Milan revs up Route 199 zoning changes

Putting to rest months of controversy, Milan’s town board has unanimously approved two changes to the highway business district zoning code.

The changes increase the maximum square footage of a convenience store from 2,500 sq. feet to 4,000 sq feet and allow drive thrus as a permitted use in the district, which runs along Route 199.

Both changes could help pave the way for two new gas stations, a Sunoco and a Mobil, whose developers are seeking to build on sites near the Taconic Parkway.

Before voting on the changes at its April 15 meeting, the board read aloud the various environmental assessment forms that were required as part of the decision-making process. In the final analysis, the board determined that the zoning code changes “will not have a significant environmental impact.”

The board also read two letters from the planning board requesting the changes. The first, dated November 2012, requested that drive thrus be allowed conditional to site plan approval by the planners. The planning board letter said drive thrus were allowed in the existing code but, in what was termed “an oversight,” their allowed location was never specified.

The second letter, dated February 2013, said that “limiting a convenience store to 2,500 sq. ft. is no longer economically viable,” and referenced “ancillary, non-productive space such as bathroom and storage facilities” as part of the reason more space is now necessary.

Supervisor Bill Gallagher also read a letter from the Dutchess County planning office, which indicated that, in making its decision the town board “must rely on its own deliberations, with due consideration,” of county guidelines such as the Greenway Compact, which emphasizes compact community planning.

Councilwoman Bobbi Egan thanked the town’s residents for “their interest in this issue, including the public hearing and the correspondence,” as well as for attending board meetings. She read a statement outlining what she feels are the benefits of the changes, pointing out that the board has responsibility to encourage economic growth in the town.

“No growth is not smart growth,” she said.

That issue had been one of many concerns brought up by residents at board meetings and a packed public hearing on the zoning code changes.

Councilwoman Marion Mathison spoke to clarify the difference between “facts and perceptions.” Mathison said several people had assumed the board was modifying the Milan Comprehensive Plan with these zoning changes.

“We are not modifying the Milan Comprehensive Plan,” she said. “In fact, we have taken it very carefully into consideration.” She read out loud a portion of the plan, including this, “Limited, well-designed highway business activity along Route 199 is consistent with the vision residents have for our town.”

Mathison also addressed what she called a second public misperception: that “the board can and should determine how many gas stations or businesses of any type should be in Milan.”

“That is actually not legal,” she said. “We are acting to put in place an amendment to some zoning code so that we will make this a more attractive place for a viable business.”

After further discussion, in which Councilman Jack Grumet and Councilman Jack Campisi defended the board’s deliberations and thanked town residents for their input, the board voted unanimously to approve the changes.

The resolution is the first law for Milan in 2013.

The two proposed gas stations are a Sunoco, which would be located near Academy Hill Road and has plans for a convenience store; and a Mobil, built on the site of the burned-out Mobil station next to the parkway. It too would have a convenience store and has requested a drive-thru as well.

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