September 27, 2006

Town Talks Planned Development

Southold Town may soon have a new tool in its box to help residents and elected officials effectively reach planning and development goals.

Prior to last week's town board work session, Town Supervisor Scott Russell asked acting planning department head Mark Terry to organize a meeting with Kyle Collins of Remsenburg-based KPC Planning Services, Inc., regarding the possibility of future planned developments districts in Southold

According to Collins, planned development districts are created in municipalities with the goal of facilitating increased flexibility to achieve more desirable development through use of creative and imaginative design of residential, mixed use, commercial, and industrial areas than is presently achievable under conventional land use and zoning regulations.

Implementation of a site-specific PDD, established on a floating zone basis, can mean a win-win for a community, said Collns; PDD zoning provides the ability to modify uses and densities normally allowed by underlying zoning with an eye toward public benefit.

Those benefits include preservation and conservation of open space, natural resources, diverse ecological communities, and groundwater quality and quantity. Other goals include preservation of agricultural lands and uses, efficient use of remaining land, improvement of existing communities, and evoking a sense of community by creating hamlet centers that provide essential services for residents.

Another key benefit to residents would be the use of transfer of development rights credits.

Collins pointed out a recent project he worked on with the Town of Southampton, which involved the Riverside revitalization efforts and focused on creating a hamlet center in a community crying out for services and amenities such as sidewalks and ease of transportation.

Russell said he believes PDDs would offer the town an invaluable future opportunity to achieve planning goals. "The legislation would allow us to set aside the current, outdated town zoning code to not just allow us to help a developer reach his or her development goals but, more importantly, help us reach our goals as well," he said.

Those goals, said the supervisor, include "zoning use trade-offs for exchanges such as the development of affordable housing, or even set-asides for preservation."

Russell stressed that PDDs will allow for creativity in future projects and place the town in a more favorable position to extract public benefit goals. "You have to keep in mind that opening up the creative process is a good thing, especially since government generally lacks creativity," he said.

While the supervisor said he is committed to establishing PDDs at the first opportunity, he reminded that if a particular project did not meet community goals, it would not be approved.

Although the board discussed possible locations in areas such as Orient, Russell said it is difficult at this point to determine where the first PDD would be.

Collins explained that currently, Southampton Town has established PDDs. Those include the Gabreski Airport PDD, which came into existence and "had everything to do with the establishment of the Pine Barrens Act," said Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney. The Pine Barrens Act sterilized development rights in the core of the central Pine Barrens Preserve, which has become a sending area for development rights.

The town, said Heaney, was then compelled to establish a receiving area for those development rights, and the airport "was a logical, reasonable place to relocate those rights and encourage development at a place where appropriate."

PDDs can be valuable tools for communities that are currently struggling with how to develop in a manner consistent with the character of the area, something that conventional zoning often does not allow, Collins said. PDDs allow for greater density and mixed use, but must be attached to design standards. "The level of detail is very important, because PDDs can be misused, no question," he warned.

Public participation, he emphasized, is crucial in the process.

The town board raised a number of questions; Terry agreed with Councilman Tom Wickham's suggestion of running both TDR and PDD programs concurrently.

The board agreed to move ahead to seek funding for a feasibility study and to ask for input from organizations such as the Peconic Land Trust.

"We have a direction now," said Russell.

PDD zoning provides the ability to modify uses and densities normally allowed by underlying zoning with an eye toward public benefit.

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