Woodstock’s Housing Oversight Task force issued a series of recommendations to address a critical need for housing that includes allowing tiny homes, giving incentives to developers and making it easier to create accessory apartments.
“The aim should not just be to institute policies for affordable housing, a term which may have limiting and specific income requirements, but rather foster varied housing that works for different populations and economically sustainable,” Co-Chair Deborah DeWan said at a May 31 presentation to the Town Board. She was quoting the Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2018.
“We’re using the term achievable housing. That’s the housing we can achieve, that meets the needs of all those people that want to support living in our community,” DeWan said.
“What we did was we first interviewed business owners and leaders and other members of the community about housing and their perspective of the [town’s zoning] code, and we talked about the code, directly spoke to developers and builders and such,” Co-Chair Kirk Richey added.
Planning Consultant Nan Stolzenburg guided the task force in a direction based on the Comprehensive Plan and an understanding of that was important to the community, Richey said. Over the last few months, the group met to figure out how to translate the ideas into zoning code.
“It’s been an incredible journey. We know we’re not done, but this is a big moment for us and, we hope, for the Town Board and for the community,” DeWan said.
“I’ve worked with committees all over New York State for about 30 years now, and the dedication these folks have had…meeting every other week, and then every week in the hours in between, has just really been truly amazing,’ said Stolzenburg, principal planner and founder of the Berne, N.Y.-based firm Community Planning & Environmental Associates. “What we’ve recommended today is not the magic bullet. It’s not the ‘Poof, we’re going to solve the housing issue by adopting these changes.’ But it will create the opportunity for more to happen in the way that you need it to happen. It will hopefully create a process so that there’s more certainty in the planning process. “ Stolzenburg listed the group’s “foundational principles that underpin all of this…everything we did must offer environmental protection and protection of community character, that we need to make sure that the planning process emphasizes environmentally sensitive areas, that it must offer more opportunities for housing, and opportunities for landowners to do something with their land.”
Accessory dwelling units
Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, were a big part of the group’s recommendations as a way to add available housing. Such units are currently permitted in some cases, but the task force expanded the types of allowed ADUs.
“We have added in two kinds that someone is eligible to have. One would be an attached accessory dwelling. That means you build on your house and you add a little dwelling unit on the back of your house. Or the second way is what’s called a detached accessory dwelling unit,” Stolzenburg said.
Such acceptable uses include turning a garage into an apartment or building a cabin on the property.
“The Housing Task Force was very committed to accessory dwelling units as a really important option to have in Woodstock to give both landowners opportunities and other people who need the housing opportunity,” she said.
Even then, there are standards for detached buildings.
“We made sure they’re not built on wetlands, they’re not built on steep slopes, and we’ve taken into consideration that they too need to be sited in a way that protects the environment and the character,” she said.
A property owner can have more than one ADU, but under the proposed regulations, only one can be a short-term rental.
In a modern twist on what used to be called clustering, a conservation subdivision starts with analyzing wetlands, steep slopes and habitats, and places the housing lots so residents have access to open space.
“Every conservation subdivision starts with the environmental features and has a requirement for 50% of the lot to stay as preserved open space and that 50% is determined during the planning process,” Stolzenburg said.
In exchange for preserving 50% of the parcel, more dwelling units may be allowed.
Floating residential district
This type of district is a special case where a developer proposes a project that does not fit within the confines of traditional zoning.
“It’s got all of the things you would see in a regular zoning district, except it’s not mapped. That’s why it’s called loading. And so it’s in existence until the time that someone says, ‘I’d like to apply all these development standards to this parcel of land,’” Stolzenburg said. “And then it’s a two-step process. It still has to have approval by the town board in order to move forward.”
Developers who devote a percentage of dwelling units as “achievable” for 50 years will be allowed to build more houses. For example, if they are normally allowed to build 10, they might be permitted to build 12 or 15.
“The density bonus is established and you’re authorized to do that by New York State Town Law,” Stolzenburg said. “They’re very clear that when a density bonus is given, it’s not just this willy nilly…You have to make sure that the number of dwellings that you’re going to put on that parcel actually work there.”
Flexible lot sizes
“The history of using minimum lot sizes comes from early attempts at reducing density. That’s where they came from. Back in the 60s and 70s, minimum lot sizes started to try and space people out and control how many there are, but it’s a very imprecise and in-artful way of doing that,” Stolzenburg said.
By proposing to implement average lot sizes, a developer can, for example, have two or three small and affordable lots and a couple big lots on a five-lot parcel.
“Just by simply allowing you to average the last size to equal the density that you’re allowed, is a huge step forward to giving people the opportunity to create smaller lots, and have them more affordable,’ she said.
Along with cottages clustered together, the task force proposed allowing tiny houses, which are smaller than the minimum structure sizes allowed in current zoning. Tiny homes are much more attainable than a traditional house and come in a variety of designs. Many of them can be moved.
“The accessory dwelling units, the multifamily dwelling units, and the tiny houses all have size parameters, from 300 square feet to 1500 square feet,” Stolzenburg said. “We are adding in a variety of sizes that those units could be, but putting some boundaries on there.”
Environment is crucial
“The task force, at least in my opinion, was acutely aware of the important role that the environment plays in what you all value about Woodstock,” Stolzenburg said.
Proposed is a tool called net acreage. As an example, if a 100-acre lot is available for development, areas like steep slopes, wetlands or rocky outcrops will limit the total capacity. Building officials will determine the number of home sites based on the actual buildable acreage.
The Town Board will set up a Q&A session after it has read all the materials. The Planning Board will offer its comments within 30 days and other boards will have a chance to review the recommendations.
Once all the recommendations are gathered, the task force will work on a second version, which will then become a local law after Ulster County Planning Board review, more public comment and an environmental review process.
“Following the task force presentation, I propose to initiate an internal review process by sending this document to the Planning Board and other boards and committees for review and comments, ask the boards and committees to respond back within 30 days,” Supervisor Bill McKenna said. “Town Board members can respond to the task force individually. Boards and committees are asked to send a consolidated response to the task force,” he said.
The zoning code is some 300 pages, but the task force made its recommended changes easy to find with a summary and annotated table of contents. All the information is available on the town website at https://townwoodstock.digitaltowpath.org:10111/content/Generic/View/55 or by going to the main page at woodstockny.org and using the Zoning Updates link at the bottom left.