K’hook erases open spaces law

Board sees mandate for conservation subdivisions as burdensome
KINDERHOOK–The Town Board has amended its town code, removing the conservation subdivision requirement that property owners set aside open space when subdividing. The preservation of permanent open space in new subdivisions is now voluntary.

The town Planning Board previously voted 4 to 2 with 1 abstention in support of the revising the law and the county Planning Board said the matter was up to the town to decide, said Supervisor Pat Grattan, during the public hearing held before the regular Town Board meeting September 10.

The original law made conservation subdivisions mandatory, which meant that developers had to set aside 50% of land as permanent open space in residential lots of 20 acres or more. The 50%-open-space requirement also applied to all new subdivisions in the town’s Prime Farmland Overlay District. The amended law adopted by the board this week leaves the decision of whether to set aside open space up to the person applying to the town for subdivision approval.

Several people spoke against the new law that adopts the amendment, saying it conflicts with the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which supported open space conservation. Former Planning Board member Edward Simonsen said that making the conservation subdivision voluntary would mean the end to the current law. “Forget it, it’s gone,” he said of the conservation requirements.

Current board member Chris Simonsen said that three of the current eight Planning Board members opposed the new law. He said that not all the members could attend the last Planning Board meeting to vote on whether to recommend the amendment to the law. Chris Simonsen said that the new law was “a dramatic change to our zoning law.”

Mr. Simonsen said that the old law was not perfect but changes could be made to it that would still help conserve land. One change that could be made was to “apply our current law to major and not to minor subdivision.”

Ellen Jouret-Epstein, a community projects manager for the Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC), said at the meeting, “By this change your town is giving up substantial power to a developer or applicant.” She said the developer could be someone from Kinderhook or it could be someone from outside of the town who did not have the best interests of the town and its comprehensive plan at heart.

Ms. Jouret-Epstien urged the board not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” by changing the law completely, and she said the CLC would work with the board to make changes to the current law.

After questions from some local farmer about the value of their land, Town Attorney Andrew Howard said, “Making this law volunteer would be less restrictive” for farmers.

Town Board Member Tim Ooms, a farm owner, said that his family had signed land over for conservation protection and the family was not pleased with the result. “We’ve been nothing but kicked in the teeth [about] how we farm our land,” he said as he voted Yes on the new law.

Glenn Smith was the only board member who did not vote for the new law, saying he wanted the board to table the discussion until next month. He said that there were valid concerns brought up at the meeting that he wanted to look into.

The rest of the board voted in support of the law. Board member Deb Simonsmeier said of landowners, “We have too many mandates on us now.”

The next for meeting will be Monday October 15 at 7 p.m.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.

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