Freeport seeks growth of workforce housing

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FREEPORT — The Town Council Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance aimed at creating more affordable housing for people who work in town.

Councilors also approved site plan review changes, but other ordinance amendments, governing village parking and agriculture, were sent back to committees for further consideration.

The housing amendment applies to the village area for rentals and single-family homes. Although the amendment’s broader goal is to create more diverse housing, the changes are part of the town’s effort to establish affordable workforce housing for employees of the town’s many retail businesses.

“I’m fully in support of this amendment,” Vice Chairwoman Kristina Egan said. “This is cutting edge. … It’s great Freeport has taken this initiative.”

The amendment to the rental section allows existing buildings to convert to apartments without having to meet land area-per-dwelling unit requirements, essentially allowing higher density.

Converted buildings are still required to meet parking and impervious surface standards, which means that no more than 80 percent of a lot can be paved or otherwise covered.

The single-family housing amendment allows property owners with lots of more than 25,000 square feet to to create smaller lots on their property of no less than 5,000 square feet.

About 60 lots in the village are large enough for this type of development, but many may be too narrow or may not meet the road-frontage requirement of 50 feet. The lots can only be used for single-family houses. 

The agriculture amendments are designed to create more flexibility for existing farms and encourage start-up farms.

The proposed changes would expand farms’ ability to use their land for accessory uses, such as hayrides and cross-country skiing, which Town Planner Donna Larson said has become more common on modern farms.

Requirements for farm setbacks would also be reduced.

But residents and councilors said the definition of farming in the language is too broad and wanted the amendments to be more in line with the state’s Department of Agriculture.

Residents said the ordinance should reflect what they called “agri-tourism,” which allows farms to create more diverse sources of income.

Councilors said they want the Planning board to more tightly define accessory uses and include language for agri-tourism. The board will discuss the changes at its next meeting on Feb. 6 at Town Hall.

Long-time business owners and councilors expressed concern about the one of the five proposed parking ordinance amendments, which would reduce the parking requirements for businesses.

Currently, businesses that were started before the parking ordinance was in place do not have to provide any parking. Under the changes, all businesses would be required to pay for parking.

Some councilors said the amendment would be an undue burden on older businesses that did not factor parking into their business plans because it was not required when they started.

Others said exempting some businesses creates a disparity between old and new businesses.

“We need to seriously be considering whether we should continue with grandfathering,” Councilor Andrew Wellen said, adding that he needs more time to digest the changes. “Some businesses bought into this with what they had, but businesses know that rules change and they have to accept that.”

The council tabled the item, directing the Traffic and Parking Committee to review the ordinance and provide recommendations for a council meeting in March.

The changes to the site plan review were largely organizational and give the Project Review Board the ability to schedule public hearings for a wider range of projects.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow Will on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.