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Do conservation subdivisions make sense in Sullivan County? Builder questions proposed zoning changes

By Fritz Mayer
October 5, 2011

Charles Petersheim’s new offices in Eldred reflect a measure of success that is rare in this era of economic hardship. Through his company, Catskill Farms, Petersheim has built and sold 100 homes since 2004 in various towns in Sullivan County, mostly to weekenders from the city.

“We hate to call them second-home owners,” he said, “because for some of them it’s their first home; they rent in the city.” Knowing his customers as he does, Petersheim says there is no market for the kind of conservation subdivision being proposed in the Town of Lumberland.

The new zoning would require that developers, who want to create a subdivision with five or more lots in the Rural Residential District or in the Mongaup River Valley District, set aside half of the land as open space to be jointly owned by the property owners. During an interview on September 28, Petersheim explained his objection to the proposition.

He said, “If you own 30 acres, and you want to do a five-lot subdivision, you just lost 15 of your acres, because they’re demanding it goes to open space. Most of the land up here is already open space,” he said.

He called the subdivision concept a “very common tool” in heavily developed areas such as Westchester County. But there is no need for it in Sullivan County, where open space is in great supply.

He said none of his 100 customers would be in the market for a house with a shared green space, and such a development would not be successful.

Another of the issues in the Lumberland zoning is new proposed restrictions on such things as the amount of land that can be cleared. In the Rural Residential District, the maximum land clearing for a house is 30% and the maximum lot coverage is 15%. Trying to fit a driveway, house and septic on 15% of a three-acre lot might be a bit tight.

For Petersheim, there’s also the matter of putting up more hurdles for new home-owners to overcome. He considers each home an economic engine. The homeowners pay local people to clear trees, to put in driveways, pools and gardens, and the process of building new homes should not become more complicated with unnecessary zoning rules that will be difficult to enforce.

New homes, he said, are already built with environmental sensitivity, not because that’s what is required by zoning, but rather because that’s what the market demands.

Lumberland supervisor Nadia Rajsz said there will ultimately be public hearings on the proposed zoning changes, and residents and other interested parties will have a chance then to bring up these sorts of issues.