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October 22, 2014
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Town of Delaware adopts zoning changes


The board of the Town of Delaware voted unanimously to adopt amendments to the town’s zoning code at a special meeting on July 31. The most controversial change was that some parcels in the river corridor that were formerly listed as being in the Delaware River District (DR) are now listed as being in the Rural Use District (DU).

The DR lists eight special uses which can be developed on parcels with planning board approval, and the DU lists 40 special uses, including such uses as “Manufacturing and Industry” and “Natural Resources Processing.”

Town officials said the riverfront properties that exist in the river corridor, which is referred to as an overlay district, would still be protected because any use approved by the planning board must be compatible with the River Management Plan (RMP), and the planning board would consider each project on a case-by-case basis.

It’s not clear, however, whether the planning board would declare that any proposed manufacturing project, for instance, would be compatible with the RMP.

Some residents have complained that the change added unnecessary confusion to the zoning code, whereas previously the code was clear.

In performing a required review of the zoning amendments, the Sullivan County Division of Planning and Environmental Management agreed that the zoning changes could use more clarity, and in a letter to town officials suggested some revisions.

Acting county planning commissioner Jill Weyer wrote, “The board needs to include a section in the zoning text that clearly describes what the overlay seeks to accomplish. It needs to be more than a reference to the Upper Delaware River Management Plan, since that creates a complicated process for a landowner, developer, or planning board member and therefore more potential for multiple interpretations and more business for the Zoning Board of Appeals.”

Another change in the zoning would make insurance offices, print shops, professional offices and real estate offices principal permitted uses in the RU rather than special uses, which means that those uses could be established without oversight from the planning board.

Weyer suggested that those uses remain special uses so the planning board could retain control over some aspects of the projects. She wrote, “This means working with an applicant to ensure landscaping around parking areas, locations of signs and lighting are developed in a way that is harmonious with existing uses.” A couple of other suggestions were also included.

A town board may ignore the advice of the county planning department with the vote of a supermajority, and in this case the five-member board voted unanimously to ignore the suggestions of the county.

At the town meeting, supervisor Ed Sykes read the resolution adopting the zoning, which said in part, “the town board hereby determines to override the recommendations made by the Sullivan County Division of Planning, for the reasons that... the town board does not agree with the first and second recommendations and finds that there is sufficient clarity and consistency in the amendments so as to insure compliance with the Upper Delaware River Management Plan.” He also said that the amendments were developed with input from the Upper Delaware Council and the National Park Service.

This is at least the second time in recent months that a town board has chosen to override the county planning department regarding a 239 review. In February, the town of Callicoon was considering the adoption of its comprehensive plan, which included language that many residents said invited gas drilling into the town. Weyer suggested modifications to the language specifically regarding gas drilling, and the board voted unanimously not to accept those suggestions.

[Editor’s note: A letter to the editor on this subject can be found here.]