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Archive for January 12th, 2009

zoning…

The following are my thoughts regarding the zoning report generated by the self-appointed “ad hoc volunteer committee”.

The preliminary report was not prepared by a committee designated by the Common Council or by the Planning Commission as required by the City of Amsterdam Charter and General Municipal Law. This formal designation is a must for any board “appointed or elected … for the purpose of administering designated City functions or advising on matters of continuing City interest, or in assisting in the making of City governmental policy.”

The process used to arrive at the proposed amendments does not appear to have involved a formal deliberative and well-documented planning process. Nor did the process involve any public outreach and stakeholder coordination. Again, the same individuals that so eagerly wish to unilaterally take on this project had been unwavering in their efforts to locate the unpopular C&D landfill within city limits, despite public outcry by a majority of city residents.

The process did not include a thorough evaluation of what does and does not work in the current zoning law, nor did it allow for an analysis of the potential implications of the proposed changes on the rest of the zoning law. The drafted legislation has been produced in isolation of the rest of the code and this may result in unintended consequences in other sections.

This rush to piecemeal legislation together over a holiday weekend indicates that the “ad hoc committee” does not fully understand the scope of work proposed or the impact this project will have on the future of our community. We are not in need of a parlor trick – this dramatically important task requires a thoughtful, methodical approach.

Surprisingly, Mr. Going continues to voice his doubts that zoning is necessary at all, citing Houston, TX as an example of unfettered growth without zoning. Certainly we are comparing apples to oranges here, but given the opportunity to contrast our situation with Houston is interesting territory. It is important to note that Houston is known for its sprawling suburbia, as well as automobile dependence, pollution and congestion. Lest we get a skewed perception of Houston’s handling of property development, it does have land-use regulations and deed restrictions enforced by the city in lieu of zoning ordinances and there has been a significant push for zoning in that city for years.

Granted, there are lessons we may learn from Houston; we must look to pedestrian-friendly planning and a permitting process that is stream-lined, affordable and compatible with evolving residential/commercial markets.

The Saratoga Associates proposal provides for a complete revision to the zoning ordinance along with any necessary changes to the zoning map as opposed to an outline of the proposed changes presented so far. It is critical that we involve a cross section of professional planners along with architects, landscape architects, engineers and land use and zoning attorneys when revising zoning regulations to ensure the various aspects of the development regulations are addressed by appropriate professionals.

Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls didn’t evolve into the attractions they are now because of unrestricted growth; they are growing out of land use planning, ordinances and controls. Again, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We need to follow the path of success.

I am gratified to see that the volunteering individuals are finally embracing the Comprehensive Plan and are beginning to recognize the importance of a revitalized downtown, both initiatives I have been advancing since my campaign and throughout my first year of office. One wonders why these individuals did not take the opportunity to offer their expertise to our Downtown Development Committee, the Via Ponte Committee, the Waterfront Commission or the Master Plan Committee, which have been meeting over the past year. And don’t forget, we’re still looking for volunteers to the Assessment Board of Appeals.

I feel strongly that we should move forward with our efforts to revamp the zoning ordinances because I believe so fervently in the future of our city. I will canvas for additional proposals from professionals so that we may base our decision on cost comparisons, but I encourage the Council to act sooner than later to award a contract. The process will take at least six months to complete and we have waited much too long as a community to confront this problem.

To those of you wishing to read more on this fascinating topic, I recommend A Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities, by Donald L. Elliott. This small book is vast in history and wisdom.

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