Are Yorktown’s residential neighborhoods in danger? Is the town board undermining our existing zoning by an excessive—and inappropriate—use of an obscure provision of the zoning code that allows a parcel to be rezoned to an open-ended, anything is permissible, 100 percent negotiated “transitional zone”?
It’s time to take a closer look at this emerging pattern and how transitional zoning impacts on existing residential neighborhoods.
Yorktown has 12 residential zoning districts, ranging from single-family houses on different size lots to multi-family housing and three age-oriented zones, plus eight commercial zones.
But it also has a special transitional zoning category that says that sometimes, if a parcel is not “viably developable” according to its current zoning, the town can work with the property owner to negotiate a custom tailored transitional zone that allows the property owner to develop the property for a totally different use than permitted under current zoning.
Regular zoning sets standards for how parcels can be developed, e.g., the allowed uses, the density (number of units or square footage of commercial buildings) and the rear, side and front yard setbacks that protect the privacy and quality of life of abutting property owners. But there are no standards for a transitional zone. Every aspect of the development is a negotiation with the town board, from the uses, to the density and size and location of the buildings, including garbage dumpsters.
There’s a second significant difference: While rezoning is the responsibility of the town board, once a parcel has been rezoned, the planning board typically becomes the approval authority for the actual development plan. Not so for a transitional zone. For transitional zones, the town board approves both the rezoning AND the development plan; the planning board is only advisory and the town board doesn’t have to accept its comments or recommendations.
Within the past 12 months, the town board has considered four applications to rezone residentially zoned parcels to a negotiated transitional zone. One application, Mohegan Auto & Tire (formerly Hilltop Service Station) on East Main Street in Shrub Oak has already been granted; three other applications are pending. While the three applications differ in size and scope, all three raise questions about the appropriateness of transitional zoning.
The application is to rezone a 2.6 acre parcel on Route 202, just west of the Roma Building, currently zoned for half-acre residential to allow for a multi-family development of 36 units of rental apartments.
Given the site’s location, a strong case can be made that both the Comprehensive Plan and sound land-use planning support the concept of apartments for the site. But that’s not the issue. The issue is why the town board isn’t considering rezoning the parcel to the existing R-3, multi-family zone instead of a negotiated transitional zone? Is it possible that 36 units might exceed the allowable density under regular multi-family zoning?
The application is to rezone four small parcels zoned half-acre totaling 0.8 acre across from UPS to allow for a mixed-use development: a single story retail/office building and a second building with retail/office on the first floor and five rental apartments above. The parcel backs up to the rear of single family houses on Summit Street.
The current zoning, a carryover from pre-1970 urban renewal days, clearly doesn’t make sense. And, like the Weyant plan, the Comprehensive Plan and sound land-use planning both support the proposed mixed use concept. The issue then is: Why isn’t the town board considering rezoning the parcels to C2-R, its existing mixed use zone? Why the need for a negotiated transitional zone? At a recent public hearing, a resident asked about the size of the transitional plan compared to a possible plan under C2-R zoning. The question was ignored.
The application is to rezone this 14.7 acre parcel on Route 134 at the entrance of the county-owned Kitchawan Preserve from four-acre residential to allow a for-profit printing business to locate its headquarters in an existing building on the property. The building, which predates the town’s zoning code and was occupied by non-profit organizations for laboratory/office use, has been vacant for many years.
The key issue in this application is whether it meets the very specific criteria for transitional zoning, i.e., that the property can’t be viably developed under the current zoning. But no documentation has been provided that shows that the site can’t be developed for single-family housing. In support of the transitional zone request, Supervisor Michael Grace stated that a prospective buyer once had some interest in developing the parcel for residential use but wanted a greater density than the town was willing to consider.
While these three applications for transitional zoning differ in size and scope, they have two things in common:
• They will likely generate a greater profit for their owners.
• Their more intense use will impact the surrounding single-family neighborhoods.
A public hearing on the Weyant is scheduled for Sept. 19. The hearings for the two other applications have been adjourned. Stay tuned. Stay alert to what is happening in our neighborhoods.
Susan Siegel is a former town supervisor (2010-11) and councilwoman (2014-15).