GERMANTOWN–A town law that would expand commercial event venues was discussed at a Public Hearing before the Town Board meeting on May 16.
The new law would also regulate how owners rent their properties for commercial events such as weddings, parties, meetings, reunions and corporate events. The impetus for the law came from Genette Picicci and Vern Oehlke, who wish to rent their barn and farm property for weddings and possibly other events.
Checking town zoning law for regulations on this kind of business, the couple found none. They appeared before the Town Board at its April meeting citing the need for regulation; according to their materials, for-profit events already occur on private properties.
The public hearing was set and the law drafted.
Proposing the law, Ms. Picicci and Mr. Oehlke noted that events already occurring in town that are now impermissible by law would be codified and regulated; the town would generate revenue from fees paid by host properties; local business and agriculture would be promoted; and agricultural properties would be able to diversify income sources, keeping farmland in production and maintaining agricultural structures such as barns.
The draft law was similar to legislation already passed in Livingston, Clermont and Red Hook, they said. Mr. Oehlke noted that one set of his grandparents moved to Maple Avenue in the 1930s and had a poultry farm in the 1940s. The other set of grandparents had a farm on Church Avenue, where the couple now live.
During the course of the hearing, the couple also asked for an amendment to the draft law’s general regulations. As written, the law would require the general event area to be 500 feet from adjacent owners’ property lines and parking would have to be at least 100 feet within the event property.
Noting that farm structures such as barns are often close to roads, they asked for an exemption regarding parking for properties located in an Agricultural District that receive agricultural assessments.
Ellen Jouret-Epstein and Martin Epstein are not in favor of the law. “I’m very concerned about the potential for introducing commercial uses throughout town, which is what this law would do,” said Ms. Jouret-Epstein.
“We lived through this one weekend last summer,” she said, when a three-day wedding took place on their road. “The wedding was almost half a mile away, but amplified live and recorded music was audible through a driving rainstorm.” The property owner, who did not charge for the site, went away for the weekend.
The draft law would allow music from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Further, said Ms. Jouret-Epstein, she opposed the passage of any new zoning law when the Comprehensive Plan update was close to being finished and might result in zoning law changes in any case.
Stephen Savoris, who chaired the Zoning Board of Appeals for 10 years, seconded her on that point. Sally Saul said that her grandfather had been a farmer and that she empathized with the difficulties of farm life. Still, she said, she was “alarmed at the possibility of commercial events everywhere.” The draft law does not limit the number of people at an event or the number of cars, she noted.
“I ask you to reconsider and not make the draft so wide open,” she said.
Ray Tousey of Clermont, speaking in favor of the law, said “You can turn these events into Woodstock, but it doesn’t have to happen. That’s what the board is for, what the rules are for.” A winery, such as his, and an event space “can generate spinoffs beyond the simple rental of a building.”
No deadline was set for public comments, and Supervisor Joel Craig said the Town Board would take no action between its meetings. He has asked for comment on the law from the Planning Board and the ZBA.
“We have no timeline for completion of the Comprehensive Plan update,” he said after the meeting. “Yes, in a perfect world we would wait, but revision of the zoning law won’t happen this year. A lot of towns are adopting this kind of law and a solar farming law, now.”
The last time the town rezoned, he said “it took almost two years. It could be three years before we have new zoning law, and I have no idea what the next [Town] Board will do.”
Two board member seats are up for election this fall, along with the position of supervisor. Mr. Craig said he would not run for the post again.
In other business:
• The board set a public hearing on a revised resolution for renovation of the town’s wastewater treatment plant for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 20, before the next Town Board meeting. The intent and the amount (no more than $2.5 million) don’t change, just the wording, Mr. Craig said after the meeting. The town’s bond counsel, Christine Chale of Rodenhausen Chale LLC, said the resolution’s language needed to be updated to what is in use today
• Richard Hinkein was appointed by the board to the Columbia County Traffic Safety Board
• Vendors are still sought for the Independence Day celebration, Saturday, July 1
• Supervisor Craig noted the following events: Monday, May 29 Memorial Day Service and Parade begins at the Reformed Church Cemetery, 20 Church Avenue, at 10 a.m., then marches from there to Palatine Park; Thursday, June 1 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall is a public hearing on the draft update of the Comprehensive Plan
• Saturdays, June 3 and 17, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Town Hall is signup for Camp Palatine. June 17 is the last day to sign up.
The next town board meeting is Tuesday, June 20 at 7 p.m.