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Focus On New Zoning Amendments Contemplate Schools, Dormitories, Places of Worship
By Tina Traster
The Town of Stony Point is looking to overhaul its zoning code in response to development pressures in neighboring towns and in the county.
Specifically, the endeavor is largely aimed at passing new legislation to establish conditional use or “special permit” criteria for processing applications for schools of general instruction, schools of special instruction, dormitories, places of worship, and public assembly in residences.
The proposed amendments also entail review and approval of site plans in relation to neighboring land uses and to mitigate “any adverse effects by the imposition of reasonable conditions” including impacts to environmental, social, and economic concern.
The Town, which introduced the legislation in December, continues to hold public hearings on the proposed amendments.
Concerned about development pressures in the town and County, the proposed legislation states as its objective concern over the “impact to community character, residential neighborhoods and economically vital areas.” This includes issues relating to sewer and water capacity, public safety, traffic and pedestrian safety, community character, and historic preservation, the document says.
“We have not updated our code for ten to 20 years,” said Town Supervisor Jim Monaghan. “We’re just trying to preserve Stony Point. We’re looking to establish comprehensive regulations.”
Nevertheless, the amendments are focused on the kind of development that has altered the nature of Ramapo and other pockets of Rockland County.
New definitions in the code include “a residential gathering place,” which would be defined as a residential accessory use for gatherings of more than 15 people more than ten times a year. For example, if a resident holds large gathering more than ten times a year, they would be regulated as an accessory use.
The most significant changes in the code relate to minimum lot areas for schools. New minimum lot areas are based on maximum enrollment capacity. The lot size is not based on number of students enrolled, but on the maximum the school can have. For example, it changes based on the size of the school’s potential student body. For example, a school with maximum enrollment of 700 students would require 120,000 square feet for the first 100 students and 600,000 square feet for the next 600 students for a minimum lot area of 16.5 acres. This is similar to Stony Point Elementary, which has 650 students on 14 acres.
A school with an enrollment of 2,500 students would require over 60 acres of land, similar to North Rockland High School which has 2,552 students on 63 acres.
If a school wants to include a dormitory, the required acreage increases dramatically.
Other new definitions distinguish between community and neighborhood places of worship. A neighborhood use for a place of worship cannot exceed 200 seats. The code also includes specific limitations and regulations on community and neighborhood places of worship and establishes restrictions on residential gathering places.
Another significant change is that no structure accommodating the assembly of more than 49 persons more than three times a year shall be deemed a residence, and the assembly of more than that shall constitute a non-residential use. Essentially these proposals are designed to preserve residential uses in residential districts.
The changes also call for eliminating the definition of “school of religious instruction” and alters “school of general instruction” to include non-public schools, subject to New York State Department of Education regulations.
The proposal also changes the definition of “school of special instruction” to specify that schools offering religious vocational training, at least five days per week and seven months per year, shall be deemed a “school of general instruction.”
Essentially, the town is merging requirements for all schools, public or private (excluding vocational schools), under one umbrella.
The new code also offers defines full-time students and full-time student supervisors and imposes conditions on their ability to reside in school dormitories.
The town’s codes calls for significant revisions on the definition of dormitories. Under the new regulations, dormitories are only permitted as an “accessory use” to schools of general or special instruction subject to a bevy of new regulations that say the structure can be no higher than single-family detached homes where the dormitories are located. The dormitories, including their dining halls, may not occupy more than 35 percent of the gross floor area of all the buildings on the school site. They also have new parking requirements of one to two spaces per every bed and occupancy is limited to full-time students and full-time student supervisors.
Also, the dormitory can never be separated from the school through sale or subdivision and cannot be sublet.