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Amenia seeks changes to housing regulations

AMENIA —  In accordance with a public hearing process intended to guide consideration of changes to existing town regulations concerning workforce housing, the Town Board invited a final round of public comment at its regular meeting on Thursday, March 2, at the Town Hall.

During and after the hearing, town board members offered clarifying responses to residents’ concerns. A second public hearing received comments on an addendum to the town’s comprehensive plan, those changes intended to see that the plan aligns properly with the regulations. A significant goal within the comprehensive plan calls for an increase in affordable housing opportunities.

At the next meeting of the Town Board, scheduled for Thursday, March 16, the changes will be discussed and considered for action. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

The addendum to the comprehensive plan along with the zoning regulation changes within the affordable housing section were prepared by AKRF, planning consultant for the town, represented at the hearing by Ashley Ley, AKRF’s vice president for municipal and land planning throughout the Hudson Valley region. She responded to residents’ questions about details of the regulation amendments.

“We need to staff two volunteer fire departments,” resident Sharon Kroeger commented, having noticed that the preference list provision was removed, and seeking to ensure that the regulations would support the housing needs of young families who often volunteer for the fire department and send children to local schools, people who want to remain in their local jobs, and local teachers. She also questioned the change to the regulations that would remove the Town Board’s oversight role in regard to workforce housing.

Urging the town to protect open space and natural habitats and fearing that future development might bring high-density housing to the rural landscape, resident George Bistransin questioned the “density bonus” provision, allowing developers to increase housing density if they provide a number of units of affordable housing, or pay an “in lieu of” assessment to the town.

Bistransin cautioned that the regulation changes, as he read them, could invite suburbanization of the town. He sought to preserve the rural character and protect vulnerable wildlife. He also opposed the idea of allowing accessory apartments within existing homes.

Responding to residents’ concerns, Town Board member Leo Blackman explained that the Town is anticipating providing for higher-density housing opportunities in the Town’s commercial center only. He also recommended that residents view the affordable housing display at the NorthEast-Millerton Library depicting sample designs for such units.

“We’re not promoting housing everywhere; we want to protect open spaces,” said Town Board member Vicki Doyle.

Consultant Ley observed that the changes to the zoning regulation wording are  intended to make it easier for the town to allow for affordable housing. The “low-hanging fruit” toward partial achievement of that goal is to allow for accessory-use apartments within existing structures.

Town Board members joined in reporting that the “preference list” system is no longer allowed by federal regulations, prohibiting towns from seeking to limit affordable housing to specified types of tenants.

Housing Board Chairman Charles Miller spoke to clarify that the proposed changes fall within three categories.  The “in lieu of” fees would apply to developments of 10 or more units.  The changes also specify that the “in lieu of affordable housing” fees will be due before the town issues the Certificate of Occupancy for the developer’s market-value housing units. And the changes remove the preference list references that have been determined to be discriminatory under federal law.

Residents expressing concerns were reminded by Ley and others that this week’s public hearings concerned only the affordable housing portion of the zoning regulations and the comprehensive plan.

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