Legal research resolves Germantown planning dust-up

GERMANTOWN—The Planning Board was scheduled to meet December 3, with its members knowing they can contract with Ted Fink, a certified planner and proprietor of Greenplan, Inc., their advisor of choice.

It was not always thus. At the November 23 Town Board meeting, the Town Board voted 5 to1 to employ a planner from Greenman Pedersen, Inc. (GPI), the town’s engineering firm.

Councilman Donald Westmore voted nay, saying the Town Board should rely on the Planning Board’s choice. “We need a focused person with a particular skill set to assist the Planning Board in evaluating the proposal by Primax Properties for a Dollar General retail store on Route 9G,” said Mr. Westmore.

But Councilman Michael Mortenson, who made the motion to stick with GPI, said that he was familiar with both companies, GPI and Greenplan. “Through my work, I have worked on some projects with [Greenplan]. They’ve been specially chosen to fight against [Dollar General],” he said, “and I’m not interested in that here.”

In the audience Planning Board Chairman Stephen Reynolds and member Margaret Della Cioppa were audibly disappointed. “Our opinions were requested and presented,” said Mr. Reynolds. “What about that was unconvincing? Unless you have your own personal opinions.”

“I do,” replied Mr. Mortenson. “At our reorganization meeting we chose GPI. This [planning advice] is a service they offer. I think we should stick with the company we picked.”

“The Planning Board may choose a consultant,” said Mr. Reynolds. “We want to protect the town from lawsuits, from Primax or anyone else.”

“We think this is best,” said Supervisor Joel Craig. “It was a difficult decision, but I do think that GPI has provided the town with excellent service.”

“For engineering,” said Mr. Reynolds, “not planning. You don’t have the legal authority to refuse the Planning Board.”

Town attorney Tal Rappleyea quashed the argument by stating that under state law the Town Board is the only body in a town that can enter into a contract, and thus, the Town Board could make the final determination as to which consultant could be hired.

Mr. Rappleyea agreed to research the matter further, however, and after doing so, he reversed himself. “I have discovered case law and a 1974 opinion of the State Comptroller which finds that a Planning Board may hire its own experts, within the appropriation set by the Town Board, and that the Planning Board need not utilize those experts employed by the Town Board,” he wrote in a November 25 email.

Tuesday Mr. Reynolds said that the Planning Board had learned of Greenplan, based in Rhinebeck, from a Germantown resident. The planners’ vote to hire Greenplan was also 5 to 1, with one planner holding an opinion similar to that of the Town Board majority: that since GPI was reviewing the engineering aspect of the Primax application, it made sense to use a planner attached to GPI.

“That was the reason we others didn’t like it,” said Mr. Reynolds. “We preferred an independent planner with experience in this kind of application.

“This is the first kind of application of this type in Germantown,” he added. “We’re not necessarily against the Dollar General store, but we want it to conform to the town’s zoning law and its scenic overlay, and to the town’s Comprehensive Plan.”

Mr. Fink will be paid from an escrow account established by the applicant, Primax. His consulting will come at no cost to the town.

Greenplan’s client list on its website includes the Towns of Taghkanic and Copake. Mr. Fink holds degrees in environmental design and in urban planning and policy, and has 30 years of planning experience, according to the website.

The Primax application process continues this evening at 5:30 p.m., with a public information session at Town Hall. This is not a Public Hearing, but after a presentation from Primax, the public is welcome to speak. The Planning Board meeting follows, at 7 p.m.

In other business at the November 23 town board meeting:

  • Nicholas Leno was reappointed to the Board of Assessment Review for a term extending to 2020
  • The board accepted bids of $6,500 for a 1989 tractor/loader and $4,100 for a 1985 tractor, both just above the minimum set. The money will help pay for the town’s new Bobcat Skid Steer Loader
  • Mr. Craig announced the quarterly board workshop meeting for Monday, December 14 and the regular board meeting for Monday, December 21, both at 7 p.m. in Town Hall
  • Donna Diehl reported that 96 people had reservations for the town’s Thanksgiving dinner, on target for the usual count of about 100.

All board members and an audience of about 30 attended the meeting.

 

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