Longer dirt road build ban sparks 2 pleas for waivers

CHATHAM–The Town Board has extended the moratorium on construction projects along dirt roads. The moratorium, which will now last another six months, has been in place for about two years, according to Town Attorney Sal Ferlazzo.

The board voted to extend the moratorium last March as they waited for results from the Zoning Implementation Committees (ZIC), which was considering changes to the town’s Comprehensive Plan. Since then, ZIC has disbanded and a new committee has been formed to work with zoning consultant Nan Stolzenburg to the review the zoning laws.

At the Town Board meeting last week, Councilman Bob Balcom said that the committee was meeting over the weekend to make final changes that would be brought the board for review soon. After the committee submits the proposed changes to John Lyons, the town attorney for land issues, he will review them and the plan will come back to the Town Board for final review and adoption.

As for the moratorium, several resents spoke in favor of extending it until the Comprehensive Plan is updated and zoning laws governing dirt roads are reviewed. According to the Town Highway Department’s Facebook page there are 57 miles of unpaved road in the town, which is more than half of all town roads.

Residents talked about the rural character of the town at the March 16 meeting. Susan Tanner said of the dirt roads, “They are fragile.” She pointed out that increase traffic on the dirt roads will not help preserve them.

Karen Murphy, who pushed for the original moratorium and is now on the town’s zoning law review committee, said the new plan would preserve and protect the roads for the future.

Mr. Ferlazzo pointed out there was an “escape valve” in the law so that residents could apply for a hardship waiver if they wanted to build on dirt road. The Town Board would have to review any applications for construction on lots on the town’s dirt roads and decide whether to grant the applicant a partial or full waiver.

But attorney Mitchell Khosrova, who attended at the meeting with his clients, said he felt two years of a moratorium was too long. He said his clients are applying for a waiver for their farm so that they can offer farming education programs for people from urban areas. To make the programs possible they need to do some building on the property, he said.

Representatives from Flying Deer Nature Center were also at the meeting with their lawyer. The organization, which holds outdoor programs for all ages including a summer camp and school programs, was given property in Chatham on Daly Road by a local family. Flying Deer currently rents property in New Lebanon for the program. The organization is applying for a hardship waiver as well so it can start working through the planning process with the Town Planning Board.

Mr. Ferlazzo suggested that the board set a public hearing to review the hardship waivers as soon as possible. The board will hear from both parties at the next board meeting April 6.

As for extending the moratorium, all board members at the meeting voted in favor except Henry Swartz, who said he did not support the original moratorium so he did not support the extension. Councilwoman Landra Haber was not at the meeting.

During the public hearing, Highway Superintendent Joe Rickert said that he had a lot of opinions on the state of dirt roads. He said that some roads needed to be paved and some could be maintained as is. “We’ve got to look at the whole big picture,” he said of the town’s many dirt roads.

Also at the meeting:

• Michael E. Rosen was appointed town justice. Mr. Rosen, who has served as town justice before, according to Supervisor Maria Lull, was sworn in at the meeting. Current Town Justice Jason Shaw is retiring at the end of the month

Michael E. Rosen was sworn in as Town Justice by Chatham Town Supervisor Maria Lull at the Town Board meeting on March 16. Photo by Emilia Teasdale

• The board approved allowing groups to serve alcohol at Crellin Park if they apply for permit from the town with a $1,000 deposit and a $250 fee. Alcohol may not be served when there is a youth activity at the park and the applicant must have a liquor license from the state, among other conditions. Councilman Swartz was the only board member who voted against the action, saying that he’d received several phone calls and emails opposing this new permit

• The board also voted to continue the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office Enhanced Enforcement Patrol Contract for 2017. Mr. Swartz said that he and Councilman John Wapner met with a sheriff’s representative and that the patrol will be used to monitor local streets for speeding

• Supervisor Lull announced that as part of the governor’s broadband internet service initiative, Chatham was awarded over $2.5 million. She said that money would not come to the town but would go to the internet providers to install high speed service.

The next Town Board meeting will be a workshop meeting April 6 at 6 p.m. in the Town Hall.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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