A March 3 public hearing on proposed Local Law 2-2005 will remain open throughout the next several board meetings to ensure sufficient public input. The law seeks to make changes to the village's current codes with respect to certain accessory buildings or structures, driveway gateposts, piers or stanchions, retaining walls and amend a section regarding off-street parking in R-Districts. It is important to note that these changes effect the entire village.
"The board has been sitting with this report since December 2002," Mayor Barbara Miller noted. "A number of times we have been gently reminded ... by the chairman of the zoning board [Robert Cunningham] that they are waiting for these changes in our ordinances."
Trustees received a report back in December 2002 from a trustee subcommittee, chaired by Trustee Jon Segerdahl, which based their report on a review of recommendations and requests that the Zoning Board of Appeals, Architectural Design Review Board, Planning Commission and Garden City's executive staff provided. The proposed changes are meant to protect the residential integrity of Garden City and, as is done from time to time, update the village's current codes. "This has been a major issue in every section in the village and I think we should air it out tonight," Trustee Robert Rothschild said.
Bill Bellmer of Poplar Street believes the village has not had a problem with heights of retaining walls but rather where they are located on a resident's property, specifically those adjacent to the sidewalk on village property. "It doesn't really make any comment about the location. But as long as we're doing this, maybe we ought to be specific so that people know because wherever you look in the village, there are right up against sidewalk."
Building Superintendent Michael Filippon explained, "Current provisions in the code restrict any kind of accessory structure to what we call the accessory use area - or the rear half of the property. What this would do is allow a retaining wall in a front yard area. However, nothing in this code supercedes what you might call private property rights or property rights in general."
Filippon continued, noting, "Nothing in this code will allow a transgression over your property line. I'm not sure if we'd need special language to say that, but I think it's implicit in any code that it doesn't give you the ability to go outside the property boundary."
The village's code, as it is currently written, states that all structures are non-conforming because they are in a front yard area. This local law attempts to put in reasonable restrictions that would allow them within the printed guidelines.
Edward Tacchi of Fenimore Avenue, due to his considerable travels around the village over the years because of his job, is concerned the proposed changes may pit neighbor against neighbor. "We have many homes in Garden City, even within the past year, that have put up retaining walls just inside the property line. I think most of these homes put things up that are in keeping with Garden City's property values. If we say all of a sudden that residents can't have these anymore, are we actually going to tell people to tear them out?" Tacchi asked.
"I can hardly wait to see what happens if this thing passes and some neighbor in the west doesn't like somebody who has something in the east ... The WPOA has not had this come before them in quite some time. We have new people on board, and it would be reasonable to give them an opportunity to at least converse on this and come to the board with some findings," Tacchi added.
David Dillmeier of Wyat Road noted concern with regard to driveway gateposts and children riding bicycles. "I have a real concern with kids on bicycles coming up and down sidewalks and then catching a corner of these stones," he said.
No part of a gatepost , Filippon explained, could extend more than six feet in any direction from the inner section of a driveway. In other words, residents could not erect any structure outside of their property boundary. "Anything beyond that would still remain a non-conforming structure, which means it either has to be moved, removed or modified to comply with these requirements or anyone would have the right to apply for a variance," Filippon noted. "If they had substantial evidence that a variance was warranted, they might receive that. But barring that possibility, they would have to comply with these restrictions."
If any structure existed before the village code's adoption in its entirety - which dates back to 1925 - then that structure would be considered prior non-conforming and could remain. But once the code was adopted, if a structure was non-conforming it would now need to conform.
Trustee Segerdahl noted that the subcommittee recommended the village give any resident in violation a two-year grace period to bring their violation into conformity. Village Counsel Gary Fishberg noted that at the time the local law was being drafted, he and Filippon were cognizant of that recommendation, stating that in some cases, amortization clauses are included in ordinances.
Take a village's sign ordinance for example. "A commercial property owner just put up a new sign. They've paid a lot of money for that sign and they are now being told it is illegal and must be replaced," Fishberg explained. "Typically, you'll have an amortization provision in that kind of an ordinance that will allow the sign to remain up before it has to be replaced. The concept behind that is to allow the property owner to at least recoup some of the value of that sign before he has to replace it."
Fishberg said he and Filippon attempted to equate that concept to this situation but thought it did not apply. "This wasn't somebody who put up a sign - that was legal at the time it was put up - and is now being told to change it because of a new ordinance. These structures that were subject to this ordinance were not legal when they were put up ... We came to the conclusion that perhaps there wasn't a need for this amortization period." The board of trustees, however, could add such a clause if it wished.
Whether or not any or all of the recommendations are approved, the subcommittee also suggested that the Public Information Committee of the board of trustees - or any other committee so appointed by the mayor and board - along with Mr. Schoelle and Mr. Filippon, educate the community on zoning ordinances. This could be accomplished in the form of a Village Facts or other mailing. Additionally, an information sheet of zoning do's and don'ts could also be provided for new residents on an ongoing basis.
Trustee John Mauk is cautious about rushing to action. "I understand [Robert Cunningham's] concern and I absolutely agree that we need to do what we can to move this along. But I also share what Trustee Rothschild has expressed about the need to get further input on this, especially from the POAs, who really have not been given the opportunity to review these proposals and comment on them and see how they apply to their neighborhoods and their residents...
"Before anything's done, it ought to go back to the POAs and they should be given an adequate amount of time to educate themselves. I don't think leaving open the public hearing is going to be sufficient for that purpose. I would really like to see us make more of a concerted effort to get more comment before we take any action."
Cunningham emphasized what Trustee Mauk said. "This is not something that was handled lightly and it's not something that's going to be pushed through because the intent was to see it in front of this board and then in front of the property owners' associations at all times. In essence, it's an effort to tighten up our zoning code, which hopefully will have more involved in this than you have even heard perhaps..."
Mayor Miller believes the board will take sufficient time on this village-wide matter, as it did for the Public Use "P" Zone code changes.