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Question 18 - Consistency with Community Character - Full EAF (Part 2)

Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) Workbook

The proposed project is inconsistent with the existing community character.

Many people define their community's character in very general terms: suburban, rural, urban, quiet, safe, scenic, or friendly are terms often used. Others describe community character only in terms of visual features. Community character is broader than this however.

Community character is defined by all the man-made and natural features of the area. It includes the visual character of a town, village, or city, and its visual landscape; but also includes the buildings and structures and their uses, the natural environment, activities, town services, and local policies that are in place. These combine to create a sense of place or character that defines the area.

Changes to the type and intensity of land use, housing, public services, aesthetic quality, and to the balance between residential and commercial uses can all change community character. Most proposed actions will result in some change in community character. There are probably few that will result in no change at all. Examples of actions that may not affect community character include passage of a local law that is not related to land use, or other discretionary actions that require SEQR but that do not result in building or development.

Note that Question 18 asks if the proposed project is NOT consistent with community character. Reviewing agencies will need to first understand what the existing community character is. Sometimes this is clearly defined in a comprehensive plan. As such, reviewing agencies should be familiar with those plans. Other times, the reviewing agency will need to discuss and articulate what current community character is.

Reviewing agencies should then ask and answer sub-questions (a) through (g) below, in order to understand what changes the proposed project might bring to the community. A comparison of current conditions to those that might exist after implementation of the project will determine if "the action is inconsistent with the existing community character" or not. If the reviewing agency decides that the action IS consistent with community character, then check "No" to this question and move to Part 3. However, if you find that the proposed action is NOT consistent with existing community character, then answer sub-questions (a) through (g) to evaluate the size of potential impacts resulting from that inconsistency.

To answer this question

Review Part 1 questions C.2., C.3., C.4., D.2., E.1.c., and E.3.

Identifying potential impacts

The reviewing agency should evaluate the following sub-questions and decide if there will be any impact. If there will be an impact, the reviewing agency must then evaluate the magnitude of that impact, and decide if the impact will be small or moderate to large. This will depend on the overall scale and context of the proposed project as described in the Introduction to Part 2. The reviewing agency should be reasonable when conducting this review.

  • If the proposed project does not exceed a numeric threshold in a question, the reviewing agency should consider the scale and context of the project in determining if an impact may be small or moderate to large.
  • These sub-questions are not meant to be exhaustive. The reviewing agency should use the "Other impacts:" sub-question to include any additional elements they feel need to be analyzed for potential impacts.

a. The proposed action may replace or eliminate existing facilities, structures, or areas of historic importance to the community.

Community character is, in part, influenced by the buildings and structures that exist in a community. Historic structures are especially influential on the character of the built environment. Whenever existing buildings and structures are replaced or removed, the character of the street, neighborhood, district or entire community can change. For example, replacing a traditional three story main street structure having parking in the rear with a modern concrete block structure having parking the front could significantly change the character of the street. In some communities the character is also influenced by entire blocks, streets, or neighborhoods that may be altered by a project. Removal or replacement can significantly change the function, look, and economics of an area.

Applicable Part 1 Information

E.3.e., E.3.f., and E.3.g.

Analysis

  • What specific buildings or structures are to be replaced or eliminated?
  • What is proposed in its place?
    • Is the new structure of similar scale, siting, design, and function?
  • Is there a designated historic district impacted? How will that change?
  • Will the proposed project change the ratio of street width to building height?
    • For example, are narrow streets having buildings set close to the road being replaced by wider streets with buildings having deep front setbacks?
    • Are sidewalks and street furniture being removed or replaced and if so, with what?

Will there be an impact?

If no facilities, structures or areas of historic importance to the community are being replaced or eliminated, then there will be no related impacts. However, many proposed actions will result in some change in community character. There are probably few that will result in no change at all. Examples of actions that may not affect community character include passage of a local law that is not related to land use, or other discretionary actions that require SEQR but that do not result in building or development. Another example may be infill development that is consistent with the style and character of the neighborhood. Check 'No, or small impact may occur.'

Small Impact:

A small impact could occur under one or more of these circumstances:

  • The visual character of the area is changed in a minor way but is generally consistent in the design, placement, size, streetscape, intensity and architecture of the neighborhood or community.
  • The balance between retail commercial uses and residential uses does not change in a significant way.
  • The proposed project is a land use that is similar to others that can be found in the neighborhood or area.
Moderate to Large Impact:

A moderate to large impact could occur under one or more of these circumstances:

  • The proposed project moderately or significantly changes the visual character of the area.
  • The proposed project is of a larger scale than currently exists in the area.
  • New building design, lot layout, streetscapes, or intensity of use is in sharp contrast to that which exists.
  • The project introduces a land use that is inconsistent or in sharp contrast with surrounding land uses.
  • The project introduces odors, lights, noise, or traffic to an area in a way that is different than currently exists.

b. The proposed action may create a demand for additional community services (e.g. schools, police and fire)

Part of a community's character comes from the community services that are available because those contribute to the sense of community residents have. Growth and development can change this part of community character by bringing in more people to an area, who in turn, demand more in public services. This demand can result in the need for municipalities to build more schools, parks, roads, and infrastructure, or can bring in crime and the need for additional police, fire and emergency services.

Here, context of the project is very important. An urban community that already has large school districts, and paid police and fire services may be able to absorb an increased demand for these community services. A rural or a small community that relies on volunteers for these services, or has a school district that has little capacity to accept growth may be less able to absorb the same increase in demand.

Applicable Part 1 Information

C.4., D.2.c., D.2.d., D.2.j., and D.2.s.

Analysis

  • Will the proposed project result in an increase in population that will require the community to invest in additional public services?
    • Where will these services be physically located, and how might they change the sense of place and character of the community?

Will there be an impact?

If the proposed project does not create any additional demand for community services, then there will be no related impact. Check 'No, or small impact may occur."

Small Impact:

A small impact may occur if:

  • The demand on public services can be handled by existing resources and the proposed project will not exceed existing capacity.
Moderate to Large Impact:

A moderate to large impact may occur if:

  • The demands on public services will increase and result in the need to extend existing services.

c. The proposed action may displace affordable or low-income housing in an area where there is a shortage of such housing.

Displacement of housing could mean that structures are physically removed and replaced with other land uses, or housing that is no longer affordable for low-income families. Or, displacement can also mean that existing housing is rehabilitated or restored in a manner that gentrifies the area and results in higher rents and land values. Affordable housing is generally defined as housing that costs no more than 30% of the buyer's or renters income. For example, for someone earning $50,000 a year, an affordable house costs no more than $15,000 a year ($1250 per month). Displacement of these housing units can change the social fabric and demographics of a community. That in turn can affect future growth and development and other changes to the physical character of the area.

Note that Part 1 does not address or ask for information on affordable or low-income housing. The municipal planning agency should have knowledge of the demographics of the area. Alternatively, the information may also be included in zoning, site plan, special use, or subdivision application materials. Use the 'Analysis' questions below to determine if there is potential for a need or change in affordable housing before requesting other demographic information.

Applicable Part 1 Information

C.2., C.3., D.1.f., D.1.g., and E.1.a.

Analysis

In order to answer this question, the reviewing agency may need to evaluate additional information in order to determine the need for and impact to affordable housing.

  • How much affordable housing would be removed?
  • Does the project replace affordable housing opportunities in other areas or with new units?
  • Will there be a change in the nature of housing in the area, such as changing a single family neighborhood into a multi-family one, or change the affordability of housing?

Will there be an impact?

If the project does not affect housing or displace affordable or low-income housing at all then there will be no related impact. Check 'No, or small impact may occur.'

Small Impact:

There may be a small impact if:

  • The proposed project decreases the number of affordable housing units in the community but adequate affordable housing opportunities remain in the community.
Moderate to Large Impact:

There may be a moderate to large impact if:

  • The proposed project will result in a decrease in the number of affordable housing units where the availability of such housing is limited and not expected to meet demand.

d. The proposed action may interfere with the use or enjoyment of officially recognized or designated public resources.

Officially recognized or designated public resources include parks, playgrounds, public properties and buildings, ball fields, picnic areas, designated fishing access locations, public beaches, scenic pull-offs, museums, pedestrian pathways such as hike and bike trails, rail trails or snowmobile trails, or community centers. When a proposed project interferes with the public use or enjoyment of these resources, quality of life, and thus community character can be adversely impacted.

Applicable Part 1 Information

C.2. and E.3.

Analysis

  • What officially recognized or designated public resources exist in or near the proposed project site?
  • Will the proposed project impede access or prevent use of these resources?
  • Will the proposed project increase public use of a resource beyond its capacity?
  • Will the proposed project result in an inability to maintain the resource or will it degrade the resource so that it is no longer safe or useable by the public?

Will there be an impact?

If there are no officially recognized or designated public resources that will be interfered with in any way, then there will be no related impact. Check 'No, or small impact may occur.'

Small Impact:

There may be a small impact if:

  • The proposed project will add population, visitors, or employees that increase demand for parks, playgrounds, public, cultural or recreational facilities, but adequate resources exist that are underused or have available capacity.
Moderate to Large Impact:

There may be a moderate to large impact if:

  • The proposed project will add population, visitors, or employees that increase demand for parks, playgrounds, public, cultural or recreational facilities but existing facilities are already overused or have no capacity to handle that additional demand.

e. The proposed action is inconsistent with the predominant architectural scale and character.

Predominant architectural scale and character need to be defined locally: they are determined through understanding the size, height, dimensions, and intensity of uses as they already exist in the neighborhood or community.

Actions inconsistent with the predominant architectural scale and character of the area could include those that results in a structure or landscape that is in sharp contrast to that which currently exists. A new structure(s) that is larger, taller, or of different architectural style, could be inconsistent with the existing character. Changes in color scheme, window and door configuration, roof style, setback from the street, or style of signs and accessory structures can all result in adverse impacts to community character. Streets that are widened, intersections that are changed, streets where trees have been removed, and placement of parking lots are other actions that can change community character. Introduction of noises, lighting and traffic are others.

Applicable Part 1 Information

C.2. and C.3.

Analysis

  • Describe the current predominant architectural scale and character.
    • This can be defined by the size, height, setback, and site layout common to existing structures in the area.
    • It can also be defined by the architectural details such as building material, façade, color, window and door treatments, presence of architectural fenestration and details, signage, and location of parking lot.
  • What is the architectural scale and character of the proposed new structures and does this differ from existing?
    • If so, how?

Will there be an impact?

If the proposed action does not introduce new or change the predominant architectural scale and character at all, then there will be no related impacts. Check 'No, or small impact may occur.'

Small Impact:

There may be a small impact if:

  • The visual character of the area is changed in a minor way but is generally consistent in the design, placement, size, color, intensity and architecture of the neighborhood or community.
Moderate to Large Impact:

There may be a moderate to large impact if:

  • The proposed project introduces an architectural style that is in sharp contrast in its size, window or door size and style, building materials, roof pitch, façade, color, or signage with existing or surrounding buildings.

f. Proposed action is inconsistent with the character of the existing natural landscape.

The natural landscape plays a large role in defining a community's character. For example, a municipality may define itself as rural community because of a large amount of open space and farming. Or, one may be defined as a mountain town due to being in the Adirondacks. Waterbodies, open lands, forested lands, topography, natural communities and wildlife, and unique geologic features all contribute to the natural landscape. When these resources are reduced, fragmented, or eliminated, the natural landscape can change.

Applicable Part 1 Information

C.2., C.3., E.1.a., E.1.b., E.2.g., and E.2.h.

Analysis

  • What are the features that make up the natural landscape?
    • Are some features more predominant than others?
    • How would you define this?
  • What changes to the natural landscape will result?
    • What features will be changed or eliminated?
  • How visible to the general public will these changes be?
  • How much area will be impacted?

Will there be an impact?

If the proposed project does not physically alter the landscape, or change the cover type, or reduce, eliminate or fragment natural features, there will be no related impact. There may also be no impact if the project site is located in a heavily developed area already largely disturbed and built upon. Check 'No, or small impact may occur.'

Small Impact:

There may be a small impact if:

  • The project site is located in an area that already has a diversity of vegetation and mix of cover types and where land uses and the proposed use are similar to or already found nearby.
  • The project activities do not have other significant adverse environmental impacts and the structures are sited in such a manner (such as with very large setbacks or significant buffering) so that the visual character of the natural landscape is not noticeably different.
  • The change to the natural landscape is small in size, and not in sharp contrast to the broader area.
Moderate to Large Impact:

There may be a moderate to large impact if:

  • Significant portions (in size and in importance to the community) of the natural landscape are removed or changed, such as through blasting, grading, filling, or removal of predominant vegetation growing in the area.
  • There are more buildings, lawns, roads, and other structures introduced into an area that is currently rural and undeveloped.
  • A proposed project includes a road that is highly visible where no other built features can be seen.
  • Structures taller than the predominant vegetation are introduced.

g. Other impacts:

There may be other impacts identified by the reviewing agency that are not addressed by the above questions. If so, they should be identified and briefly described here.

Some proposed actions may have beneficial impacts on the environment. The reviewing agency can use the 'other' category for that purpose, too.

Back to Part 2 (FEAF) Identification of Potential Project Impacts || Continue to Part 3 (FEAF) Evaluation of the Magnitude and Importance of Project Impacts and Determination of Significance


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