Design Standards Ordinance involve building orientation; scale and massing; façade design, materials and colors; roof design, materials and projections; exterior lighting; parking; vegetation; and storm water considerations.

There are numerous options in each of those categories and some involve criteria set forth in the UDO which is the over-ruling document concerning zoning allowances in the town which is why the Planning Director must sign off on projects.

Under the new Design Standards Ordinance, developers who are considering new construction or exterior renovations will first have a pre-proposal meeting with the Planning Director, then an Administrative Review presenting all exterior elevations, all site plans and verification of the completed Design Standard checklist.

At that point, the Planning Director will present the completed package to the Planning Board which will make sure all the marks were hit as outlined in the Design Standards Ordinance.

Assuming all goes as planned, the final approval for a SUP not involving a change of use or a variance will be issued by the Planning Director.

Planning Board Chairman Thomas Craig and other board members said they welcome the Design Ordinance because they feel the board spends an inordinate amount of time going over minutia better handled another way.

Though SUPs “follow the land,” Bowen said there is still a time limit.

“Work [exterior changes] that is granted under a SUP does expire but changes in use on a parcel carry with the land in perpetuity – as long as that ‘use’ doesn’t change.”

Under the town’s UDO, if a SUP is granted for exterior changes but the work doesn’t start within 12 months, the SUP expires.

One item the Planning Board and Bowen agreed to delete from the Use Regulations table in the UDO is the need for an SUP if the remodeling of existing buildings result in an increase in the number of business occupants inside the building.

The Town Board will hear the Design Standards Ordinance at its July 19 Town Board meeting.

By Kim Lewicki

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