Conditional Zoning hearing set for tonight’s Town Board meeting
Despite the Planning Board’s three “yes” votes and one vote not to endorse the Performing Art Center’s expansion plan, the Zoning Board of Adjustment heard PAC’s case for a variance last Wednesday. The board voted unanimously to issue the variance.
Though the board was technically only charged with ruling on the 10-foot variance requested for the expansion, Town Planner Andrew Bowen briefed members on the upcoming Conditional Zone hearing set for the Town Board tonight, Thursday, August 16.
“In looking toward its expansion, the Highlands PAC has requested to conditionally rezone and combine all of the parcels to Government/Institution (GI). This would allow for the building of the new structure and parking along Laurel Street,” said Bowen.
Even though neither board rules on Conditional Zoning requests, the town’s permitting procedures require both the Planning and Zoning boards to hear the request.
According to Bowen, the GI (Government/Institution) Conditional Zone is in the spirit of the UDO (Unified Development Ordinance). Applicants must still comply with underlying zoning requirements as to parking, watershed, etc.
“Conditional Zoning is not meant to make lax of an ordinance but rather to allow for more control over large projects,” said Bowen.
Conditional Zoning is site-specific meaning what is permitted on one parcel isn’t necessarily permitted on another – hence the “conditions.” Two of the three parcels on the property have already been zoned GI. The plan is to recombine the newly acquired parcel to the west with the others so the entire parcel is GI.
The PAC campus is already non-conforming in that the footprint along Chestnut Street is already about two feet into the street’s 25-foot setback. PAC requested an additional eight feet into the setback.
Basically, the setback is needed to accommodate the new lobby which will allow for 6 ½ sq. feet per person.
Both Glenda Bell with the Planning Board and Jack Peay on the Zoning Board suggested the expansion was making the building too big for the property – that possibly it could be oriented to fit within the setbacks or decreased in size.
But Architect Paul Schmitt said making the expansion smaller would negate the reason to expand in the first place, which is to accommodate a 340-seat theater. He also said a different orientation isn’t possible.
“We have determined that the community needs a space that big and can fill it,” he said. “If we take out seats to say a 200-seat theater, it would invalidate the reason to expand in the first place which is to bring in the productions we need to make the numbers work.”
Due to the acoustics, the existing theatre in the PAC will continue to be for the Highlands-Cashiers Music Festival but there will also be a black box theater for rehearsals, small productions and movies currently viewed at The Playhouse.
Typically, the granting of a variance depends on whether the applicant can make use of the property without the it, thereby constituting a hardship.
Schmitt said PAC had considered purchasing property five miles outside of town, but that would result in a completely different experience for patrons.
“People would have to drive five miles; you couldn’t walk to and from restaurants and hotels,” he said.
Zoning board member Jerry Moore agreed. “The impact would be significant if they tried to do this somewhere else,” he said. “The hardship issue is there is nowhere else to go. They need the numbers for this to work and really nothing will change regarding the existing sidewalk and road.”
He also said he thought it would be detrimental to the community.
If the public hearing and subsequent vote from the Town Board go in its favor, renovations to the PAC complex can begin before the end of August.
Performances will continue in the current building while the building is expanded west and south on the property.
By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper