Planning Board’s Advisory Opinion Suggests Changes In UDO

The Planning Board (PB) issued their advisory opinion regarding the Unified Development Ordinance, the UDO:

They found “…that the UDO is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and not contrary to the general purposes and intent of the Zoning Ordinance” with a number of exceptions.

The GCR District: The Southern Gateway To the City

The GCR zoning district constitutes two narrow strips along South Broadway. The GCR is identified as a gateway to the city.

The two strips of land are located between Crescent Avenue and Driscoll Road running along Route 9. They are separated by Spa State Park.

The Planning Board was concerned that the proposed “.. GCR district abuts many areas defined as Rural Residential (RR) [JK: Greenbelt] within the Comprehensive Plan’s Conservation Development District (CDD) and an unlimited residential density limit is not appropriate.”

I think this represents their concern that the development in the GCR be designed so that it transitions appropriately into the greenbelt area.

They offered the following revisions to the UDO regarding the gateway land.

  • Maintain residential uses only on the second floor and above
  • Establish a maximum residential density limit appropriate for a rural gateway
  • Remove residential uses as principal permitted uses

The Planning Board also took exception to the list of approved uses for the GCR. The following table includes the currently proposed uses for the GCR. Highlighted in green are the uses the Planning Board considers appropriate.

Marion Avenue

There are two parcels of land on the eastside of Marion Avenue near Loughberry Lake that are located within the conservation district. In the UDO these parcels are designated as UR-2. According to the Planning Board they are within the conservation district (Green Belt) and should be designated CDD.

“Both parcels should be changed from UR-2 (7 units/acre) to RR (0.5 units/acre).”

Expanded Protection For The Greenbelt

Without going too far into the weeds…

The Comprehensive Plan as regards the greenbelt requires that density not exceed an average of one unit per two acres. There is an important caveat. In determining this average, wetlands, slopes, buffers to protect water, etc. must be identified and excluded. So a parcel that has four acres but encompasses two acres of wetland would only be allowed one unit.

The advisory opinion includes this note which is a pretty good description of the issue.

The maximum density in the CDD is an average of 0.5 Units/Acre of unconstrained land. Unconstrained lands are areas of the site that do not contain severe constraints to development, such as wetlands, very steep slopes, stream corridors, and floodplains, as well as lands with legal impediments to development. Following a “conservation analysis” by the City, constrained lands, along with at least 50 percent of the site’s developable open space, shall be set aside as permanent open space through a conservation easement.

Advisory Opinion

The UDO currently only requires this analysis for subdivisions. The Planning Board would expand this to include “…all proposed development projects that require site plan and special use permit review in the SR and RR districts.

The UDO included a list of approved uses for development in the city’s greenbelt.

The Planning Board finds that the following proposed new uses are too intense and recommends their removal from the RR zone: ‘campground’ and ‘community center’.

The Planning Board recommends revisions to the definitions and standards for ‘country club’, ‘greenhouse/nursery’ and ‘marina’ to ensure that these potentially intensive existing uses are consistent with the CDD designation going forward. The Planning Board is wiling to coordinate with other stakeholders to develop appropriate definitions for these uses and offers the following high-level guidance:

Country Club: The proposed definition in the UDO is too broad and the last portion of the sentence – “and/or similar uses” – should be removed.

Greenhouse/Nursery: The proposed definition should reflect a design standard for a small-scale plant/flower propagation center similar in character to Balet Flowers and Design.

Marina: The standard design and layout of a typical marina may need to be modified within the RR zone (CDD area) in areas that abut public land and where nature trails and protected open space is envisioned.

Advisory Opinion

Strengthen the Process to Protect Open Space

The city’s Sustainability Coordinator and the Open Space Advisory Committee (OSAC) should be consulted on all future projects within CDD designated areas that require Planning Board review.

• It is essential to establish an appropriate definition for “rural character” that supports future development in a manner consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

• Increase the minimum required lot size in the RR zone to 5 acres. In addition, consider conducting a full build-out analysis for the remaining undeveloped lands throughout the city to inform future zoning decisions.

Advisory Opinion

Emphasize Setting Aside Open Space Rather Than Fees

The Planning Board has an opportunity to improve its ability to preserve open space. Both subdivision and site plan review include provisions to protect open space by requiring applicants to set aside space for passive and/or recreational use. To date, the Planning Board has typically focused on assessing recreational fees in lieu of requiring open space as a matter of standard practice. Going forward the default position should be focused on open space protection. The recommendations provided by Tom Denny (letter dated June 3rd, 2021) to the Planning Board regarding Section 15.8 (10% Open Space Preservation and Recreation Land Requirement) should be incorporated into the final version of the adopted UDO.

• Sketch Plan should be required before Site Plan review for all large mixed-use projects exceeding 50,000 sq. ft.

Advisory Opinion

Planning Board Response To Commissioner Madigan Re Saratoga National Golf Course and Land Owned By Bobby D’Andrea

Commissioner Michele Madigan asked the Planning Board to advise regarding two issues:

1) the split zoned parcels (RR and GCR) on South Broadway near Kaydeross Avenue West and

2) the definition of “Clubhouse” w/r/t a potential Saratoga National Golf Course project.

Question 1

“Provide a recommendation on making these parcels whole in terms of their zoning and development use”.

Ans: The split zoned parcels are zoned GCR adjacent to South Broadway and RR to the “rear” towards Spa State Park. Making the parcels “whole” could mean one of two things, expansion of the GCR or expansion of the RR designation for the entirety of each parcel. It is assumed that the question is referring to potential expansion of the GCR.

Pros

• Provide more flexibility and encourage commercial development along the gateway.

Cons

• Reduction in open space and elimination of a conservation analysis for new development.

• Substantial increase in the number/types of uses allowed in what is now an RR zone.

The approval of the “Just Cats” project suggests this zoning change may be unnecessary to promote commercial activity along the gateway

Question 2

“I would like to see a definition for a Clubhouse more clearly defined by the Planning Board and the City Council”.

Ans: As previously stated, the Planning Board recognizes the need for continued/periodic review to improve the clarity of the definitions for many of the proposed uses in the RR district and is specifically concerned with the definition of the term “Clubhouse” as included in Commissioner Madigan’s letter. Introducing additional uses such as banquet facilities, business center, lodging for up to 100 rooms and up to 6 free standing golf lodges, containing up to 8 guest rooms with associated common space” presents a significant risk to preserving the rural character in the “country” part of the city. It should be noted that “Clubhouse” as a distinct use is not proposed for inclusion in the UDO and the Planning Board sees no compelling reason to establish a definition for such use.

Advisory Opinion

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