To zone or not to zone is a question that will come before the new Spencer Village Land Use Commission. At the still-Joint Planning Board meeting on July 22, those present lacked a quorum, so made no decisions, but did discuss several issues at length. Chairman Jeff Luciano announced that the Town of Spencer did vote to dissolve the Joint Planning Board, effective Dec. 31, 2019, which means the Village of Spencer will appoint a Village-only Planning Board in January. One option is to go with a three-person board, with two alternates, to help with the problem of having so few volunteers. 

Part of the transition will be to separate the Town files from the Village files and move the Village files to the municipal building. The Village will likely place a filing cabinet in the meeting room where the Planning Board meets, so they will have access to their files as needed. 

The newly formed Spencer Village Land Use Commission was discussed—specifically, the board discussed which issues the commission should address. The 2015 Town Comprehensive Plan is an easy topic. It can be updated simply by removing any Town portions, as the bulk of the plan was Village-related. Elaine Jardine, Tioga County Planning Director, will take care of revising that for the Village. The other big question is whether to zone the entire village as one zone or look at what is in place now and identify some very simple zones to guide future development. 

Jardine explained that a one-zone village means that any lot may be used in any way as long as site plan requirements are met, such as set back and distance from the property line. 

“Regulations define the character of a community,” Jardine said. 

Location, use and density are the things impacted by regulations. Jardine said Spencer might be zoned very simply into three districts, reflecting exactly what is in place now—an industrial section along Railroad Avenue and Tompkins Street, a mixed use section along Main Street/Route 96 (commercial, residential, and apartments), and everything else residential, single or multi-family. 

Each proposed district would have regulations specific to the uses permitted to it. These would include things like parking (how much, where, off-street?), lighting, minimum lot size, and signs. She assured the board that regulations are easily changed and can be amended. Also, any structure in place now would be grandfathered in, even if it did not meet any new regulations adopted in the future. 

It is the new Village Land Use Commission that will make a recommendation to the Village Board on whether to continue with a one-zone village or create two or more districts. To do this, the Land Use Commission will hold several public hearings, well-publicized, to listen to the public on what they would like to see for village development. After the public hearings and the Land Use Commission’s report to the Village Board, it is the Village Board that will make the final determination. 

Jardine said that the Board and the Land Use Commission need to know what issues they mean to address if they propose limited zoning. She told them that zoning does not address property maintenance and is not a property maintenance code, an important distinction to keep in mind. 

“Zoning addresses property use only—business, residential, or mixed use. Nothing else,” Jardine said. She advised them to look for patterns, complaints, areas where conflicts arise regularly. Those present noted that the most frequent complaints to the Village are not about land use but things like noise, garbage, uncut grass, and junk, none of which zoning would address. Jardine also said that it is property maintenance, code enforcement and land use specifics that all work together to make a vibrant village that will attract new residents. 

The next meeting of the Planning Board will be on Monday, Sept. 23, 7 p.m., at the municipal building.

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