A zoning code that one civic leader said is "open for abuse," could soon be amended to allow for more stringent oversight.
Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi spoke at Monday's meeting of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Civic Association about an amendment he is seeking to propose that would address a "controversial" section of the town's zoning code.
The zoning amendment, Nuzzi said, has not yet been introduced; he decided to bring the idea out to the community first to garner public input.
The amendment focuses on changing the current code, which allows the town's zoning board of appeals to grant a certificate of occupancy for a change from one non-conforming use to another.
As it currently stands, Nuzzi said, if a property has existed in a residential zone for years as, for example, an ice cream shop, and an owner then seeks to change that use to an auto repair store, the provision allows for the swap.
"It's been a controversial topic as it relates to particular applications," Nuzzi said.
Currently, the ZBA can permit the change as long as the new use is deemed "beneficial to the general neighborhood" and "subject to such reasonable conditions and safeguards as the Board of Appeals may stipulate."
Nuzzi said he is proposing the amendment "in fairness to the community," and to address what he feels is "a very lax standard."
The councilman's proposed amendment would require that applicants would need to seek a use variance from the ZBA or apply to the town board for a change of zone -- both meeting more stringent standards and allowing for enhanced public input and a required land use study.
"The point of zoning in the comprehensive plan is to zone properly," Nuzzi said. "If it's residential, it should be residential. If it's commercial, it should be commercial."
The new amendment, Nuzzi added, would put a "higher burden on the applicant."
Nuzzi said he wasn't aiming to "speak judgmentally of the ZBA," but rather, to pitch the proposal to the community and gather their thoughts.
The councilman said he expects to bring the proposed amendment before the Southampton town board in a few weeks but wanted input from civic groups and the public first
"We have zoning for a reason, because you want conforming uses," Nuzzi said.
One FRNCA member asked for examples that might have precipitated the proposed legislation.
Nuzzi said the amendment has not been created due to any specific application but said in recent years, motel conversions -- with owners looking to go from a transient use to full-time apartments --have moved forward though the ZBA under that section of the zoning code.
Other examples, he said, include former nightclubs sited in residential areas that owners might want to develop into condos.
A controversial proposed day camp in North Sea have also "come in under this section of the code," Nuzzi said. "I'm not passing judgment on the validity of the application, but the zoning does not permit that, it should require town board action and input from the planning department with a look at the comprehensive plan."
Nuzzi said residents wishing to weigh in could send letters or emails; a public hearing process would also be involved, he said.
Vince Taldone, FRNCA vice-president, said the discussed zoning process, "as it exists today, is open for abuse."
Requiring a use variance for a change from one non-conforming use to another "is a much bigger process," he said, with applicants being asked to explain why the new non-forming use "is less noxious."
Taldone said the proposed legislation is "really beneficial to the community" and could prevent "inviting abuse in the future.
'Currently, there is too much at the discretion and interpretation of those who have been appointed by a board rather than elected. This is a great idea," Taldone said.