Chatham board denies hardship waiver

CHATHAM–The Town Board voted 3 to 2 the week to deny a hardship waiver of the moratorium that prevents construction on property along the town’s unpaved roads. The waiver had been requested by Adam Slone for his tennis camp project.

Town Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt made the motion to grant the waiver for Mr. Slone at a special board meeting Tuesday, July 7. He and Councilman Henry Swartz voted for the waiver. Town board members Maria Lull, Jean Rohde and Bob Balcom voted against.

Mr. Slone had applied to the town Zoning Board of Appeals for a special use permit to build five to six tennis courts on his property on Thomas Road, which is unpaved. He planned to host a not-for-profit tennis camp at the property for about six weeks in the summer. But before his project could go to a public hearing in front of the ZBA, the town imposed a building moratorium on unpaved roads.

The Town Board said the moratorium was needed to give the town Zoning Implementation Committee (ZIC) time to finish its review of the town’s zoning laws and its recommendations for zoning changes that conform to the town’s new Comprehensive Plan.

Mr. Slone withdrew his application to the ZBA in February just before the moratorium was adopted. Then he applied for a hardship waiver, which if granted would have meant that his application could go back to ZBA for review.

His waiver hearing was tabled for four months while Mr. Slone and a committee appointed by the Town Board discussed the idea of the idea of creating new tennis courts at Crellin Park, a town facility. The Town Board eventually rejected that plan.

The board then held a public hearing on the waiver request June 24, at which Mr. Slone spoke about the money he had invested and the hardship the moratorium created for him. His lawyer said in a letter to the board that Mr. Slone had not been able to raise funds for his tennis camp, which would serve underprivileged children.

Residents who support the moratorium and opposed the waiver also spoke at the public hearing. They noted the rural character of Chatham and the need to update the zoning laws. Many also pointed out that Mr. Slone needed to prove his hardship.

Speaking in support of the waiver at the July meeting, Mr. DeGroodt mentioned Mr. Slone’s claim that he was losing his opportunity to attract donors for his not-for-profit camp. He also said that Mr. Slone had been very accommodating to the town and agreed to allow local students to use the camp.

The supervisor also said that he had faith in the ZBA and the thoroughness of its review of Mr. Slone’s plans. “We should let them do their work,” he said.

Mr. Swartz said that this was something he thought the ZBA should handle and he said that he felt on under the new Comprehensive Plan, this camp would be approved.

Councilwoman Maria Lull said that she had read the public file on Mr. Slone’s application to the IRS for not-for-profit status, called 501(c)(3), for the tennis camp, which the town had just received. She said it detailed Mr. Slone’s plans not only for the tennis camp but his plan to lease the property to other not-for-profits and to for-profit companies for educational use and corporate retreats. She said reading the application “leads me to believe we don’t have all the facts of this whole enterprise.”

Mr. Balcom said that it was all about the Comprehensive Plan for him and the moratorium was put in place so that the board could review the new zoning laws. “The moratorium we passed was to give us breathing room,” he said.

He also disputed Mr. Slone’s claims for financial hardship. “The expenses are not above and beyond anyone else seeking a… special use permit,” he said of the money Mr. Slone has spent.

Councilwoman Jean Rohde, who also sits on ZIC, said that what she heard from residents when the board started looking at the zoning laws was, “We love our dirt roads.”

“I still believe that we need to protect our dirt roads,” she said.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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