CHATHAM – An ad hoc group of concerned village residents met recently for a second time, this time to discuss the village comprehensive plan, the job of the Zoning and Planning boards and the future of the village.
People interested in these and other local issues facing the village filled the second-floor meeting room at the Tracy Memorial September 12 to listen to a panel of six people, including village Trustee Lael Locke, Zoning Board of Appeals member Mike Wollowitz and Planning Board member Brin Quell. Dan Tuczinski, a lawyer who specializes in village zoning issues, was also on the panel, along with village resident Tom Curran.
Joanne DelRossi, also a village resident, introduced the panelists and the topic, saying that she, along with others in the room, was part of a committee that helped craft the comprehensive plan 1995. She read a passage from the plan saying one of its goals was to “bring together all segments of the community.” There are no more copies of the comprehensive plan available from the town, but Ms. DelRossi scanned her copy and sent it to people on the group’s email list.
Mr. Tuczinski, who grew up in Chatham, talked about what zoning laws and how they are interpreted and enforced. “What you can and can’t [build] goes through the planning and zoning board,” he said. Board members are volunteers and are appointed by the mayor.
Coincidentally, at this week’s Village Board meeting trustees are scheduled to interview candidates for an open seat on the planning board.
The village Planning Board, which has five members, recently had high attendance at its meeting because of interest in what was then only a proposal for a new Stewart’s Shop on Route 203. The board approved the new shop. Demolition of old factory building on the site was nearly complete as of the middle of this week. Ms. Quell cast the one dissenting vote, saying she didn’t think the new shop fit with the village’s comprehensive plan.
At the September meeting of residents she said that Planning Board members makes decisions based on the rules in the zoning codes. She said that the Stewart’s Shop application complied with the codes after the company made changes to the size of their signs and the “green” area around the buildings. “Did it reflect the plan? That’s another question,” she said.
As for the comprehensive plan, she said “The plan follows the code; unless the code changes, it doesn’t matter what the plan is.”
Mr. Wollowitz said that the Zoning Board of Appeals meets only when called to deal with an issue involving interpretation of the codes. He said that normally the board gets appeals after some question has been decided and an applicant comes to the ZBA with complaints.
Ms. Quell also talked about the enforcement of zoning laws. The Planning Board decided many years ago to delegate enforcement of the building code to the Police Department. But as a practical matter, she said there is no enforcement.
“This is the only village I’ve come across that doesn’t have one person with qualifications [as] code enforcement officer,” said village resident Michael Richardson, who advises municipalities around the state on labor relations.
Francis Iaconetti, who once chaired the Planning Board, said that the village appointed the police to enforce the code because the police were familiar with the village. Seeing Chatham as “a small community with streets that are traveled by the police every day,” was part of officials’ reasoning for that decision, he said.
Villagers voiced concerns about the look of the town in future. “Zoning laws can’t undo,” said Ms. Locke. But she said the village can look into “smart growth.” She said that Chatham is already a model of “walkability,” with many things accessible without having to get in your car.
The group plans to schedule another meeting in October.