MARBLETOWN – In passing a new law that allows up to 4 residences to be built on a single lot, without subdivision, the Marbletown town board appeared to downplay concerns voiced by their own planning board, despite their own unanimity. The new law codifies a practice that has been allowed in the town since long before zoning began in 1969, but something that planning board chair Richard Lanzarone has described as a "hole in the town's zoning" that could end up changing the town's character if misused.
The planning board's concerns, expressed in recent meetings as well as in writing, focused on the fact that very few towns allow more than one residence on a single lot, the manner in which properties do not remain in the same hands for long these days, as well as the fact that for legal conveyance in a sale, where a mortgage and insurance is involved, property must be legally subdivided and come with a surveyor's map and engineering diagram.
People who are about to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on property in an expensive town such as Marbletown, in other words, need to have every i dotted and t crossed. And older styles of property use, such as family farms, may end up a diminishing trend.
Planning board members added, before the town's August 1 vote, that if properties have been subdivided in practice, but not formally, their owners will still need to come to the planning board in the future in order for those properties to be conveyable. Moreover, if subdivision is not done with full reference to codes and zoning, there will need to be variances granted for any future sales, and this could prove messy, and the cause of litigation.
The town board's answer, on Tuesday, was that the expressed concerns and objections were not important enough to block landowners from setting up extra homes — as long as they had the required 3 acres for every home and met the needs of state building codes. During the August 1 meeting, supervisor Michael Warren, who made note of the extensive discussion about the law that has taken place over recent months, said, "We are restricting what landowners can do with their property," with reference to the requirement that such properties would need 3 rather than 1 acre per new buildable housing lot.
Historically, Marbletown — like most rural towns — had no restrictions. Then, in 1969, an acre was required for a home. In 1985 and again in 2007 the lot size was increased to the now standard 3 acres for a home.
Warren explained that the new law was driven by the absence of a New York State zoning code which governs accessory residential uses in Marbletown's code. He also made the point that the new law will actually restrict landowners by allowing only 4 homes on any property, and not the maximum that could be possible if a house were allowed for every 3 buildable acres. Thus, a 100-acre property cannot sprout 30 houses, only the 4 allowed... unless the 100 acres is subdivided via planning board approvals.
Warren noted that things such as 100-foot buffer zones around wetlands are already built into building codes and have to be adhered to in order to get a building permit and/or certificate of occupancy. Furthermore, state law has changed to allow a development of 4 homes or less to be classed as minor subdivision, no longer requiring full SEQR review.
The planning board has reiterated its position requiring subdivision regulation today, rather than tomorrow. They have answered the town board's argument that the new law helps keep young people in the area and create affordable housing in a town with very high real estate values by noting how nobody lives forever, and families do leave farming... and their large properties.
The planning board believes that a safer future lies with fully approved site plans and subdivision processes. The town has pushed for an abbreviated plot plan process, simplifying things and reducing costs.
After this week's meeting, Warren, who will be running for reelection this fall, said that he remains confident that the new law will not create a tangle of litigation and non-conforming, unsellable homes and encumbered properties.
"One thing we only found late in the process is that right there in our comprehensive plan, in the action plan at the back, it said that we should be doing this," he noted. "The 4 houses we are allowing must be subdividable in the future. They must conform in terms of setbacks so that different owners in the future can subdivide and sell them. We are making them do everything for future subdivision without actually subdividing right now."
Ultimately Warren said, the town wishes to retain its rural nature, look and feel, and that remains the most important issue for the town board.
As well as the entire Rondout Valley and region.