Chatham hears zoning plan support from front-line officials

CHATHAM–The Town Board held a regular meeting last week where they discussed Crellin Park and signed a lease agreement with the Village of Chatham to continue using the upstairs of the Tracy Memorial/Village Hall as the town courtroom and court offices.

The proposed new zoning law was also mentioned at the beginning of the July 18 meeting. Resident David Levow read a statement to the board about the July 8 question and answer meeting on the proposed law the board held at the Tri-Village Firehouse. In his statement he said, “I was troubled by the responses of the town planner to some of questions posed by the audience.” He said that he did not expect Town Planner Nan Stolzenburg to have every answer “at her fingertips” but he said, “some members of the audience seemed better prepared than she was.”

He asked the board to consider whether Ms. Stolzenburg has “outlived her usefulness” to the town.

The Town Board has been reviewing the proposed law for several months, and before that two different committees worked on updating the law for years. The board hired Ms. Stolzenburg three years ago to work with a newly formed committee on updating the zoning laws in a way that conforms with the town’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan. The Town Board planned to pass the new zoning law in June but postponed the vote to make more changes partially due to residents’ concerns.

Town Attorney Sal Ferlazzo, who was at both the July 8 and 18 meetings, said there were stacks of cards with questions at the meeting that he helped sort through. He wrote a letter answering some of the legal questions asked at the July 8 meeting, which the board posted on the town website.

“It’s very difficult to get peppered with questions,” he said of the July 8 meeting.

He also stressed that “we did not bury controversial questions.”

He praised the board for “its amazing transparency” and hosting the question and answer meeting, saying that meeting was “gratuitous.”

“That is extra due process,” he said.

Mr. Ferlazzo also talked about the importance of having zoning laws.

The board also asked the town’s code enforcement officer (CEO) and the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) chairs to comment on the proposed zoning law.

Town CEO Kent Pratt said that the proposed law will make it “easier to classify these applications.” He said he saw no conflicts between the proposed law and current state agricultural law. He said the addition of regulations on short-term rentals in the new law was an important safety issue and that he and Building Inspector Jim Quinn felt the new code would help them in their jobs.

Planning Board Chair Gabriella Sperry also said the new law would help her board by moving special use permit applications from the ZBA to the Planning Board.

“This will be a huge plus,” she said, and will speed up the process for many applications. She talked about the Planning Board application process and how applications currently have to go back and forth between her board and the ZBA.

She also said the new law “contains the specificity that the Planning Board needs.”

Ms. Sperry said that the first email she sent about the proposed law, with suggestions to the town committee that was working with the town planner on updating the law, was in October 2017 and that there were also other email exchanges. She said she sent the committee a list of issues the Planning Board needed in the new law.

“I think it’s obvious that the Planning Board needs this new zoning law,” she said.

Ms. Sperry is running for a seat on the town board this November on the Democratic party line.

ZBA Chair Dan Persing said he asked his board not to comment on the proposed zoning law and he said he would not comment either but he did say that clarity in the law was important and that “the more specificity we have in our law just helps us.” He also said the ZBA’s “powers are going to be reduced in the new law” but that the ZBA deciding on special use permits “just elongates the process.”

At the end of the meeting a resident asked when the board planned to have the answers to questions that were asked after the July 8 meeting. Supervisor Maria Lull said Ms. Stolzenburg and Councilman Bob Balcom (who as not at the July 18 meeting) have been reviewing the cards submitted at the meeting but were not read and the answers are now with the town’s attorney for land use for review. The board hopes to have answers on the website and board members also talked about posting questions on the website so that residents know what has been asked.

There is no set date for when the board plans to adopt the new law.

Also at the meeting:

• The board received bids for work to complete the pavilion at Crellin Park. Councilman John Wapner, who sits on the town’s Recreation Committee, said the bids came in higher than expected. He said they plan to put out the bids again during the next construction cycle. If the board cannot get the price for the work to match the proposed budget, Mr. Wapner said they would look into prefabricated buildings. He said the committee is working on having that plan in place. “If we do that, it’s 8 weeks and you’re done,” he said

• The board also looked at bids for repairs to the tennis courts at Crellin Park but tabled accepting a bid so that they can get more information

• Supervisor Lull said that the town received a letter from the state Department of Transportation saying the plans for a traffic light over the Albany Turnpike Bridge in East Chatham are in the design approval phase. She said the project is moving along

• The supervisor also reported on another letter from the state saying that the Thruway Authority is going to cashless tolling and that will change the entrances to I-90 and I-87 from booths to all digital recorded tolls including E-ZPass

• The board entered into a one-year lease with village to use the Tracy Memorial for the Town Court at a cost of $1,650 a month.

The next regular board meeting will be August 15 at 6 p.m. in the Town Hall on Route 295.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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