Red Hook’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) on March 14 heard the first application challenging part of the new rezoning law commonly referred to as Centers and Greenspaces.
Patrick Sheehan has requested an interpretation of the zoning codes that list permitted commercial uses in the Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) zone. Sheehan wants to operate a used car rental and sales operation at 7311 South Broadway, currently a NAPA auto store with a large forward parking lot that has been used as a car rental location in the past, but was denied a permit by the Zoning Enforcement Officer (ZEO).
By requesting an interpretation, Sheehan is asking the board to overrule the ZEO and change how the law will be enforced in all similar cases. Had he instead requested a use variance, the zoning exemption would be for his particular situation only. Use variances are rarely granted.
The new zoning code for the district, which was passed last year by a 4-1 margin with two Republicans and two Democrats voting to approve, specifically prohibits commercial land uses oriented around vehicles:
Vehicular-oriented commercial land uses and drive-through businesses would have a disruptive effect on the pedestrian orientation of the district and are therefore prohibited unless otherwise provided for in this subsection.
Sheehan argued before the board that a car dealership should not be considered a vehicular-oriented land use, but rather a simple retail operation.
“This is a store, it happens to sell cars,” Sheehan said, claiming that his business was in essence no different than the Holy Cow Ice Cream Shop further down on Route 9. Because the property is located along the already heavily traveled Route 9 and because the land has been used as a car rental location in the past, Sheehan argued that his new business would not have a negative impact on development in the TND zone.
According to members of the bipartisan Intermunicipal Task Force that authored the zoning, the intent of this commercial zone is to discourage large sprawling commercial operations in favor of attempting to maintain and create a denser small -village aesthetic similar to downtown Red Hook and Tivoli.
The TND Commercial Center Subdistrict (CCS) in which the property lies is described in the law as follows:
The Commercial Center Subdistrict is intended primarily to meet the day-to-day retail and service needs of the immediate neighborhood within two- and three-story buildings … and may contain other compatible uses, such as office, civic and institutional uses of community-wide importance.
“It’s not allowed by zoning, enough said,” said task force member and town councilman Harry Colgan when asked about the application. But when asked about the request for interpretation he admitted that “[the] intent of the zoning is one thing, the reality of zoning is another and they’ll have to make the interpretation.”
In February, the town board reappointed two members of the ZBA whose terms had expired, John Douglas and Tim Ross and has also been considering whether to shrink the ZBA from seven seats to five.
There will be a public hearing on Sheehan’s application on April 11 at 7pm at Red Hook Town Hall, where residents can be heard and the board may rule on the matter.