In the zone: Tupper Lakers discuss coming codes

More than 30 people attend the first public unveiling of Tupper Lake’s draft joint zoning land use code on Thursday. (Provided photo — Jim Lanthier)

TUPPER LAKE — More than 30 town residents turned out to the first public unveiling of the town’s draft of a new joint zoning land use code Thursday.

They heard from the urban planning firm Randall and West, which oversaw the creation of the draft, and expressed concerns with a few of the code changes.

After voicing concerns, several people in attendance said they were satisfied overall with the draft and appreciated the informational meeting.

This meeting was step five in a seven-step process, which started with an audit and assessment of conditions, then the first public information hearing, then revision of the code, and then review by the town and village boards. Next, more edits will possibly be made, more hearings will be held, a State Environmental Quality Review will be conducted, and the code will be finalized.

“This isn’t the end,” said town Supervisor Patti Littlefield. “This is the beginning.”

Seasonal resident Stewart Amell speaks at the Tupper Lake joint zoning code meeting on Thursday about travel trailer zoning codes. (Provided photo — Jim Lanthier)

Littlefield said there is no official “deadline” for the final draft, but there is a plan to submit it sometime in June.

Each zone’s boundary lines have changed very little, too. There was more alteration to the codes themselves.

Zoning code determines the allowed uses for certain parcels of land, the sizes of the land parcels and the buildings on them, as well as placement, style and features of buildings. As C.J. Randall of Randall and West said, the relief valve for making exceptions is the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Community Development Director Melissa McManus said there were two reasons for the code revisions. First, the New York Department of State’s Local Waterfront Program that has pushed lots of money into Tupper Lake developments comes with a recommendation from the DoS that the community review its code.

“The actual, more immediate reason was that your town planner (Paul) O’Leary, who serves as the zoning enforcement officer, called me and said, ‘Melissa, can you find any money? This code needs some work,'” McManus said.

She said aspects of the code, which was written by Jim Ellis in the 1990s, were now unclear or contradictory, and current officials want to bring regulatory certainty. Also, the old code was scanned from a document typed on a typewriter and is not text-searchable.

The project is funded through the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

The new code would comply with state Adirondack Park Agency guidelines, Randall said.

After the first public meeting 16 months ago, the committee and Randall and West have been determining their best version of the code for the future of Tupper Lake. The committee members include Clint Hollingsworth, Dan Bower, John Quinn, Jen Beauchamp, Jim Merrihew, Mary Chartier, Matt Kendall, Noelle Short, Shawn Stuart and Tom Maroun.

Randall said Randall and West looked at what people like about the code and how buildings look, and kept that, as well as what people didn’t like, and cut that.

“The job of planning, of course, is to walk the razor’s edge between advancing the public interest and protecting private property rights,” Randall said.

Littlefield said she hopes several of the changes will make the process of opening a business easier.

Most changes would not impact buildings already built. Rather, they apply to new developments, with the exception of signs. Non-conforming signs will be phased out after the code is implemented.

“Requirements for new buildings do not require changes to existing buildings,” West said. “So if you read this and you found that buildings can cover 50% of a lot in a zone where you live and your house covers 60%, there’s no zoning police coming to say, ‘You need to tear off 10% of your house.”

Changes

The major changes of the code include removing “nuisance commercial uses” from residential areas — usually for noise — and implementing buffer requirements to separate two uses that are not compatible, protecting core building by giving the municipalities extra power to prevent demolition of historic buildings, allowing more uses per zoned lot and changing parking requirements to be determined more case-by-case.

The new code also “rationalizes” lot and building size and placement.

“In the village, several of the zones — particularly closer to the centers — didn’t allow the kind of development that was historically there,” David West said. “You couldn’t replicate the historic character.”

The code adds a village center zone on Demars Boulevard, zoned uniquely from Park and Main streets.

It also alters the document itself, making it easily editable and providing graphics explaining the codes.

Changes to allowed signs ban “blade” flag signs, 100% internally lit signs, signs that are too tall, and neon signs or signs with exposed bulbs, though there exceptions for historic neon signs.

West said they were asked to address a concern with recreational vehicles and tents, which under current code cannot be lived in more than 120 days per year.

“We understand that there has been some issues with places outside campgrounds, travel trailers being used as permanent residences when they’re not safe and don’t have adequate water and wastewater systems,” West said.

The proposed code would allow someone to occupy a trailer or tent for 14 days. If they wanted to stay longer, they could apply for permits for 30 and then 90 days, totaling 120. West said the permitting office would want to see a functional plan for water and wastewater disposal.

“These numbers are certainly just suggestions that we came up with with the pact. They are certainly not edicts being handed down,” Randall added.

Dan McClelland, who lives on River Road, said there are several properties on that road that can’t be used for development because they flood semi-annually, but are used by people who live in travel trailers seasonally.

“To limit them to 14 days, or 90 days — it’s really going to change the character of our neighborhood,” McClelland said. “I would urge the committee to really look at keeping things the way they are, maybe with some regulations in terms of what they must look like and (how they) handle water and handle wastewater.”

Stewart Amell, who has one of those lots, suggested a yearly permit instead of doing incremental days. Littlefield said that was a good idea. Another resident suggested ranging permit costs by square footage.

There was also talk of storage unit codes. West said a new requirement that units have one shared entry was suggested by the committee for aesthetic reasons. This would mean all units would be contained within one building.

A town resident who said he owns several storage units asked if this would mean the end of “the old days of somebody backing up with a pickup truck and unloading it into their storage unit.”

West said this would not apply to his existing units but would apply to any unit built in the future.

The draft of the new zoning code is on the village and town’s website, and Littlefield said anyone who was not able to attend the meeting could mail comments to the town or stop by the town hall.

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