Ghent grants variances for Ginsberg’s expansion

GHENT–The town Zoning Board of Appeals has approved all three variances requested by Ginsberg’s, the regional foodservice distribution company looking to expand to a new site along Route 66 at the Claverack town line.

Ginsberg’s, currently located in Claverack, is seeking to build a new facility on a 33-acre parcel on Route 66 that straddles the towns of Ghent and Claverack. The proposal calls for a “phase 1” project to construct a freezer building and offices within one year from starting the project. The “full build” plan involves the rest of the project, including a warehouse to be completed within 10 years. The Ghent and Claverack planning boards have been jointly reviewing the proposal.

Ginsberg’s applied for three area variances from the Ghent code for its proposed project – a variance from a rear-yard setback, a height variance to exceed the town’s 35-foot building height limit by 15 more feet, and a variance to exceed the town’s limit of soil excavated and removed.

The Ghent town zoning code permits only 375 cubic yards of material to be removed. Brandee Nelson, engineer with Crawford and Associates representing Ginsberg’s, said that the company expects to remove 183,000 cubic yards from the site, with about 50,000 cu. yd. coming from the Ghent portion of the property.

The ZBA held a public hearing on the variances last month, when town residents expressed opposition to the project and disputed the type of variance being applied in order to excavate and remove the materials. Attorney Ken Dow asserted the company should have requested what’s called a use variance, not an area variance, because the proposal by Ginsberg’s falls under the definition of “mining.”

But at last week’s ZBA meeting, the zoning board determined the company needed an area variance.

“In the zoning code, the applicant is allowed to remove material from a site for construction,” said ZBA Chairman Mark Huston, explaining his reasoning for the determination on the type of variance.

The board approved the excavation variance with the stipulation that the amount of material removed does not exceed 51,000 cubic yards and the removal is completed within a year from the start of the project.

Mr. Huston said he believes there is a “disconnect” between the 375-cubic-yard limit in the code and the amount needed to build the structures that the zone allows.

Board member John Pohodzay agreed, saying he didn’t believe “there’s a way around it.” He added that the industrial zone in Ghent allows for the types of structures Ginsberg’s has proposed, but the proposal requires removing much more material than the code allows.

The board also approved the height variance, but according to special counsel Joe Castiglione, there may have not been any need for Ginsberg’s to apply for that variance. The town of Ghent’s zoning code limits building heights to 35 feet and Ginsberg’s is looking to build a 50-foot-tall structure. But the code leaves a blank space instead of a number for the height limit in the zone where Ginsberg’s wants to build the new structure.

“If you look at the other areas [in the code], there’s numbers there. So when it’s blank, it’s indicative that there’s no limitation,” said Mr. Castiglione. “The applicant is still pursuing it as a variance and the board is reviewing it as such. But based on the code, it appears there is no height limitation for this district.”

Board members agreed that it must have been an “oversight” or “glitch” when the code was written.

In approving the variance, Mr. Huston said the structure will be “a big building to begin with,” so an extra 15 feet would not be much of a difference.

“It’s going to be a monster building no matter how you look at it,” he said. He added that the board normally doesn’t like to grant variances that exceed code limits by 50% or more; the requested height of 50 feet is 43% higher than the overall town height limit.

While the variances were approved, the planning boards in each town are still reviewing the site plan. Details of the project can be found at www.townofghent.org and www.townofclaverack.com.

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