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September 23, 2014
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Zoning amendments in the Town of Delaware

Buck Moorhead

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.

It is ironic that this zoning rewrite effort ostensibly addresses the unclear boundary of the river district but, in fact, creates zoning regarding hundreds of acres that is ambiguous and will be open to interpretation and debate. Landowners and potential developers will not be able to read the zoning and understand the development potential of this new RU area without the clear definition as already exists in the Town of Delaware’s current zoning. With this amendment, an unclear new layer of rhetoric has been added, diminishing our concise and distinct existing regulations.

There are now many more questions unanswered than answered.

Buck Moorhead lives in Callicoon, NY and is an architect practicing in the Upper Delaware River Region.

[Editor’s Note: A special meeting to vote on the zoning changes will be held on Wednesday, July 31. See page 2.]