Chatham’s dirt road debate sounds familiar

CHATHAM–The Town Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) held a joint public hearing last week on Flying Deer Nature Center’s application to move its camp program from New Lebanon to a 164-acre property on Daley Road.

In April the Chatham Town Board gave Flying Deer a hardship waiver that exempted it from the town-wide moratorium on new construction on dirt roads. Daley Road in East Chatham, which runs between State Route 295 and County Route 9, is one of the town’s 57 dirt roads. The owners of the property, Jeanne and David Laskin, hope to donate the land to the nonprofit wilderness school. But to move to the site, Flying Deer needs a special use permit from the ZBA and site plan approval from the Planning Board.

It was full house of mostly neighbors and Flying Deer program participants at Chatham Town Hall for the June 22 public hearing. Almost everyone who spoke expressed support for Flying Deer and its programs, but neighbors had concerns about traffic and safety.

Claiborne Walthall, the lawyer for Flying Deer, addressed the boards, saying the camp hoped to make “this their home base” and that “Flying Deer wants to be a good neighbor.” He pointed out that the plan to use the land as a camp is allowed in that zoning district with a special use permit. There are a house and two barns on the property.

Mr. Walthall presented a traffic study, which said that the two worst days for traffic would be “Monday and Friday on the week in July when the Summer Day camp and Summer Overnight Camp overlap. Summer Day Camp has 148 vehicle trips per day, Summer Overnight Camp has 86, and the office use has 9. This is a total of 243 estimated vehicle trips per day.” The summer camps last 5 weeks in June, July and August.

He also pointed out that the camp has no programs in January and only three days of programs in February, as well as a few days of programs in November and December. He said that summer was the big issue.

Flying Deer hosts home school groups and works with local school districts during the school year, as well as hosting teen and adult programs once a month on the weekends in the fall and spring. The traffic study shows that there would be about 10 to 12 cars associated with those programs. There currently is no busing to the camp for the programs but the camp has spoken with Town Highway Superintendent Joe Rickert about having one bus for summer camp.

A couple students who use the program spoke in support of having Flying Deer move to the new site. Many parents also talked about how great the program has been. One parent, Sarah Ward, said of the camp, “I am of no doubt it’s a benefit to the community.”

Rusty Vazac, who lives on Daley Road, said that the Laskins had employed “a lot of people” who drove up and down the road saying that there has been traffic on the road before. He also stressed that Flying Deer was willing to work with the neighbors unlike someone else who might buy the property.

But other Daley Road residents voiced concerns. Ron Toelke, said, “The traffic is the number one issue here.”

“Once they’re there,” he said of the camp, “it’s going to change Daley Road.” He was worried that more traffic would hurt the road and make it harder to maintain. Another neighbor, Peter Elliot, talked about enjoying the current privacy of the road.

People talked about traffic coming in from Route 9, which is closer to the property, rather than coming from Route 295, which would mean cars would have to pass most of the houses on the road and negotiate a tight curve.

Jonathan Applefield, who lives next door to the Laskin property and would be one of the houses affected by traffic coming from Route 9, said that at first he signed a petition opposing the project, but he’d changed his mind. He did stress to the board that though he supported the camp he wanted to make sure that the neighbors at his end of the street didn’t have to take on the burden of the all the incoming traffic.

Route 9 resident Steve Anderson pointed out that the town had an issue with another camp that wanted a special use permit on a dirt road, which led to the current moratorium and the town forming a committee to look at uses on dirt roads. He was referring to a homeowner on Thomas Road who proposed a summer tennis camp on his property. Some neighbors objected and the Town Board imposed the moratorium while the town reviewed the zoning laws on dirt roads and whether the law matches the town’s updated Comprehensive Plan. The board plans to review the updated zoning laws this summer after several years of work.

Mr. Anderson pointed out that the Thomas Road neighbors had issues with safety and getting emergency vehicles to the site.

“Here we have a project that is almost the same,” he said of the Flying Deer application. He asked the Planning Board and ZBA to wait and see what suggestions the town’s new roads committee comes up with before moving forward with the approval process.

The boards agreed to close the public hearing. The chairs of both the Planning Board and ZBA stressed that this is a process and that they were looking from the communities input. The boards will meet separately to decide on their approvals for the project. The Planning Board meets again Tuesday, July 11 and the ZBA meets Thursday, July 27.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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