Members of the Town of New Paltz’s Planning Board left their June 27 meeting wanting to know just how much time and money some applicants must expend to get a lot line moved. This was after reviewing three different applications for lot line revisions, meaning that the border between two adjacent parcels would be moved. Due to how the code is written, it appears that an engineered plan is often necessary in order to move an imaginary line, and members uncomfortable with making such expensive demands want to be clear that there’s no other alternative.
The way it’s defined in the zoning code, a lot line revision is treated like a subdivision, even though the number of lots remains the same. The consequence of this definition is that the applicant must comply with — or seek waivers from — all of the requirements for any subdivision, including demonstrating that the redrawn lots can be built upon or otherwise used, consistent with the zoning.
“What does it mean, really?” asked Matt DiDonna, when board members discussed their questions at the end of the meeting. The board member mused that required water perc testing and a health permit could be required; DiDonna and board chair Adele Ruger both feel that going that far seems excessive.
When Jeffrey Arliss learned that a lot line revision could require paying an engineer to draw up plans that show the location of a house, septic system and driveway, it seemed like it was a hard pill to swallow. Arliss owns two adjacent parcels on Rocky Hill Road, one of which is vacant; moving the line is part of a plan to sell that land to someone desiring to build a single house. The lot Arliss wants to sell would have 500 feet of frontage on Route 32, and seven acres that do not encroach on wetlands or buffers. Board members appeared discomfited relaying the news that all this additional work would be needed.
Arliss, nevertheless, has other issues to address before this could be approved. The current version of the plan lacks contour lines for all of the outbuildings, and there have been some ponds and an addition to the main house constructed that also do not appear on the submitted plans. A site visit will be arranged to settle some of those questions.
Mike Stepanovich, who wants to add an accessory apartment in a separate building, learned that erasing a lot line might be easier in that case. Stepanovich owns two lots on Oak Street, and moving the line between those would clear the way for the apartment application. DiDonna advised that removing a line can be done administratively, and Stepanovich saw the wisdom in only pursuing subdivision if and when it makes sense to comply with the various requirements in the code. This applicant can actually withdraw one of two applications and only continue with the request to put in that apartment, in a standalone structure with its own septic field.
Surveyor Patti Brooks came prepared with an answer on behalf of client Judith Johnson, because Brooks is well aware of this quirk in New Paltz code — and is not a fan. To move a line between two lots on Cragswood Road, Brooks said, Johnson wants to affirm that the presently vacant land will be used only for agriculture. That’s in keeping with land that’s in a flood plain, but when Brooks returns, it will be with some specifics in mind, such as growing hay, to satisfy board attorney Ashley Torre’s interpretation. Regardless of what the applicant establishes the land can be used for, Brooks was clear that there is no intention to use it for anything at all.
Having considered these similar applications, board members closed out their meeting trying to discover if there is a clear set of instructions that they can deliver to someone who wishes to revise a line, that would not result in a big expense.
Lyle Nolan noted that establishing that a lot can be built upon increases the market value of that land, “but there’s development costs. I feel people should have the option,” either to do it themselves, or place that burden onto a future owner who has an idea for a specific use. Having the current owner do the work doesn’t necessarily save the next from that cost, either: as Ruger pointed out, if a decision is made to put a house in a different location, all the engineering would be needed again.
Torre advised that determining what would be a legal lot — by showing that it can be built on, for example — has to be done case by case because each property has its own features and limitations, such as road frontage and wetlands and deed restrictions and zoning rules and rights of way. The sense around the virtual table seemed to be that this state of affairs creates a burden for some applicants that feels like an undue burden. No clear answers emerged from the discussion, but this is a conversation that is likely to be continued.