This article was first published on March 15, 2006

The Greenwich Zoning Commission held two informational meetings on Tuesday, February 28th, reporting progress made to date on the proposed Zoning Plan and to accept public input.

The meetings were chaired by Bill Tompkins, chair of the Zoning Commission and Stuart Mesinger of the Chazen Companies, who was contracted by the Town Board to guide the Commission in its work. One of the major recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan, adopted by the Town Board in 2005, was the establishment of a zoning ordinance. Hence the Zoning Commission.

Mr. Mesinger stated that the Zoning Commission expects to present a draft plan to the Town by the summer, which will then be up for pubic review sometime around Labor Day. The contract between the Town and The Chazen Companies is up at the end of the year, and Mr. Mesinger fully expects the final plan to be presented to the Town Board before then.

Once the final plan is presented to the Town Board, it is up to the Board to approve it. According to State Law, only Town Boards can approve, disapprove or amend Zoning Plans.

When the final Zoning Plan is presented, the Town Board can reject the plan; vote to accept the plan; make what changes they deem necessary and then approve or disapprove the amended plan. Should the recommended changes be substantial, another public hearing would be held prior to a vote.

Once the Zoning Plan is accepted, the Town Board can amend the plan in the future as needs dictate.

Should the Zoning Plan be accepted, then the Zoning Commission will dissolve and a Zoning Review Board will be appointed by the Town Board. The Zoning Review Board will be responsible for hearing appeals for variances. Enforcement of the Plan will be up to the Town Code Enforcement Officer. Should disputes arise between the Code Officer and a property owner, the matter will be taken to the Zoning Review Board and if need be, to Town Court and then to State Court.

During the evening meeting held in the Middle School Cafeteria, Don Wilber, Town Supervisor, pointed out that in the 1960's the Town Board appointed a Zoning Commission, which drafted a plan but the Town Board ultimately decided not to accept it.

A map showing the tentative zoning districts was on display. Mr. Tompkins explained that the Zoning Commission has been guided by the Comprehensive Plan, as well as by input from town residents.

The tentative plan is calling for 5 types of Zoning Districts; Rural / Agricultural, Industrial, Commercial, Residential and Hamlet / Mixed Use.

The Rural / Agricultural District would comprise most of the town and would include the areas designated as Agricultural by Washington County. At present the Board is expecting to enact no restrictions on farming.

The Industrial District is not one specific location, but a number of areas of the Town that already host industry, or are adjacent to such areas. These areas include the Peckham facility on Rt 29, and areas to the North and East of it and Paper Mills located in Middle Falls and on Rt 29. Mr Mesinger also noted that Adult Entertainment must be allowed in the town. Rather than try and prohibit it and end up in lengthy court proceedings, it has been his experience that the best way to prevent it's emergence is to allow such establishments only in Industrial Districts. Such locations are for the most part out of public view and thus, not prime locations for such venue.

During the meeting at the day session, one member of the public mentioned the hardship that would be imposed on he and his neighbors if the final plan were to include an approved industrial designation on the east side of Rt 49, which is immediately to the north of their homes. After discussion amongst themselves during their March meeting a few days later, the Commission tentatively decided to remove the industrial designation from that location.

The Commercial District is concentrated in one location, the junction of Rts. 40 and 29. Both Mr. Tompkins and Mr. Mesinger noted that the size of the Commercial District was one of the decisions that the Zoning Commission has had the hardest time grappling with. At this point, the Commission is proposing that the Commercial District extend northwards along Rt 40 to Galesville Road. Some Commission members believe that the proposed Commercial District is too large while others feel it needs to extend further up Rt 40. Town Councilman Don Wilber noted that the proposed Zoning Plan from the 1960's envisioned the Zone extending northwards to Spraguetown Road.

The Residential Districts are envisioned as being composed of existing single family homes, such as those that border on the Village, as well as the Battenkill Pines on Rt 29. The proposed Zoning would not allow for commercial development within these districts. However, in accordance with state law, churchs and schools would be allowed.

The Hamlet / Mixed Use Districts consist of the population clusters in the town, but outside the Village. Mixed Use areas include Clarks Mills, Thompson, Cossayuna, Battenville and East Greenwich. The mixed use designation means that some commercial activity would be allowed, so long as it did not adverse affect the quality of life for neighboring residents.

One of the biggest concerns raised during the public presentations regarded the potential of 'big-box' stores moving in. Both Mr Tompkins and Mr. Mesinger emphasized that the work to date on the Zoning Plan has taken this concern into account. At the normal monthly meeting of the Zoning Commission on March 2, the Commission tentatively picked an acceptable square footage for future commercial development of 60,000 square feet. Mr. Mesinger pointed out that most major corporations won't consider building at sizes less than 100,000 square feet. By setting the limit at 60,000, Hannaford and K-Mart would have room for future expansion. Mr. Mesinger pointed out during the monthly meeting that a Town does not have to justify why a certain square footage number has been arrived at.

Another major concern raised at the public meetings was the spectre of large scale housing developments. Many residents were concerned and confused by the lack of minimal lot size in the plan and expressed their fears of farmland morphing into Levittown-style developments. Mr. Mesinger pointed out that if the final Zoning Plan were to have specific minimal lot size requirements, than a builder could design to those specs and then come to the Town saying, hey, I've met your requirements, you can't turn me down. Because most of the Town will be zoned Rural / Agricultural, with most of it within the County designated Agricultural area, all residential sub-divisions would have to undergo a Environmental Impact Statement and fall within the scrutiny of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR The Zoning Commission is still actively debating the size of allowable sub-divisions. Mr. Mesinger could not cite specific Zoning Plans that followed this sequence.

For the past few years, Greenwich has averaged 40 building permits a year, half of those for homes, the rest for sheds and other out buildings. 2004 saw the number of home permits rise to 28.

Other issues of concern raised during the public meetings included the fact that the proposed Site Plan Review and Special Use Permit would allow for small-scale commercial or industrial development in the Rural / Agricultural District. It was pointed out that currently there is no zoning and that anyone could build anything almost anywhere. The Phantom Labs building on Rt 29 was pointed out as an ideal type of development, one that brings jobs into the town, while leaving a small environmental footprint.

Finally, all existing non-conforming uses would be grandfathered in, with certain restrictions. For instance should a non-conforming use wish to expand, the expansions would be subject to a life-time cap of probably 25 percent (the commission has yet to set a specific number). Also, should a non-conforming use cease to operate for a given period of time (again the Commission has yet to specificy a number but it would probably be either one or two years), then the use would lose it's exemption.

During both public meetings, Mr Mesinger, Mr. Tompkins and other members of the Zoning Commission spoke of their desire to direct future growth of the Town to small and medium scale commercial and industrial development, and not to large scale housing developments. Going down this path would encourage tax growth for the Town, and discourage expansion of needed services (roads, utilities, schools) that inevitably follow large scale residential development.

The Zoning Commission meets the First Thursday of each month at 7:00 pm in the Town Building on Academy Street. It's meetings are open to the public. Public comments can be sent to Bill Tomkins, 2 Academy Street, Greenwich or to Stuart Mesinger of the Chazen Companies at 812-0513 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.