Company eyes Claverack site of temporary courthouse
CLAVERACK–The town is proposing to change its zoning law to add the old Claverack School building to the Hamlet Business District. The property is currently in the Hamlet Residential District but is being used as the county court while the County Courthouse in Hudson undergoes a major renovation.
Shari Kline, owner of a bed linen manufacturing business called Traditions Linens, has made an offer to purchase the building from the Hudson City School District. Her business currently operates out of two sites–one in Claverack and one in Livingston. She said she intends to combine her operations in the Claverack School building. Since the building is in the Hamlet Residential District, which does not permit her operations, she has requested that the town change the zoning of the parcel to a business district so her proposed use could be allowed with a special use exception for wholesale business and a salesroom. The Town Board began a public hearing on the matter April 11 before the regular board meeting.
Several residents and employees of the company were present to express their support of the zoning change. Hudson City School District Superintendent Maria Suttmeier and Business Manager Robert Yusko also attended.
Peter Reiss said that amending the zoning law so Ms. Kline could move in her business would be good for everybody and that it would increase employment in the area and the town’s tax base.
“What we’re looking at here is an opportunity for a known entity that would clearly be a successful hamlet-appropriate business in harmony and character in the neighborhood,” he said.
A few residents voiced concerns with the proposed zoning change. Nathan Chess said that if the zoning is changed and Ms. Kline buys the building, she would have the ability to knock it down in the future. Another resident suggested that the town require Ms. Kline to get a use variance rather than change the zoning.
Town Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons said use variances “are extremely difficult to get.”
Town Supervisor Robin Andrews said the property is currently adjacent to the Hamlet Business District, so it the change would mean moving the line, not “spot zoning.” The practice of spot zoning–changing the zoning of an isolated segment of land inconsistent with the zone that surrounds it–is is not usually permissible.
Board member Katy Cashen said that if the zoning law is not amended and Ms. Kline does not buy the building, the school district will still plan on selling the building regardless of the property’s zoning law.
Ian Nitschke, chair of the town’s Historical Preservation Advisory Committee, believes the town should acquire the building. He said that the town gave the brick structure to the school district for $1 years ago and the school district should return it for the same amount.
But both Ms. Andrews and the realtor representing the school district, Craig Haigh, said that no records could be found that the town ever owned the building.
Ms. Andrews said the town is interested in purchasing the building from the school district for $1, with the intent of turning it into a Town Hall.
“That’s not going to happen,” said Mr. Yusko, the school business manager.
He said that the school district still owes over $400,000 in debt on the building.
“Financially, we are just not in a position” to donate the building, said Ms. Suttmeier.
Town Board member Michael Johnston said that the school district should not be expected to give the building to the town.
Mr. Yusko said that even if the zoning change is approved by the town, the sale of the building to Ms. Kline would still depend on a vote by the taxpayers of the school district. He said the district wanted to include the vote on the school district’s May 21 ballot, but Claverack’s zoning change process won’t be finished in time, since it requires a 30-day public comment period.
This means the school district would have to hold a special election in the fall for taxpayers to vote on whether to approve the sale of the building, Mr. Yusko said. He added that holding a special election would cost the district as much as an additional $20,000.
The district doesn’t want to include the vote on the May ballot without knowing whether the zoning changes will be approved by the town; if the zoning is not changed then Ms. Kline will no longer be interested in purchasing the building.
“That would create a whole mess for the Town of Claverack and the school district,” Mr. Yusko said.
The building, which is currently occupied by the Columbia County Court, is leased by the county. The lease runs until the end of 2013 and may be extended on a monthly basis if the county is not ready to leave.
Mr. Yusko said that if the zoning is changed and the voters approve the sale in the fall, then Ms. Kline would take over the lease with the county.
Also at the April 11 meeting:
•Peter Reiss, chair of the Agricultural Advisory Committee, said the county’s Agriculture and Farmland Protection Committee has finalized the Farmland Protection Plan for review and approval by the county Board of Supervisors
•The board approved the appointment of Chris Post to fill a vacancy on the Zoning Board.
•The board approved the appointment of Lauren Bell as Deputy Clerk.