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Final thoughts on the TOW Comprehensive Plan Review

WASHINGTON — On Thursday, Sept. 1, Nan Stolzenburg, of Community Planning and Environmental Associates met with the Town of Washington (TOW) Town Board, and shared her findings with the community. The members of the Comprehensive Plan Review Committee (CPRC) and those of the public attended, to learn what was gleaned from the Comprehensive Plan’s (CP) final review and what conclusions were drawn.

The CPRC embarked on a review of all  of the plan’s materials and hired Stolzenburg to conduct research in what became more than a year-long study of the 2015 Comprehensive Plan, with a special focus on hospitality.

Focus groups were held, as were open houses — in person and online; a community survey was also done.

The in-person open house and survey drew 118 people; because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey was extended and shared online, where another 113 people responded. The post card follow-up  generated a total of 690 combined responses, which was seen as a strong response rate.

Stolzenburg said the study elicited a good representation of those who would be affected by an increase in hospitality uses in the TOW.

Of note, said Stolenzburg: People in the town said they feel it is a special place; they also shared their belief that the Town Board has been successful in protecting its unique identity; many said they believe in progress, but don’t want their hometown to change.

Other things the planner noted included that most community members believe the 2015 Comprehensive Plan is sound. Some suggested the town could draft new zoning laws from the CP and the findings of the review.

If there is to be hospitality in town, the question was asked: where should it be? Stolzenburg mentioned Washington Hollow, in or very near the village of Millbrook. She also said Mabbettsville is multi-purpose, and could be considered.

She noted that the town has used several modes of overlays for zoning in the past, and possibly it could do so again to create hospitality sites.

All of the research showed residents do not want large buildings, glamping or RV sites. Most prefer to keep new hospitality businesses small, to 20 rooms or less. Stolzenburg said she feels that the descriptive word to be used might be “inn,” for both size and atmosphere.

“Overall, it is our recommendation that the Town of Washington reaffirm the vision of the 2015 Comprehensive Plan, but update it to reflect the results of this community planning process and to accommodate for some small-scale inns.”

The recommendation was for the continuation of the town’s current policies, and pointed out that a CP is a policy. It was suggested the TOW accommodate limited hospitality venues beyond those currently allowed in Mabbettsville; and establish two narrowly-defined hospitality overlay districts, with one in the Washington Hollow area and the other immediately adjacent to the village outside the aquifer overlay.

Those locations have been shown to be the most acceptable and environmentally suitable. They would be clearly defined for the additional use of an inn, and “establish specific size, design and performance standards for them.” Hotels, motels, resorts and similar hospitality uses described as more intense will continue to be prohibited outside of the overlay areas.

The planner also recommended that town-defined overlays include specific architectural, environmental and site design performance standards to ensure development is in keeping with the capacity of the town, with community character and to promote the adaptive re-use of existing structures. The town should also define and regulate short-term rentals, she added.

It was further recommended that Millbrook embark on a renewed effort to identify ways the village can take advantage of its hospitality opportunities and coordinate efforts with the TOW for the mutual benefit of the larger community.

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