Elizabethtown is expected to adopt a comprehensive plan after a town board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 19. The plan is now in its seventh draft after the removal of Hamlets 3, a planning strategy designed to concentrate housing and economic growth in designated areas.
ELIZABETHTOWN — Hamlets 3, an urban planning strategy designed to concentrate economic growth in targeted areas, has been stricken from the town’s latest draft of their comprehensive plan.
“Everybody should be happy,” said Elena Borstein, a member of the planning board. “It’s more important that the town feels comfortable. I think most people are going to be satisfied that everybody’s questions will be dealt with.”
Hamlets 3 was disparaged by critics as a tool that would have unnecessarily created zoning and land use regulations outside of the hamlet. Including the strategy in the final plan, it was argued, also carried the potential to set a precedent for further regulation.
Proponents said it would simply target areas for growth by using space that was already available. In Elizabethtown, the targeted areas were cluster rings in New Russia and Keene Valley.
Those rings would have focused development in compact spaces to promote walkability, access to nature and to preserve a visual aesthetic.
‘THEY’RE PLANNING FOR YOU’
Bill Johnston, a co-founder of the Housing Assistance Program of Essex County and an official who helped spearhead the strategy, said the effort would have helped officials more effectively explore the relationship between the hamlet and business when choosing expansion projects.
“When you say, ‘I don’t want any planning,’ that’s a naive statement because there is planning going on all around us,” he said. “Just because you don’t have local planning, doesn’t mean you don’t have any planning whatsoever.”
Johnston highlighted the Adirondack communities that have lost their grocery stores as an example.
When a corporation decides to open and close stores in rural towns like Willsboro and Indian Lake, he explained, it doesn’t necessarily benefit those communities.
“They made their decision to close a lot of their stores — Westport, Willsboro, Crown Point — while expanding others, including the Port Henry store,” he sad. “That was a corporate decision. This is just one example of how corporations are planning for themselves. Look at pharmacies, gas station expansion…. these are business decisions that are impacting communities.”
Johnston said the genesis of Hamlets 3 stemmed, in part, from the stock market boom in the early 2000s.
Pressure began to mount as non-natives began scooping up second homes. Local residents, it was feared, wouldn’t be able to afford homes in their own communities, mainly in affluent places like Essex and Keene, and the purchasing would create a shortage and drive up prices for local people.
That was one of the factors that led to the Adirondack Community Housing Trust, a co-sponsor of the Hamlets 3 document. Other stakeholders, including Essex County and Roger Trancik, a landscape architect and urban planner, soon got onboard.
Former Adirondack Park Agency Chairman Ross Whaley also gave them their blessings, said Johnston.
Johnston cited the pitch to Whaley:
“If you can justify the hamlet expansion plans, then the APA would probably look favorably on it,” recalled Johnston.
Nan Stolzenburg, the consultant the town hired to help draft the plan, echoed Johnston’s sentiments:
“The premise of Hamlets 3 was to grow and make them more successful in context of APA regulations,” she said. “These are the areas that can be most developed without regulation.”
“We looked inside and outside the hamlet footprint,” said Johnston. “There is land within the existing hamlet footprint that it not being utilized, most often, small waterfront sites, derelict buildings and former industrial zones — that’s where the dreaded rings came in,” he said.
Borstein said the strategies can still be used as a reference in the future.
“All disapprovals have been addressed,” she said. “We’re confident that town board will be happy with it.”
The planning board will host a mandatory public meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 12 at 6:30 p.m for the public to chime in. The town board will host a second meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 19 in which they’ll nail down final questions before officially voting to adopt the plan at their regular board meeting later that night.
“I think we’re set, as far as feedback from board now that I’ve shown them the changes and addressed their concerns,” said Elizabethtown Supervisor Noel Merrihew. “I will support the body we now have in place.”
Merrihew said the town will soon start working on modifying and updating their local land use law and regulations, work that will be done independently of the comprehensive plan and will also tie into grant efforts and securing additional rounds of funding.
“That’s the document that needs to be modified and updated and brought up to speed,” he said.
Zoning Board Association Vice President Helen DeChant agreed.
“We have things we need to address in more detail,” she said. “Some areas need to be more restrictive, like the clean-up of houses, while others, like floodplain regulations, are too overprotective and can be relaxed. We just want to make a safe town that everyone is happy with.”
The current draft of the plan is available for viewing at the town hall and, provided town officials work out some technical kinks, displayed on their website.