The town of Sidney will host a public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 8, to hear questions, comments and concerns surrounding a 108-page document proposing zoning changes within the town and the hamlet of Sidney Center.

The meeting will take place at the Sidney Town Hall at 44 Grand St. in the Sidney, though officials said in-person attendance is limited to about 10. Residents may attend via Zoom, at tinyurl.com/7aavv5u6

Sidney Town Supervisor Gene Pigford noted that the document, titled "Proposed Zoning Laws," is available at townofsidney.com.

“It’s been a work in progress for at least 10 years,” he said. “I think the last zoning ordinance was put in place in 2003 and a comprehensive plan for Sidney was competed in 2002 — that document is also on the website — and some of those objectives have been completed and some remain, but that was our framework.

“This (zoning) committee I have appointed has only been working on it for the past three years,” Pigford continued, “but prior to that, a great deal of work was done by the then-zoning board.”

Pigford said the proposal aims to address outdated zoning laws.

“The general feeling has been that our present zoning needed to be updated, but it was not an easy process to accomplish that,” he said.

The hamlet of Sidney Center, Pigford noted, is a focus of the proposal.

“In Sidney Center, one property will be commercial and right next to it will be residential … so, in some ways, the present zoning is a kind of patchwork arrangement,” he said. “Some of that has to do with the history of Sidney Center … but we’ve attempted to streamline the process for more consistency and logic to the overall zoning.”

Pigford and members of the zoning committee said Sidney Center’s long-defunct school building and Main Street could benefit from such rezoning.

“The school is no longer a school, but that was zoned residential-agriculture,” Pigford said. “Since it was a school, that was the only thing it could be used for and anything else would have required all kinds of use variances.

“A couple of attempts have been made to get approval for other types of use … and in the meantime, a great deal of effort has gone into getting grant funding for rehabilitation,” he continued. “But now, it’s falling into even greater disrepair and would take a couple million dollars to rehabilitate. The present owner lives downstate and has said, ‘If you can, find me a tenant,’ but, the problem is, it has to be zoned in such a way that a potential tenant would be attracted to it. That’s all down the road, but we’re trying to get the zoning, to at least have it be marketable.”

In a mid-March video presentation to the Sidney Rotary Club, zoning committee member and Sidney Center resident Paul Muratore said, the proposals concerning Main Street in the hamlet would “try to preserve (its) character and beauty.”

“The zoning regulations really don’t fit the hamlet’s setup right now,” he said. “Based on information from Sidney Center residents … we decided to make Main Street its own district, the Maywood District. That would prevent any large or even medium-sized businesses to come in there. We decided it would be a good idea ... to make it more of a very scaled-down – but actually scaled-up — residential community … (with) artist galleries, music studios and mini cafes, but no restaurants, because that would pose an issue with septic.

“(Main Street) used to be commercial … and we pulled it back,” Muratore continued. “(According to the proposal), you can’t put anything like a parking garage or a full-scale restaurant or a Dollar General in there, and these were the things we were concerned about. I’m trying to preserve Sidney Center as is, and … Sidney Center is actually at the top of the zoning laws; any changes will trickle down. We protected the hamlet, and this is what Sidney Center wants.”

The proposal, Pigford said, has garnered much community input.

“There’s already been a lot of information shared by letter,” he said, mentioning a letter to the editor submitted by Sidney resident and business owner Howard Finch and published in the March 30 Daily Star. “And not just Howard, but many other community residents have been making observations. What’s interesting is, as we’ve reviewed, most have had very good ideas and many of them we’ve incorporated into the updated proposals.”

In a written response to Finch’s letter, Pigford noted, “the intent of the proposed document is to balance the concerns of the property owner with small business opportunities that could … benefit the local community.”

Concerns surrounding the proposal, Pigford said, have to do with “fear of the unknown” and potential tax ramifications.

“People are always reluctant to change, and there’s a certain comfort level in what you already have,” he said. “One of the concerns … was that there be public hearings for any proposed change — there will be — and opportunities for input to react and respond. All those provisions are in there, but having said that, some still feel it’s a nice residential area, so why can’t we just leave it as is.

“Three years ago, we put down three derelict buildings (on Main Street in Sidney Center),” Pigford continued. “A couple others are on their way, and it would be far better if some productive use could be identified for them … and hopefully that would be an upside and not a downside and improve the tax base. We’d like to see — we’re working with the Sidney Center Improvement Group — a park or a dog-walking area or something recreational for that area, but once you do that, you take a few properties off the tax rolls and every property no longer paying taxes increases the burden for everyone who is.”

Pigford said the proposal is being reviewed by county officials, who are working on a State Environmental Quality Review.

“They’ll prepare a summary draft recommendation, which will come back to the town,” he said. “We’re trying to finalize everything, but we’re not going to vote until our May meeting.”

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