UDO amendments in the works for fences, walls, and habitable basements

Habitable attics and basements have always been allowed in Highlands’ residential districts so why not in the business districts?

That was one of two issues discussed and ultimately recommended by the Planning Board at this week’s meeting.

Though town ordinances don’t typically apply to the residential districts, some year’s ago when roadside fences began popping up on inroads to Highlands, the town adopted a fence and wall ordinance outlying allowed heights, colors and materials.

The Planning Board has been tweaking that ordinance over the last few months adjusting fence and wall height restrictions on front, side and back lot lines and in setbacks, as well as required vegetative screens in some cases, and the use of specific colors and materials. Some heights have been increased; some decreased. Most changes involve materials and colors – for instance, chain link fences must be coated and can only be dark green, dark brown, or black. White fences are not allowed.

Of course, the amended restrictions only apply to newly constructed fences, or when existing fences are replaced. However, before a fence or wall can be constructed, a site plan showing setbacks and a rendering of the proposed fence or wall design including height must be submitted and a zoning certificate issued by the town.

Habitable Stories

Though the norm in residential districts of Highlands, habitable spaces in attics and basements have not been allowed in the commercial districts; in fact, only two stories could be habitable. However, though outlined in the town ordinance, more than two habitable stories – mostly in basements – has flown under the radar for years.

According to Town Manager Josh Ward, the question raised by the current Land Use Committee and members of the Planning Board was ‘Why not allow habitable spaces in basements?”

A few years ago, the ordinance was changed to allow owners of property in the business district to use attics as a habitable spaces rather just for storage as long as all the restrictions were met – namely a maximum building height of 35-ft., watershed built-upon percentages as mandated by the state and parking criteria as outlined by the town for each business zone.

That means three stories could be habitable if one was an attic. So, why not basements, if they meet building codes for habitable basements – daylight, ingress and egress, etc.?

Logic followed and so members agreed to recommend including basements as one of the three habitable spaces. 

“Anything that will possibly increase the use of some basements that could be turned into apartments is good. We are desperate for those,” said Chairman Thomas Craig. “And maybe they would be less expensive.”

Amendments to the UDO concerning fences and allowing basements to be habitable spaces will be the subject of a public hearing and if the Town Board votes yes to the changes, they will become a reality.

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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