Trumansburg Connection: Village boards grapple with housing project

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As the Village of Trumansburg Planning Board continues the process of site plan review for 46 South St., the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) reviewed variance applications for that property and the old Millspaugh’s property on Cayuga Street at their meeting on Feb. 19. Meanwhile, the Village comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances are being reviewed, and Village trustees are negotiating the 2019/2020 budget.


46 South St. developers made three requests to the ZBA: An area variance from residential parking requirements, an area variance from setback requirements, and a special use permit for Trumansburg Community Nursery School (TCNS).


The area variance from residential parking requirements would reduce parking in rental spaces from the required two per dwelling to 1.2 per rental dwelling. They added a total of 12 visitor parking spaces in two lots, and have identified a land bank area if it is found additional parking areas are needed. Developer Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), in its experience, believes this is a sufficient number, and believe the reduction in spaces will reduce environmental impact, specifically reducing impervious surfaces. Water runoff, an impact of impervious services, has been one of many public concerns around the project. In public comment at the ZBA, there were several concerns including that the neighborhood designs do not align with the village comprehensive plan to keep the character of the Village neighborhoods, the potential impact of reduced parking on residents and its effect on their quality of life and potential access to public transportation. The variance request was ultimately tabled until the next meeting, with INHS agreeing to provide details of similar parking situations at other properties, including their own, in neighboring communities.


In the area variance from setback requirements, developers were asking for 25 foot rather than the required 50-foot setback from the curb. The 25-foot setback is in addition to a proposed 14-foot setback from the curb which includes a tree line and sidewalk area. Residents who commented cited concern over 25 feet not being a sufficient setback for the privacy of residents, and how this would change the look and feel of the neighborhood and Village, which is in conflict with the current comprehensive plan. It was also noted that current residences with setbacks of less than 50 feet were built prior to zoning ordinances, and many are a century old. Ultimately, the ZBA voted to approve the setback variance.


TCNS, which is currently a half-day program, aims to grow into a full-day program in their proposed new space. Under the current zoning ordinance, a school is a permitted use of land, but because TCNS would like to offer expanded services, they would be considered a daycare, which requires a special use permit. Public concerns include the noise associated with traffic and children playing outside, not enough parking spaces for drop off and pick up times, and the increased vehicle environmental impact associated with expanding services. The planning board has determined that the expansion of the nursery school is in line with the Village’s comprehensive plan, and the ZBA voted to approve the special use permit.


In other business, sellers of the Old Millspaugh’s building at 50 ½ Cayuga St. have requested a use variance in order to sell the property for use as a storage facility for dry school supplies such as lockers, whiteboards and paper products. The property was once zoned as a commercial property, but after it was on the market for a year it reverted back to a residential property. Residents voiced concerns about traffic and safety, specifically related to the size of the potential three trucks per week going in and out of the narrow street, which has poor sidewalks, and pedestrians, including children, that walk on the road. The ZBA did not grant the variance and requested financial impact statements for consideration at the next ZBA meeting. It was also noted that even if they grant the variance, the storage facility would still likely be subject to a site plan review by the Planning Board and possibly a State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR).


In general, it seems members of the community cite the need for zoning laws to be revised, rather than the ZBA granting variances, which they feel sets a dangerous precedent. The Village is already in the process of reviewing the comprehensive plan, has formed a committee, and has recently contracted with the Syracuse firm, EDR, Inc. to analyze community input. Once the input for the comprehensive plan is complete, any potential zoning issues will come under review. The next BZA meeting is March 12 at 6 p.m. at the Village Hall.
Budget season is once again upon us, and it is expected that there will be limited increases in the budget, and at this point, it is not yet known what the effect will be on taxpayers. Assessments have increased slightly since last year throughout the Village, and both county and state-wide sales tax have increased, which all help reduce the taxpayer burden. In general, over a 10 year period, assessments increase in an average of two percent per year, and the levy over 10 years averages an increase of around six percent. Of that six percent, three percent is payroll, while the other three percent is the growth in services over time. Mayor Rordan Hart said, “The Village has no control over the assessments, so the long term question regarding budgets becomes, do we give our employees a cost of living adjustment, or do we start cutting services. But there are no expensive non-essential services to cut. The employees are what make the Village run, so we need to take care of them.”


One could argue even the cost of living adjustment falls under services, considering the employees are the ones who are providing the services. All in all, at the municipal level, taxes and where the tax money is going is transparent; it’s all services.


Hart also notes that in reflecting on the budget in the long-term, replacement cycles for large pieces of equipment such as fire trucks, ambulances, and police vehicles have been restructured to follow a more strict schedule, and in some cases extended to fully utilize the life of the equipment, as there is some room for lengthening schedules due to good maintenance and relatively low use.
The budget has to be set and adopted in April, and budget season began this month with several working sessions already taking place. In order to adopt the budget, there has to be a public hearing, which is during the April meeting. The next opportunity for public comment will be March 7, at 7 p.m. at the Board of Trustees meeting in the Village Hall. Hart notes, “We always encourage members of the public to sit in on budget working sessions to listen in on the deliberations and considerations. We have always allowed and welcomed public input.”

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