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Planning Board Minutes 01/04/05


A regular meeting of the Planning Board of the Village of Croton-on-Hudson, New York was held on Tuesday, January 4, 2005 in the Municipal Building.

MEMBERS PRESENT:                Ann Gallelli, Chairman
Tom Burniston
                                        Joel Klein

                        ABSENT:         Fran Allen
                                        Ted Brumleve

                ALSO PRESENT:           Daniel O’Connor, P.E., Village Engineer
1.  Call to Order:

The meeting was called to order at 8:00 P.M. by Chairman Gallelli.


Referral from the Village Board for a Proposed Amendment to the Steep Slopes Law

John Bainlardi, attorney for the Applicant, Marino Spagnoli and Philip Spagnoli, contract vendees for the property on 214 Grand Street, were present for this application.

Chairman Gallelli stated that the Village Board has referred to the Planning Board a request for an amendment to the Steep Slopes Law.  

Chairman Gallelli provided some background information on this application. The Applicant, the Spagnoli’s, are interested in building a two-family house on property in a RB Zoning District.  A Steep Slopes Hardship Permit would be required to build a house on the property. The law currently states that Steep Slopes Hardship Permits are only applicable to one-family residences.  The Applicant is requesting an amendment to the law to include two-family residences. The Applicant has been before the Village Board to request the amendment to the law.  The Village Board is asking for a recommendation on the request for an amendment and on the Applicant’s specific proposal for a two-family house, which generated this request.  Chairman Gallelli noted that the Village Board’s referral letter made mention of the fact that the Planning Board might want to address these two issues separately.

Chairman Gallelli suggested that the matter of amending the Steep Slopes Law should be discussed first.  She noted that the Applicant would not be able to move forward on the application for a Steep Slopes Hardship Permit until the law is changed.  She thought that the Planning Board should focus on the question of whether or not the law should be amended to include two-family residences.

Mr. Bainlardi stated that the Spagnoli’s are the contract vendees for the property at 214 Grand Street, which is currently owned by the Feminella family.  The contract to purchase this property is contingent upon the Applicant’s obtaining a Steep Slopes Hardship Permit to build either a single-family or a two-family dwelling.   

Mr. Bainlardi stated that he has discussed with the Village Attorney and the Village Engineer the wording in the Steep Slopes Law with respect to a one-family versus two-family house.  He said that the Village Attorney and the Village Engineer came to the opinion that, at best, the Steep Slopes Law is “silent” on this question and, at worst, a two-family house is prohibited.  Mr. Bainlardi stated that the Applicant would like feedback from the Village Board and Planning Board as to whether or not a change in the law would be entertained and, from a site specific standpoint, whether the two boards would consider the two-family proposal for this particular lot.  Mr. Bainlardi said that he thinks that changing the law would be a time-consuming process. If the boards were not inclined to consider the two-family house being proposed, then, the Applicant would not want to undertake the lengthy process of amending the law.

Mr. Bainlardi stated that, with respect to the bulk requirements in the Zoning Code for one- and two-family residences, it seems that there are no differences.  The parking requirements are the same, and other bulk requirements appear to be identical.  Mr. Bainlardi noted that in the section of the code that requires outdoor/open space, it appears that the law is more onerous for a two-family as opposed to a single-family dwelling.

Chairman Gallelli asked if Mr. Bainlardi would like to give his argument for why the Steep Slopes Law should be changed. Mr. Bainlardi stated that the property in question is zoned for either a one- or two-family residence. Both are allowed in the RB Zoning District.  Mr. Bainlardi stated that the property meets every zoning requirement. The parcel is approximately 12,000 square feet in size, and the property has the proper width, depth and frontage. The only issue encountered on this property is the issue concerning the steep slopes.  The steep slopes reduce the amount of land upon which his client can build a house.  Mr. Bainlardi stated that it is his understanding that the intent of the Steep Slopes Law is to allow for use of a property if it can be indicated that the property complies with the zoning law and that the environmental impacts have been reduced to the greatest extent practicable.  Mr. Bainlardi pointed out that the amount of land disturbance that would occur with both the one- and two-family house would be exactly the same.   

Mr. Burniston noted that, with respect to the original intent of the law, the proper reading could (also) be that the exception is only for one-family residences and that two-family residences were never intended. He expressed concern about setting the wrong precedent for individuals who want to apply for hardship permits.  What would prevent the next person from coming in and being allowed to apply for a permit for every other use including commercial uses?  Mr. Bainlardi wondered if this issue concerning one- versus two-family residences was ever discussed when the legislation was being drafted.  He asked if it is possible that the issue was never really considered.  Mr. Klein suggested that, perhaps, Mr. Burniston’s concern could be addressed by simply limiting the uses permitted.  

Mr. Burniston stated that there is no indication in the Code that hardship applicability was to be allowed for any use other than a one-family use.  He thought that this change in the law would open it up to every other use, to which Mr. Bainlardi stated that he thinks a distinction could be made in the law between residential and commercial uses.  Chairman Gallelli noted that there is a Steep Slopes Hardship Permit for non-residential properties; however, to be eligible to apply for the permit, the property has to be “improved.”  

Mr. Klein referred to the two recent Steep Slopes Hardship exemptions reviewed by the Planning Board.  He noted that, in these two instances, the people bought the lots thinking they were investments. Mr. Klein noted that the hardship exemption process is in the law as a measure to protect people’s investments; however, the intent of the law was never to maximize profits.  Mr. Klein thought that building a two versus a one-family house is an example of the latter.

Mr. Klein wondered if it would be possible, size-wise, to build a one-family house that was so small that it would not meet the requirements to qualify as a two-family house.  The Village Engineer thought that it would be possible.  He stated that the minimum required habitable floor area in the RB Zoning District for a one-family house is 880 square feet.  The requirement for a two-family house is 600 square feet per dwelling unit.  It might be possible if the one-family house being built were a one-bedroom house. Mr. Klein surmised that theoretically, by extending the steep slopes exemption to include two-family residences, the Village would be permitting more land disturbance on a lot.  The space (floor area) requirements for one- and two-family houses are not the same, so it would, indeed, make a difference.

The Village Engineer noted that 400 square feet of open space is required for a two-family house whereas there is no such requirement for a one-family house.  

Chairman Gallelli asked the Village Engineer if he could give the Planning Board some insight into how many vacant lots in the RB Zoning District would be affected by this change in the law.  The Village Engineer pointed to areas in the RB Zoning District on the Zoning Map. He told the Board that he did not think there would be too many vacant lots in the RB Zoning District affected by this change. Most of the lots on High Street and Palmer Avenue are already “improved.”  The same holds true for Terrace Place.  The Village Engineer pointed out that the one vacant lot remaining on Terrace Place is not capable of being built on.

The Village Engineer brought to the Board’s attention a problem of interpreting the Steep Slopes Law.  He presented a scenario to the Planning Board.  A person obtains a Steep Slopes Hardship Permit to build a single-family house in a RB Zoning District.  The house is built, and a Certificate of Occupancy is issued.  Later on, a Building Permit application is submitted to the Engineer’s Office to convert the single-family house into a two-family house.  There would be no additional land disturbance involved.  The only changes would be to the interior, e.g., second kitchen, etc.  The Village Engineer wanted to know if, in this case, the Steep Slopes Hardship Permit would still apply to the two-family house.  He questioned how this matter would (or should) be addressed from a legal standpoint.  

Mr. Bainlardi said that his way of looking at the Steep Slopes Law is from an environmental point of view.  The purpose of the law is to protect the steep slopes.  In his view, when the Village boards analyze an application, they are going to be looking at the amount of disturbance to the property, footprints, site work, etc.  Mr. Klein noted that, on a site-specific basis, the Planning Board could, indeed, make a decision on a hardship exemption based on a review of the environmental impact(s). However, tonight’s task is to review the proposal for a change in the law.  In so doing, the Planning Board has to take into consideration the original intent of the law as it applies generically throughout the Village.    

Chairman Gallelli noted that the Village is in the process of reviewing the environmental laws in the Village Code and, as a result of this review, some of the current Steep Slopes requirements might change.

Mr. Bainlardi asked how many off-street parking spaces are required for one- and two-family houses, respectively, to which the Village Engineer replied that two spaces are required for both a one- and two-family house.

Mr. Klein noted to the Applicant that only three out of the five Planning Board members are present tonight.  If the Applicant so chooses, they could defer this application until the next Planning Board meeting. Mr. Klein stated that he already has a sense of what he personally would recommend to the Village Board.  He would not be in favor of this proposal.  He does not know how the other members feel about it. Mr. Klein suggested to the Applicant that, if the vote “against” is not unanimous, then an option for the Applicant would be to wait until the next meeting when the full board is present.

Mr. Bainlardi asked the Board if, at the next meeting, the Board would consider a cursory look at the actual application.  The Applicant would like some feedback from the Planning Board on their proposal for the two-family house.  If the Planning Board sees a number of issues with this application, then the Applicant might not want to go through with what they are proposing to do.

Mr. Burniston stated that, with respect to the proposal to amend the Steep Slopes Law, he is not in favor of amending the law to include two-family residences.  He thought that extending the law in this way would be like “opening a Pandora’s Box.”  He would not recommend it. Chairman Gallelli said that her feelings are similar. She noted that, with respect to the original intent of the law, one has to assume that the framers, when they drafted the law, used words that they intended to use.  She did not see any strong reason for overriding, at this point, the way the law was written.

Mr. Bainlardi stated that he would like to review the minutes of the meetings that took place when the law was written.  Chairman Gallelli noted to Mr. Bainlardi that she has reviewed the minutes of the board meetings.  She has also reviewed the minutes of the meetings of the Moratorium Committee, whose members drafted the law.  As to the question at hand, she was unable to ascertain from the minutes the intent.  Mr. Bainlardi asked again if perhaps this issue concerning two-family residences was never contemplated. Chairman Gallelli pointed out that the framers of the law must have had something in mind when they specified, in different parts of the law, “one-family dwelling unit.”  

Mr. Bainlardi noted that, with respect to his clients’ proposal, the environmental impact(s) on the steep slopes would be the same, whether the house is one- or two-family.  Mr. Klein told Mr. Bainlardi that this may very well be true, but that is not what the Planning Board is looking at tonight. The Planning Board is looking at a change in the law itself.  Mr. Burniston added that he would not be inclined to tailor a change in the Steep Slopes Law to one area of the RB Zoning District.  The Planning Board has to look at how such a change would affect the entire district.       

Mr. Bainlardi asked if it would be possible to change the law and have environmental constraints attached to it.  Chairman Gallelli told the Applicant that the Village is now in the process of reviewing the environmental laws in the Code, including the Steep Slopes Law.  To the extent that this is a good idea, perhaps, it could be put forward to consider in the overall review.  She was not so sure, however, that the Village would want to make such a “spot change” at this point in time.

Mr. Burniston told the Applicant that they are welcomed to see the Village’s proposal to the consultants who are reviewing the Village’s existing environmental laws.

Mr. Bainlardi asked the Planning Board if, in the recommendation letter to the Village Board, the Planning Board would be willing to say that they are unwilling to support this change at this time without it first being considered within the context of the review of the Village’s environmental laws.  Chairman Gallelli thought that the Planning Board might be willing to say something to that effect. The letter could say that it might be valid to look at this question in the course of the review of the Steep Slopes Law.  

Mr. Burniston stated that he would be inclined to say “no” to this change in the law under any circumstance; however, it is clear from tonight’s discussion that the intent of the hardship exemption should be more clearly defined.    

Mr. Bainlardi asked if it would be fair to characterize the Board’s objection, not necessarily to a planning concern, but more to not wanting to second-guess what was contemplated originally in the drafting of the law.  Mr. Klein thought that the Planning Board was, indeed, looking at this from a planning perspective.  The original intent of the law was to minimize the environmental damage. The Village Board saw fit to make exceptions for unusual cases.  We (the Planning Board) do not know how limited these “exceptions for unusual cases” were intended to be.  Mr. Burniston stated that he does not see any benefits for the Village as a whole in making this change in the law.  Mr. Klein stated that, in his view, the only advantage of this change would be for the individual property owner to maximize his/her profits.

Marino Spagnoli asked if it would be possible to subdivide this land. The Village Engineer replied that, technically, it would be possible; however, the environmental disturbance would be significant.

Chairman Gallelli told the Applicant that they have the option to defer this application until the full board is present.  She noted that the three Planning Board members present tonight have all stated that they would not agree to this change in the law.  The Applicant’s attorney, Mr. Bainlardi, stated that they would go with the decision that was made tonight.  

The Village Engineer mentioned to the Applicant that, as an alternative, there is an Accessory Apartment provision in the Village Code.  A Special Permit from the Village Board would be required for the accessory apartment.  The person living in the accessory apartment would have to be at least 55 years of age.  

Chairman Gallelli asked the Board members for feedback on the language to be used in the letter to the Village Board.  The members thought that Mr. Klein’s point(s) about the environmental issues and maximizing investments should be made. The letter should say that the Planning Board assumes the proper research went into the drafting of this law and that the wording of the Steep Slopes Law was intended to be read, as written.  The Planning Board feels that they do not have enough information to know the ramifications of changing the law. The Planning Board would recommend that this issue of “two-family residences” be looked at as part of the on-going review of the Village’s environmental laws. The letter should also say that the Planning Board offered the Applicant the option of deferring this application until the full board is present, to which the Applicant declined the Planning Board’s offer.


There being no further business to come before the Board, the meeting was duly adjourned at 9:13 P.M.


Sylvia Mills,