Members of the Varna Re-Zoning Subcommittee of the Town of Dryden Planning Board presented a resolution for amending the zoning regulations in the Varna Community Development Plan at a meeting on Sept. 26.
“The problem is that there is a current lack of agreement between the Varna Community Development Plan, and particularly the goals that were identified in that plan and our current town zoning’s allowable density,” David Weinstein, a member of the Planning Board and the subcommittee, said. “Specifically, the Varna plan set out as a buildout goal of 450 bedrooms to the 807 bedrooms that were existing in Varna in 2012. … The current zoning, however, allows for approximately 2,700 bedrooms to potentially be added to what was already there in 2012 when this plan was passed. And that 2,700 doesn’t even include any modifications that might be made to Hillside Acres, the manufactured housing park, that would for various reasons increase the density there."
While the Varna Plan calls for 450 additional bedrooms, the subcommittee is currently looking to reduce the potential addition of 2,700 bedrooms to a number that is closer, that number being 1,200. Because it is a part of the Town of Dryden Comprehensive Plan, the town is obligated to adjust the zoning so that it is in compliance with what is written in the Varna plan.
The subcommittee identified five concepts that would help lower the number of bedrooms added from 2,700 to 1,200: (1) More precisely defining the purpose and goals of each district; (2) Improving the definitions of development types; (3) Changing what development types would be allowed in each district to promote the goals of that district; (4) Reducing the allowable development units per acre of each of those types in each district and create differences among districts; (5) Eliminating both the energy and redevelopment bonus in the hamlet districts, requiring energy efficiency for all new construction in the hamlet.
In terms of the first concept, there are three districts in the hamlet: traditional, residential and mixed use. The current Varna Plan does not include the purpose and goals of these districts.
For the traditional district, the subcommittee proposed the following definition for its goal: “Foster less-dense development that is in keeping with protecting Fall Creek.” For the residential district, the subcommittee defined its goal as to “foster a mixed variety of moderately-dense dwelling types, with predominantly single-family unattached dwelling units.” For the mixed use district, the proposed definition was to “foster a mix of commercial and higher-density residential (preferably in combination) while retaining the traditional character of buildings and the hamlet character.”
Planning Board members like Thomas Hatfield shared some concerns with some of what was presented by the subcommittee. Hatfield was worried about the subcommittee’s proposed new definition of townhouses – which would be, according to subcommittee member Jim Skaley, a “single-family home that shares one or more walls with other dwelling units. Townhouses are distinguished from a condominium townhouse, which is a single-family home that shares one or more walls with other independently-owned units” – and whether or not it would permit the construction housing that would be affordable to homebuyers.
“Have you talked to any developers yet in terms of is there a market for this type of housing on this scale,” Hatfield asked of the committee members. “The reason developers keep coming in with large numbers because the cost of infrastructure, cost per unit. … You really have to pay attention to whether if we build it will they come.”
Weinstein said he would like to underscore the importance of encouraging the developers to construct single-family housing instead of rental units.
“We recognized that in the Varna plan there was a lot of attention to the fact that we want to maintain single-family homes as a significant portion of this community,” he said. “But in reality, what’s been happening is everything new that comes in is rental, and so instead of getting closer to a one-to-one mix of rentals and single-family houses, we’re getting something like 14 rentals for every one house … so the emphasis that you’re seeing here is let’s open the door to make it more inviting for people to build affordable, small-footprint houses within this community.”
“Let’s favor that certainly in the traditional district where there’s a good reason to have those to protect Fall Creek, in the residential [district] as a transitional area that gets to that balance. We’re predominantly saying we would like to see single-family houses, but we’ll allow other uses, while going right to the mixed use [district], which is denser with maybe that’s going to be mostly rentals.”
The members of the subcommittee wanted to vote on resolution that evening, but the rest of the Planning Board decided to table the resolution so that the subcommittee could consider the suggestions made by the board.