Good Idea! Unintended Consequences?
By Cindy Goldstein -
What was described by the Mayor as a simple zoning change to allow affordable housing on one lot has turned into a major zoning change for non-residential districts Village-wide that could have unintended consequences for overdevelopment and flooding.
At the April 19th meeting of the Harbor Coastal Zone Management Commission (HCZMC) it was clear that the Commissioners were struggling with their task. As required by law, the Board of Trustees (BOT) had asked the HCZMC to provide an advisory opinion about the proposed zoning changes to allow affordable housing to be constructed at the Hunter Tier Parking Lot (across from Old Village Hall).
The first question – the zoning change for the lot – was straightforward and the Commissioners had no problem with it. The confusion arose about a zoning code footnote amendment that would change the open space requirement for residential buildings. The scope of the change was a large part of the HCZMC discussion as Village consultants opined that it would not impact residential districts but apply only to applications to build residential apartment buildings in commercial districts. The consultants described the zoning code as having contradictory requirements and the change would actually increase the amount of open space required.
The Commissioners seemed unconvinced. Evidently the contradiction in the law had never been identified before but now seemed to be critical to getting affordable units built. (The affordable housing project contemplated at the Hunter Tier Parking Lot could be as large as 50 units.) An April 18, 2023 memo from the Village consulting planner noted that the current open space standard “severely limits the potential number of dwelling units and constrains affordable housing development” See HERE. This standard, when appropriately applied, limits all development and not just affordable units. Open space standards are universally used to limit excessive development. In a flood-prone Village, open space is even more important as it also helps mitigate flooding.
HCZMC members were particularly concerned about the C-1 district and how the application of the proposed reduced open space standards would impact residential uses. Village consultants provided neither a detailed analysis nor an evaluation of where potentially impacted parcels were located. It appears that the Commissioners were struggling because they did not have what they needed to perform their analysis.
At the April 24th meeting the BOT considered passing the new law without the benefit of HCZMC’s input. Although the public hearing had been opened and closed at the April 10th meeting, members of the public were present and wanted to be heard. The Mayor ultimately agreed to let them speak on the issue. Residents asked about the impact on traffic and school enrollment. In addition, the C-1 district was of particular interest since some parcels are in the floodplain and reduced open space requirements could encourage excessive residential development and increase flooding risk.
Emails sent to the BOT were widely shared and raised other concerns about the Marine Recreation and Commercial Zones which include Hampshire Golf Club, Mamaroneck Beach and Yacht Club, Beach Point Club, and other waterfront properties.
Despite the many unanswered questions, the BOT went ahead – without waiting for advice from HCZMC or complete information – and voted for the zoning code changes.While it’s legal for the BOT to do so, some residents questioned whether it’s appropriate.In what appears to be a rush to embrace a large affordable housing project, the BOT may have neglected to consider future unintended consequences.Only time will tell.