Chatham to put special use permits on hold

CHATHAM–The Town Board passed a motion last week directing the town attorney to draft a resolution that would place a moratorium on special use permits for development on town roads.

At the January 15 board meeting, the board heard from members of Thomas Street Conservation Alliance, a group of neighbors protesting an application for a 40-person tennis camp on the residential street now being reviewed by the town Zoning Board of Appeals. “Our concerns are focused specifically on the unsuitability of the site, which will generate serious environmental as well as safety issues,” said a statement that representatives from the group read to the board. Thomas Road is a residential, dirt road.

No one representing the owner of the property where the tennis camp is proposed spoke at the meeting.

The ZBA had scheduled a public hearing to receive comments on the proposed camp’s application for special use permit for Thursday, January 22. They postponed the pubic hearing because of the proposed moratorium. The next ZBA meeting will be Thursday, February 26.

The statement by Thomas Road residents refers to the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which seeks to maintain Chatham’s rural character and “to foster growth that strives to keep its farming heritage alive.” As part of their statement, opponents of the camp, said, “This special use permit does not reconcile with the intent of the town’s plan.”

The group has asked the board to adopt a moratorium to stop the special permit.

When asked by The Columbia Paper whether the board’s motion to impose a moratorium would affect the ZBA’s decision on the project, Chatham Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt said, “We’re taking our own tack and seeing how it plays out.”

Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea said that the town has a committee currently reviewing the town’s zoning laws and hopes to present its report to the board this spring. Some of the new zoning addresses situations like the one on Thomas Road, Mr. Rappleyea told the board. “The zoning laws will have ways to help protect those roads,” he said of the town’s rural, unpaved lanes.

In a phone interview after the meeting, Mr. Rappleyea said that the application for the Thomas Road project would be affected by the moratorium even though the application is already filed. He said the applicant would have to have the project already approved by the ZBA and permits granted to move forward under a moratorium, and since the Thomas Road tennis camp project has not been approved by the ZBA, the town board’s moratorium would “put it on hold.”

Karen Murphy, president of the Thomas Street Conservation Alliance, said in a phone interview after last week’s meeting that the group was delighted the board was moving forward with the moratorium.

She emailed a statement to The Columbia Paper saying, “We are extremely grateful to the Chatham Town Board for its unanimous recognition of the importance of protecting the character and beauty of Chatham and its rural, and often unpaved, dirt roads by initiating a moratorium on the approval of special use permits until the new, more protective, zoning laws are enacted.”

All members of the board who attended the meeting voted to move forward with creating the moratorium after an executive session, closed to the public and press. Supervisor DeGroodt said at the meeting that the purpose of the executive session was to discuss proposed, pending or current litigation. A board can close a meeting to get advice from its attorney under attorney-client privilege, according to the state Committee of Open on Government. But under the state Open Meetings Law, the Chatham Town Board should not have gone into executive session in this case, since the town is not currently being sued over the moratorium. According to an attorney for the Open Government Committee, which functions as part of the state Department of State, the courts have determined that “the mere possibility, threat or fear of litigation would be insufficient to conduct an executive session.”

Also at last week’s meeting:

  • The board passed a motion to rename the White Mills Bridge in Chatham Center, calling it Landphear’s Crossing, after a local family. Though the official name on maps will remain White Mills Bridge, the town will put a plaque at the site in recognition of the family
  • The board hired the engineering firm of Barton & Loguidice for $7,800 to develop concept plan layouts for the town hall building, and to come up with construction costs. The board has discussed expanding the town hall to accommodate the town court, which is now held in the Tracy Memorial/Village Hall in the Village of Chatham.

The town board will hold a workshop meeting on February 5 at 7 p.m.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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