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Zoning amendments in the Town of Delaware

By Buck Moorhead
July 24, 2013

The current zoning regulations for the Town of Delaware’s properties within the designated Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River Corridor are simple, clear, and straightforward.

The proposed zoning amendments for some properties within the river corridor are not.

The land area in question, hundreds of acres, is comprised of portions of properties within the “overlay zone.” These portions of properties have now been added to the RU (rural use) zoning district. One cannot look to the RU regulations for clarity, however, because projects on these properties will be subject to the Land and Water Use guidelines of the River Management Plan (RMP) as interpreted by the planning board and Upper Delaware Council (UDC) on a project-by-project basis.

There are no regulations for this new RU area within the amendment or the existing zoning. There is no statement of permitted uses, special permit uses, accessory uses, building heights or setbacks for these properties.

There is only a stated intent to regulate that land subject to the Land and Water Use Guidelines, presumably as individual projects are proposed. Know this: guidelines are not regulations.

A growing number of town residents are questioning why a straightforward zoning amendment that was to address only an administrative issue, where there was no stated desire to change the river corridor zoning, has actually created the potential to change what can be built in the river corridor.

The Town of Delaware Town Board and Planning Board will say that the UDC has approved these proposed changes as being in “substantial conformance” with the RMP. That is accurate, UDC has said that, but it is also somewhat misleading. The UDC is relying on future planning board decisions to correctly apply the guidelines to projects individually.

Regrettably and inexplicably, the town board and its consultants have not chosen to link the zoning amendments to the existing river district regulations — a simple, clear and rational solution. It would accomplish the administrative issue and keep the existing zoning in place.