Chatham sets hearing on zoning changes, but which ones?

CHATHAM–In addition to getting letters and emails from the public, three town residents attended to the July 18 Town Board meeting to voice their concerns over the proposed overhaul of the town’s zoning law. The board posted the proposed updates to the zoning law on the town website and held an informational meeting in June. The board plans to hold a public hearing on the proposed law Thursday, August 2.

The residents were concerned about the regulations on short-term rentals, like Airbnb, as well as the zoning map, the sections on wedding receptions/parties and agri-tourism.

Resident Wendy Carroll had several issues with the proposed changes especially a section about gravel roads that must be accessible from state or county highway. She was also concerned with the section on wedding receptions and talked about the zoning map saying, “a potential priority for the next phase might be to consider the fiscal and environmental impact of the zoning map, initially conceived in 1972.”

Christie Ellis of Malden Bridge wrote to the board and spoke about the narrow definition of “agri-toursim.” She wrote in a letter to the board that defining agri-tourism only as activities conducted on a farm and only when the activities are secondary to primary farm use “will be harmful not only to the farms in our area, but will also be harmful to the entire community.”

Elizabeth Marks, who also sent a letter to the board and spoke at the meeting, said her guest house that she rents out on Airbnb has “been a godsend.” She said it’s helped her stay in her home. She told the board that having short-term rentals like the one she has are a financial boon to the town and the county. She said that she didn’t think the proposed regulations would help the town.

She told the board that it seemed like “these regulations are cracking down harder on short-term rentals.”

Ms. Marks also said she didn’t agree on the regulations in the wedding reception, saying that weddings bring a lot of revenue to the area and that business would just move to Kinderhook.

Since posting the changes in June, Town Planner Nan Stolzenburg made additional changes to the proposed zoning law at the direction of the Town Board. The latest changes were recently posted on the town’s website.

Councilman Bob Balcom offered a motion to accept the proposed law presented to the board July 12 as the one that will be discussed at the public hearing next week.

“I think it’s backwards,” said Councilman John Wapner of having the changes published before the board discussed them. He and two other board members said they thought that Ms. Stolzenburg would be at the meeting to discuss the changes.

“It’s not a document that I think is done,” Mr. Wapner said. He said later in the discussion that he felt the board needed to go into the public hearing with a document that is thoroughly “hashed out.” Mr. Wapner said his biggest issue is with the sections on signs and short-term rentals.

Mr. Balcom said the board needed to look at the section on wedding receptions. But he also said that the document is “virtually ready” and sufficient for a public hearing.

Town Attorney Sal Ferlazzo stressed that a public hearing is not a time to debate the public but that the board will be listening and recording comments. He said the hearing is a time for the board to get information from the public about the proposed law.

Councilwoman Landra Haber said the proposed law “is not written in stone.”

“We will take the public comments very seriously,” she said. Ms. Haber said she wanted to move forward with the process.

They discussed postponing the August 2 public hearing and trying to meet with Ms. Stolzenberg and the town attorney for land use.

Supervisor Maria Lull said postponing the public hearing would be “very unfortunate.”

The board tabled Mr. Balcom’s motion about which draft would be used for the hearing and members said they planned to continue discussing the zoning after a closed door session with their attorney on a different matter.

Town Clerk said after the meeting that the hearing on the proposed zoning law is still set for Thursday, August 2 at 6 p.m. at the Tri-Village Fire Company, 111 County Route 13, Old Chatham.

The proposed zoning law is on the town website chathamnewyork.us.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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