DELMAR – The first of three public workshops on town’s zoning and subdivision code update effort took place Wednesday, May 31 at Bethlehem Town Hall. The workshops are intended to elicit input from town residents to update zoning and subdivision codes to, “reflect the vision, values and guiding principles of the…Comprehensive Plan” adopted in June 2022, according to the Town website. The last major update to town zoning rules was in 2016.
More than 120 residents attended the workshop where a brief overview of the process and an introduction to smart growth principles and land use were presented.
Residents then had the opportunity to visit three breakout stations focused on watercourse and floodplain protection, wetlands protection, commercial development, and small and large scale solar. In the groups, participants could ask questions, voice concerns, and submit preferences on each use.
Robert Leslie, Director of Planning for the Town said the process is expected to take about a year to complete.
“We expect to give the Town Board a plan to vote on in March 2024. The 12-month timeline we set is a realistic one to keep residents involved and focused on the process,” he said.
The zoning update project is partially funded through a $90,000 grant from the NYS DOS Smart Growth Planning & Zoning Grant Program. The Town allocated the remaining $75,000 from funding received through the American Recovery and Reconstruction Act.
Bergmann and Prospect Hill was hired to assist with gathering public input and help align zoning updates with the Comprehensive Plan.
Leslie said Bergmann and Prospect Hill was one of three firms that submitted a proposal to run the process.
“[It was hired based on the firm’s] zoning code experience, its local and regional presence, and to comply with the minority-owned provision in order to receive the State grant,” Leslie said.
Side discussions among attendees ranged from developers hoping for some give-and-take on wetland zoning and riparian buffers to residents with concerns about absentee Air B and B homeowners.
The Comprehensive Plan is based on six overarching principles; Interwoven Equity, Livable Built Environment, Harmony with Nature, Resilient Economy, Healthy Community and Responsible Governance and Regionalism, according to the Town’s documentation.
When asked what is the most challenging aspect to a project like this, John Steinmetz, Planning Principal at Bergmann and Prospect Hill said, “Translating policy to regulation. It’s more than science. There is a lot of law and it involves values, hopes, dreams, and more.”
Before the advent of smart growth principals and urban planners, attorneys largely led rezoning efforts, he said.
In addition to the three public workshops, residents can provide input through the development preference survey accessible on the Town website Zoning page or emailing responses to the activity boards to [email protected]. Residents may also submit comments directly to the Planning Board. For links and additional information visit the Town website.