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Seeking input on downtown building; officials say more public space needed

As town officials draft code amendments that would limit the maximum height allowed for buildings on Main Street, they are seeking input from the Downtown Revitalization Committee. 

“Overall, the committee was very pleased with the proposed changes,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said at a work session Thursday.

According to the proposal, a maximum height of two stories would be allowed for new buildings and would allow three or four stories if transfer of development rights were purchased. Transfer of development rights allows building density to be transferred off of farmland that the town seeks to preserve and onto areas where the town feels additional building is warranted.

The proposal would apply to both the north and south sides of the Downtown Center-1 zone, which covers most of the downtown area.

The current zoning allows a maximum height of 60 feet and five stories. It also allows a zero lot line, which means buildings can be built to the property line, and 100 percent impervious lot coverage.

Under the proposed change, impervious coverage allowed would be reduced to 80 percent.

According to Ms. Kent, the committee asked for 15-foot setbacks all around new buildings to increase public space, something Councilwoman Jodi Giglio suggested at a previous work session.

“I think impervious surface should still be allowed to be maximized,” Ms. Giglio said, to account for sidewalk space around new buildings.

Town building and planning administrator Jeff Murphree, who crafted the draft proposal, noted that the river provides value to the downtown area.

“The riverside is just as important visually as the Main Street side,” he said.

“They’ve been talking about turning Main Street to face the river since 1975,” Councilman Jim Wooten said.

He did not agree with a moratorium on five-story buildings.

“I get not having a five-story but you’re not going to see the river even with a two story building, so that’s a moot point as far as visibility goes,” he said. “I don’t want to nix housing,” he added, since it could be a catalyst for economic growth.

Ms. Kent said she would support five-story buildings outside of the downtown district, but within a walkable distance.

“If you continue to put five story buildings, it will alter the look and feel of downtown,” she said.

Community Development administrator Dawn Thomas said that long-range planning could help the board achieve its vision.

“We don’t have a strategic plan for downtown. That’s one of the things I’ve been harping on for awhile,” she said, noting that a plan could help set the stage for public space and river connectivity and zoning could eventually reflect that.

A key point Ms. Kent brought back to the Town Board was that the committee wanted to see more public space incorporated into future planning for downtown.

“If you want to revitalize the downtown area, I think what makes the area more inviting is more green space and more public space,” she said.

Ms. Giglio agreed, suggesting the board take a cumulative look at how community space can be incorporated into a downtown plan. “I would really love to see a contiguous boardwalk behind all the stores,” she said of the riverfront buildings. “[The buildings are] all elevated, any new buildings would have to be elevated because of flood zones,” she said, noting that a boardwalk could provide for much-needed public space.

Ms. Giglio said the board should also consider what kind of housing will go downtown.

“I think we have enough affordable housing,” she said. Market rate and ownership opportunities could ensure that the area does not become “oversaturated” with one type of housing over another, she said.

Their end goal is to preserve the streetscape while maximizing the riverfront location. “We’ll keep moving along and continuing to bring feedback from the downtown committee,” as the code continues to be drafted, Ms. Kent said.

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