Overlay Zones Are a Necessary Revitalization Tool, Not a Rubber Stamp

By Sergio Esposito

So, what exactly is an overlay zone, how does it work and where does it fit in to the existing approval process. 

There has been plenty of misinformation as well as speculation as to how such a tool is leveraged. My hope is to explain what an overlay zone is, how it fits into an already established approval process and why it is necessary.

An overlay zone is a regulatory tool that creates a special zoning district, placed over an existing base zone or zones, which identifies special provisions in addition to those in the underlying base zone. It is a tool that is being used and has been heavily utilized as a “gamechanger” in many municipalities across Westchester.

Before an overlay district can be implemented it must go through the rezoning process much like the rezoning process a developer would have to go through. One main difference here is that there would be no developer on hand and to rezone an area to usher in (well-needed) economic revitalization. It is, in no way, a “rubber stamp” as some would characterize it and it does not guarantee that a certain parcel would be utilized under the overlay zoning. 

The overlay district rezoning process would undergo public hearings much like a typical request for a rezone. Citizens would have their opportunity at a televised public hearing to voice their concerns or support for the rezone.

So where does it fit into the approval process? The overlay district is only one part of a multifaceted process. Typically, but not always, a general guideline for an application approval process would follow these steps:

  • There would be a staff level meeting, possibly between planning and engineering. This is where the project is disseminated and its viability discussed with the applicant. It is also the point where the applicant, in writing, would request that the project be considered under the overall zone. This request would be rigorously reviewed to determine if the property is appropriate to be considered under that overlay. If there is no request or if the request is denied, then the project is considered according to the base or original zone.
  • The applicant would submit an application.
  • The application would then be introduced to the Planning Board.
  • Next, the Planning Board would review the application, make suggestions and indicate possible changes.
  • An agency would declare itself Lead Agent.
  • Next, requests for comments will be solicited by any and all relevant agencies. Comments would be welcome from inside the Planning Department as well as outside and a discussion would ensue.
  • Thorough review of the application would continue.
  • At this point, there would be an indeterminate number of steps. Depending on what the application calls for, there would be traffic studies, an environmental study could ensue, the application would be considered against the tree ordinance, there would be an architectural review and the list goes on.
  • After all the necessary studies are done, it is all further and thoroughly discussed and reviewed. The application is referred for a public hearing, once again to allow for public comment from citizens voicing their concerns or support.
  • Finally, the Planning Board makes its final determination as is usually the case.

This is just a basic rundown of the requisite steps necessary for a project to get approved. The overlay district portion is only one step in the grand scheme of things and is in no way a rubber stamp.

Lastly, overlay districting in Yorktown is necessary and vital to our economic health. It will provide the flexibility and enthusiasm we need in a post-pandemic environment. The business community will greatly benefit from all revitalization attempts.

Times have changed, everything has changed, and we must evolve with the times. We must rethink and reinvigorate our Main Streets. Economic revitalization will also help to fill empty offices and storefronts. This will protect the business tax base from landlords seeking tax reductions through the tax certiorari process.

Sergio Esposito is president of the Yorktown Chamber of Commerce.

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