TUSTEN, NY — The Monday, January 10 meeting of the Town of Tusten Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) brought a heated public hearing for a proposal to create a collaborative art shop studio …
TUSTEN, NY — The Monday, January 10 meeting of the Town of Tusten Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) brought a heated public hearing for a proposal to create a collaborative art shop studio space.
According to Kathryn Andrews, a Tusten resident who is one of the project’s proponents, the project would rehabilitate a barn on The Flats, a residential neighborhood. The barn was previously used by long-time resident Art Peck as a boat-building workshop, and it would become a collaborative art shop.
The project intends to preserve the history of the place, said Andrews, and at the same time bring the existing workshop up to modern standards. The space would be open to artists working with digital photography, live performance and all kinds of studio arts.
The project was before the ZBA due to its proposed location in The Flats. That neighborhood is within Tusten’s general residential district, zoned primarily for one- and two-family dwellings with special uses that include public facilities, public schools and day care centers—and not including commercial uses, such as the art barn would be. To proceed, the project would have to get a use variant from the ZBA providing an exemption from the area’s zoning requirements.
The ZBA could impose conditions on a granted use to keep the project in line with The Flats’ community character. The use variance, if granted, would only allow for the specific use applied for in that location, says ZBA member Stephen Stuart, and not any other kind of commercial use. Additionally, the board could impose other conditions as well, such as halting outside activity after a certain hour and prohibiting outside lighting.
But “a use variance is a very difficult thing to get,” says Stuart. The ZBA had already met several times over a period of months to discuss the project, leading up the public hearing on January 10.
Public sentiment during the hearing was united in favor of the project’s spirit, and of the idea of having a collaborative art space in Tusten. It split on whether that project belonged in The Flats.
Several commenters spoke against the project’s location in The Flats, emphasizing that the area was zoned for residential use, not commercial use. They argued that the increased traffic would make the area’s streets less safe for walking, that the project could have an adverse environmental impact on the area and that it would change the nature of the community.
Those in favor of the project spoke of their trust in the people behind it, saying that they were great people who cared about the community. They also said that the project would encourage arts in the community, something that was especially important for the younger generation of Tusten’s residents.
The community’s testimonials—heartfelt as they were—were largely laid aside when the ZBA closed the public hearing and turned to its own deliberations.
Whether the project was wanted or not wasn’t relevant to the board’s process, said Stuart. There were four criteria imposed by the state in considering a use variation, and the board would make their decision based on those criteria.
According to betenskylaw.com, those criteria state that, when applying for a use variance, the applicant has to prove four things about the property under consideration. The applicant has to prove that (1) they cannot get a reasonable return on their property without a use variance; that (2) the lack of a reasonable return was specific to that property, not general for the area; that (3) the use variance would not harm the nature of the community; and that (4) the lack of a reasonable return was not a self-created hardship.
Members of the board challenged the project’s lack of a reasonable return, the first of the four criteria, during the January 10 meeting.
ZBA chair Neil Latkowsky (newly appointed as chair for 2022 after having served as chair several years previously) and Stuart questioned whether the applicants had provided sufficient evidence to prove that they could not attain a reasonable return through building a residential building or a senior living facility.
The board had previously agreed that they didn’t need another estimate of costs, said Andrews. She pointed out the difficulty of meeting certain standards when the evidence to do so potentially did not exist, saying that the applicants had done the research that they had the capacity to do.
ZBA member Nico Juarez, who had served as chair during the first few meetings on the project, stated that the applicants had provided more than the usual, and that he thought they had provided enough.
The board ended the meeting with an agreement to discuss the four criteria further in a Monday, January 24 workshop meeting, and to make a final decision at a Monday, February 14 regular meeting.
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