Chatham endorses new comprehensive plan

(NOTE: This is an updated version of a story that appeared on this website last week.)

CHATHAM–After five years of discussion and debate the town joined a growing list of local municipalities that have adopted new comprehensive plans.

The board unanimously approved the latest draft of the plan Thursday evening, August 20, following a 25-minute public hearing. One member of the board, Beth Ann Rippel, was not present at the meeting, but town Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt said she also supports the plan.

The absence of Ms. Rippel may be remedied when the board meets again next month, because board members must vote again on the plan. Although the issue was not raised at the meeting, the vote last week did not meet state standards because the board members did not have a written resolution before them. Mr. DeGroodt, Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea and Nan Stolzenburg, the consultant the town used during the drafting of the plan, all agreed that the do-over vote would be merely a formality.

At the hearing several residents of North Chatham voiced concern over the emphasis the plan places on encouraging residential development around hamlets like theirs. But people in the audience who worked on drafting the plan said that the town would undoubtedly grow in population and the plan would give Chatham the tools it needs to preserve the rural and historic character of the hamlets.

Comprehensive plans are authorized by state law and are meant to serve as guidelines for land use policies and regulation. With the adoption of the plan, the town now must review its zoning ordinance and related laws and regulations to make sure they conform to the plan.

One woman at the hearing described the document as “a living thing” that could be adapted to conditions in the future. And she responded to those who feared provisions of the plan would lead to unintended–and unwelcome–consequences, saying, “If we don’t have a plan, all of the consequences will be unintended.”

The new plan replaces a document adopted in 1972.

Dozens of residents worked on the new plan over the years it was under consideration. The town hired Ms. Stolzenburg’s firm, Community Planning & Environmental Associates, to help guide the creation of the plan.

The final draft of the plan is available at the town website,, by clicking on the “draft comprehensive plan” link.

When the board finally got around to voting on the plan in the regular monthly meeting, there was little discussion. Councilman Bob Balcom recalled the “battles” that marked early meetings to draft a plan and the spirit of cooperation that emerged as a consensus was reached. “This is a tremendous plan,” he said. The audience greeted the vote with sustained applause.

Mr. DeGroodt said after the meeting that the next step would be for the town to appoint an implementation committee, although he said he had not yet given that much thought.

Ms. Stolzenburg said that municipalities typically take on revision of zoning, site plan review and subdivision regulation first. She said that once the plan is in place, the town has a better chance of receiving state grants, because funding agencies want to know that grant projects will conform to the comprehensive plan.

The state also recommends that the town review the plan every five years.

As for the need for a second vote, Mr. Rappleyea, the town attorney, described it as a “ministerial act,” a term that refers to a formality. Ms. Stolzenburg concurred. As for the effect of another vote on implementing the plan, she said, “I don’t think there’s any impact.”

About 50 people showed up at Town Hall Thursday night, leaving standing room only in the meeting room and vestibule. But some residents stayed only until the end of the first hearing of the evening, which called for comments on a proposal for a new dog control ordinance for the town. Speakers at the dog law hearing mostly opposed all or parts of the proposal, with some asking how the town could impose a new law when it did not enforce the law it already has regarding dogs barking at night and menacing people.

Deirdre Henderson suggested the board was “overreaching,” because the law was a response to a small number of incidents. “It is almost never a good idea to legislate around one or two unfortunate cases,” she said.

Several speakers said the proposal for more stringent regulation of dogs outside the village was incompatible with the rural character of the town. And a member of the Old Chatham Hunt Club asked that club activities and its kennel be granted an exemption from the law.

Board members discussed the hearing comments during the regular meeting and decided to take no action on the proposal.

To contact Parry Teasdale email

Comments are closed.