Tupper Lake begins zoning overhaul

Gillis Realty owner Rob Gillis and town attorney Kirk Gagnier discuss changes to zoning in the town of Tupper Lake. They are looking at suggestions from the public on how certain regions of the town should be zoned. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — Residents of this town and village got their first look at their local government’s plan to update the zoning and land use code last Tuesday night.

They gave feedback, learned why the code must be updated and what that change will mean for them.

Randall + West, the company the town hired to help organize the year-long update process, has a seven-step update process it started in October. It completed step number two by holding the public meeting. The project is funded through the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. Thirty to 40 people packed into the Emergency Services Building’s Community Room to hear about all the data on the code collected so far.

“These are the laws that tell you what you can and can’t do with your property; it’s a serious matter,” Community Development Director Mellisa McManus said.

Zoning codes set perimeters for land use that guide a proposed project through the permitting process. These codes govern everything from what a certain property can be used for to how much of the lot a structure can cover.

The code governing Tupper Lake was written by Jim Ellis in the 1990s and now has several outdated, contradicting and legally problematic issues. The town’s vision for the future has changed, zoning codes do not always meet the state Adirondack Park Agency’s permit requirements, and projects can be turned down for the wrong reasons, which could lead to lawsuits.

The changes are meant to simplify the existing code and application process, make the contents of the code clear to residents and alter how certain areas are zoned, making future growth easier.

In past years of zoning, the conventional goal trended toward suburbanization, segmenting a community into residential, work, shopping and school zones. Current state methods are now moving toward bunching these services. The code must be updated to fit the town’s plan for future development.

Almost all property use permits now go through the town-village planning board, something this update looks to remedy. With more clear and up-to-date codes, most projects should only need to be submitted to the code enforcement officer, who will approve or deny it, streamlining the process.

Town Supervisor Patti Littlefield said she also hopes to implement an attendee’s suggestion to combine the town and village zoning boards of appeals. While the two municipalities share a planning board, with four representatives from the town and three from the village, there are two appeals boards with seven members each.

At the end of the meeting, attendees gave suggestions for which uses should be allowed in certain zones, writing suggestions on paper sheets taped around the walls of the room.

Suggestions included retail, multi-family dwellings and trailer parks in commercial zones and hotels near the south end of Demars Boulevard.