In the village: Zoners ban first-floor apartments

The Planning and Zoning Commission has voted to approve an amendment to the town zoning regulations which will ban apartments and other residential uses from the first floor of buildings in the Central Business District (CBD).
The ban, approved Tuesday, Jan. 22, also slams the door shut on apartments in basements in the CBD, which runs from the intersection of Grove Street and Sunset Lane to the intersection of Governor and Main Street. Several buildings in the village have basements and first floors that both open out onto the street, which the commission wants to preserve for business use.
“What this amendment will do is it will still allow businesses in the CBD zone to have residential units in them, and it doesn’t affect the amount of residential units in the building but it does keep [them]out of the first floor and the basement,” said Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli.
Basements were included because a number of businesses, with a street entrance in the municipal parking lot, “meet the technical definition of a basement,” Baldelli said.
“We wanted to capture both the first floor facing Main Street, Catoonah Street, and Prospect Street, and the backside of the businesses that go out into a parking lot,” he told the commission.
The ban comes in response to the Sturges Properties development at 23 ½ Catoonah Street, which won approval in December. That development will be grandfathered in under the new regulations, with plans to convert the former Tigers’ Den restaurant into five rented apartments and one small office space.
“Basically [it’s] an apartment house,” Baldelli explained. “The application met the strict guidelines of our rules, but as we had discussed at that time, it wasn’t really what the commission had intended to do by allowing building owners in the CBD zone to add residential uses to their property.”
The amendment also puts less onus on building owners to provide parking, by deleting a clause that forced building owners to provide “adequate off-street parking” on the premises. The amendment simply states that “adequate off-street parking will be provided.”
That means that buildings near municipal parking lots would qualify as having enough parking for both residents, and patrons of a first-floor business.
“It doesn’t have to be on that lot — I think that’s one of the luxuries of the CBD zone,” said Baldelli.
Commissioner Bob Cascella asked if the amendment would still apply to a developer who came in under 8-30g, the state’s affordable housing law, which allows builders to circumvent local zoning laws as long as they set aside units for affordable housing.
“Absolutely not,” said Baldelli. However, that law requires the developer to sell or rent 30% of the available units as affordable, whereas under the amended regulations “if they stay off the first floor they can put in as many units as they want, and they don’t have to give us any affordable units,” he said.
The Central Business District does not have restrictions on housing density, he added.
“Just height,” said Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti, “you can go property line to property line.”
The amendment won unanimous support from the nine-member commission.
Paul Levine and John Devine, two members of the the Economic and Community Development Commission who attended the meeting, told the commission they were satisfied with the amendment.
“We encourage second- and third-floor occupation,” said Devine. “We think that would help bring a lot of life and help to drive the economy.”