Talk of land use regulation draws crowds in G’town

GERMANTOWN—Planning and zoning appear to be the town’s story this spring.

Thursday, June 1 at 7 p.m., was the Public Hearing on the draft update of the town’s Comprehensive Plan. The update has been in the works since a committee was appointed to the task last fall. The 109-page document that resulted is on the town website, germantownny.org. Those looking to catch up quickly on the update might zero in on Section 11, nine pages of Action Strategies, including timelines and responsible parties.

And last week the Planning Board met for three hours, discussing with a packed town hall new businesses, old violations and a proposed law for commercial venues.

An SRO audience attended the May 25 Public Hearing on an application from Michael C. Lueck of Red Hook to move a 1955 diner to Route 9G at Sharpes Landing Road. More than a dozen residents spoke at the hearing and even those few who had questions about the project said they were for it.

Hugh McLean, who lives on Sharpes Landing Road, said he was in favor the of the diner but has concerns about the septic system and the leach field, and about visibility turning out of the parking lot.

Planning Board chairman Stephen Reynolds responded, saying that the Columbia County Department of Health handles rules for sewage and that Mr. Lueck had hired his own engineer. The state Department of Transportation would have the final word on traffic visibility, he said. From the audience, town Highway Superintendent Richard Jennings said he had “met with DOT” regarding the site.

In other comments, residents praised the Lueck family, already the proprietors of Central House hotel in town and Charlie O’s restaurant in Red Hook, and their willingness to risk more money on Germantown.

Lindsay Fink said the diner would be a good place for the town’s youth to hang out after games and to find work. Ms. Fink added that the town needed a place for “year-round people”; others took up that thought more bluntly.

“We need a place in Germantown where we can get a meal that’s not expensive,” said John Myers. “The city people are getting everything done for them. There’s nothing else for the natives.” He agreed that “you always have to check drainage so you don’t contaminate wells, but the site view and all this garbage shouldn’t have anything to say about something I feel is needed.”

Mr. Myers was not alone in seeming to dismiss the scenic view overlay district along the west side of Route 9G that is part of the town’s current zoning law.

“This is going to be better for the town,” Town Board member Brittany DuFresne said about the diner. “We’re running out of space to put businesses. If you lock down 9G for business because of our view of the mountains, Germantown won’t have any new businesses.”

Supporting the diner, Ripley Hathaway said, “My concern is that with all this zoning and planning, it’s harder and harder for people to come in and start a business.”

“Viewshed and business don’t have to be antagonistic,” said Mr. Reynolds. “It’s possible to keep our viewshed and encourage economic development.”

“Protecting our scenic view has become elitist,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday, May 30. “But the view is something that everyone can enjoy.”

The Planning Board unanimously approved the diner’s site plan review, pending approval from the Columbia County Planning Board. About half the residents present then left the meeting.

In other business:

• Kelly Geary discussed her proposal to put a coffee bar in the eastern half of the former Germantown Variety Store. She would also sell books and records, and beer and wine in the evening. Ms. Geary did not yet have a lease on the property. She does not propose outdoor seating. She said she planned to apply for a tavern license, for the on-premises sale of beer and wine only.

The next step, Mr. Reynolds said Tuesday, would be a diagram of the restaurant and a listing of specifications, such as the number of tables, hours of operation and signage

• The board discussed with Henrietta D’Souza what Mr. Reynolds later referred to as “violations” on her property on the west side of Route 9G, just north of County Route 8/Main Street. The D’Souzas wish to subdivide that property and sell 1.6 acres to Primax Properties, which has a proposal before the Planning Board to build a Dollar General retail store there.

Asked Tuesday if the violations have any effect on the subdivision, Mr. Reynolds said “No. The matter of the subdivision has no bearing on what are called those violations. Some lawyers might see a relationship, but I’ve been told that there is no ‘bad actor’ clause that would preclude a subdivision. That’s the stance the Planning Board is taking, that there is no relation”

• After The Columbia Paper left the meeting, a discussion about the proposed law that would expand commercial venues in town took place that Mr. Reynolds described as “contentious” and, for him, “emotionally draining.” The consensus was not to rush forward with the proposed law, he said, but rather to review the town’s zoning after the Comprehensive Plan Update has been approved by the Town Board. The Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend postponing the new law until that time.

The Town Board sought an opinion from the Planning Board, but “we have no power over the Town Board,” Mr. Reynolds noted.

In addition to Mr. Reynolds, all Planning Board members attended the meeting: Karrie Abela, Peter Dedrick, Margaret Della Cioppa, Rao Gaddipati, Tim Otty and George Sharpe Sr.

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