Committee unveils proposed Lake Placid land use code updates

LAKE PLACID — A number of proposed changes to the town-village joint land use code are coming down the pike.

The changes, proposed by a subcommittee of the Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission and presented for public feedback last Thursday, are designed to clarify sections of the code that may be legally unclear, correct grammatical errors, and address some problems that have arisen in the years since the code was last reviewed in 2011.

The joint land use code is an important document. It’s basically a roadmap for what can be built where, how buildings can be used and what standards properties must meet. It underpins the decisions made by the Joint Review Board and Zoning Board of Appeals and informs the work of local code enforcement officers.

Among the biggest changes to the code are provisions that would:

¯ Allow wastewater systems to be installed less than 300 feet from the shoreline if that 300-foot distance isn’t possible.

¯ Change the definition of “marina” to mean any property with more than one docked boat not owned by the property owner.

¯ Allow boathouses to extend 35 feet from the shore. Currently, boathouses can extend 32 feet from the shore, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation is recommending boathouses be built starting three feet from the shore, according to Community Development Commission Chairman Dean Dietrich. To allow people to build roughly the same size boathouse as before, the committee is recommending a 3-foot extension.

¯ Impose a new permit expiration rule that will require people to apply for a permit renewal if their construction project isn’t completed in three years.

¯ Create uniform construction hours between the village and the town. Construction would be allowed between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.

¯ Allow already non-conforming structures to build additions, as long as those additions still meet required setbacks. If there was room in the back of a building to expand while still meeting the required setback from neighboring properties, for example, that might be allowed, according to Dietrich.

¯ Allow income-based housing developments in commercial areas — defined as developments where at least 75% of the units are dedicated to income-based housing, or housing affordable to someone making 80% of the area median income — to be built taller, up to 40 feet. That would allow developments to be one level higher than what’s generally allowed now in those areas.

¯ Change the formula for mandatory affordable housing units in new housing developments. Currently, for every 10 new housing units built, a developer has to either include a certain number of income-based units or contribute money to a housing fund. How many units, or how much money, is calculated based on a formula, which takes into account the one-year average median price of housing sold and median area income. The committee wants to change that formula to take into account the three-year average median price of housing sold, rather than one year average, according to Dietrich.

¯ Impose standards for lawn signs, ban balloons and streamers on sandwich board signs, and require businesses that have display monitors visible from the street to turn them off during non-business hours.

¯ Require that floating docks be encapsulated to cut down on debris in lakes.

¯ Add legal definitions of “homeowners association,” “condominium association,” “basement,” “story above grade plane” and “enforcement officer.” A definition for “allowable agricultural uses” would replace “agricultural practices” in the code.

The local land use code hasn’t been substantially updated since 2011, though some sizeable sections — including regulations on short-term vacation rentals — have been added since then.

Dietrich said the committee isn’t recommending any major changes to the short-term vacation rental regulations right now, in part because a group of property owners are currently suing the town and village over the regulations.

“We want to give the ordinances we put in a little more time,” he said.

One thing will be added to the regulations, however. The committee is suggesting the town and village get “express consent” for inspection of rental properties. The municipalities already ask property owners to consent to inspections when they apply for a vacation rental permit, according to Dietrich, but the committee is recommending the municipalities, for legal reasons, get more explicit consent for inspections.

Community feedback

Feedback on the committee’s recommendations are being accepted via email at hbreen@northelba.org for the next two weeks.

Members of the community who attended a virtual public information session on the proposals this past Thursday primarily objected to the changes that would impact properties on Lake Placid lake, like the stormwater setback change, or the boathouse extension.

“I am concerned about wastewater systems existing fewer than 300 feet from shore,” Jeremy Arnold wrote in the virtual meeting’s chatroom. “I worry about the safety of my camp’s drinking water. If there is to be a procedure for exceptions, I feel you must define (300 feet or) ‘greatest extent possible’ with pinpoint clarity. Especially the word ‘possible.’ Otherwise, someone could decide it’s not ‘possible’ because they don’t feel like spending more money or waiting for a system to be engineered, for instance.”

Dan Kelleher, a member of the subcommittee that recommended the changes, said he believes “there is a purpose” to the change “that improves lake quality.” Right now, houses can be built closer than 300 feet to the lake, leaving owners “reliant upon pumps to move the effluent further from the lake to be 300 feet, often uphill onto systems built on bedrock,” he said.

“These pumps and systems fail at a higher rate than traditional septic systems that don’t rely on pumps,” Kelleher said. “If there is not a regular inspection, the lines and pumps moving this effluent could fail, dumping effluent into the lake.”

More broadly, some residents took issue with what they saw as a lack of public involvement in drafting the changes.

“We are not represented in this,” said Kathy Trainor. “I think our fear is that you will listen and you’ll do what you choose to do.”

Dietrich said the committee “learned a lot” from the public meeting, and would be looking at all of the public comments after the comment period ends before submitting its proposals to the town council and village board.

The committee’s full presentation is available at www.futurelakeplacid.com/subcommittees/land-use-code-review.

The town council and village board will need to host public hearings before voting on the changes, according to Dietrich.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today