What’s the hurry?

CHATHAM–The Town Board held a special meeting Thursday, July 11 to discuss the question-and-answer forum held July 8 and the follow-up meetings between board members and residents about the proposed new zoning law.

“I personally feel the meeting the other night was very productive,” said Supervisor Maria Lull, referring to the meeting last Monday at the Tri-Village Firehouse attended by well over 200 people. At that meeting the board asked residents to write their questions on cards. Ms. Lull said that all the questions on the cards, including those that could not be answered at the forum, have been reviewed by Councilman Bob Balcom and Town Planner Nan Stolzenburg.

The supervisor also said the board received a letter from Town Attorney Sal Ferlazzo confirming the way the questions were chosen and that “oral follow up questions were allowed on numerous occasions.”

“The two hour time slot did not allow all questions to be asked and answered but in no way did we seek to prevent any question from being addressed and I understand that all written questions will be considered as part of post meeting review,” Mr. Ferlazzo wrote. He did not attend Thursday’s special meeting.

Mr. Ferlazzo’s letter also addressed some of the legal questions asked at the meeting. One question asked was whether the board could put the proposed zoning law up for a public vote in a referendum. “My research confirmed that this option is prohibited by Municipal Home Rule Law Sections 23 and 24,” Mr. Ferlazzo wrote. When answering a question about the town having funds for a legal defense if the law is passed, he wrote “the fact that this Town Board has gone well beyond the requirements of state law by providing an informational meeting answering scores of questions after the public hearing is closed would help in any court defense. It shows that the town is both transparent and accommodating to all viewpoints before it exercised its discretion on a final vote.”

After the meeting on Monday, board members—no more than two at a time–held office hours during the week at the Town Hall and met with about 20 individuals about the proposed zoning. Ms. Lull said that the first night about 6 or 7 people spoke with board members, and the second night another 10 or 12 came.

She said the small meetings involved “a lot of give and take,” but that it all “worked out marvelously” and she suggested the board continue the office hours for the rest of the month. The board picked four more dates: Wednesday, July 17 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. with Councilman John Wapner and Councilman Michael Richardson; Tuesday, July 23, 5:30 to 7 p.m. with Supervisor Lull and Mr. Richardson; Wednesday, July 24, 4 to 5:30 p.m., with Councilman Balcom and Councilman Kevin Weldon; and Tuesday, July 30, 5 to 6 p.m. with Supervisor Lull and Mr. Balcom.

If more than two board members gather, it would be a quorum of the board and would require a special meeting.

Ms. Lull said the board is considering a mailing to residents to inform them about the proposed law. She also hopes to have a public meeting with the town code enforcement officer, and the chairs of the Zoning Board Appeals and the Planning Board. Ms. Lull said the CEO could explain how he works with applicants on zoning issues.

The supervisor said the town’s communication committee is looking into collecting email addresses to send out email blasts and also looking into launching a Facebook page.

At a meeting June 20, board members expressed support for adopting the proposed zoning law. But they could not vote at that time because of a change required by state law and a 10-day waiting period following the change. Over a hundred people attended that June meeting, with several making comments critical of the zoning proposal. That prompted the board to host the question and answer forum on July 8.

At Thursday’s meeting, Councilman Richardson read a new statement saying he would vote “no” on the proposed zoning law as it is now. He said he had talked with “many citizens who have recommendations for changes” to the proposed law. He cited “property design in the hamlet and rural-land zones, definition of domicile, home occupations, boat storage, and museums in rural-land zones,” as some of the topics.

“Most, if not all, of these recommendations should have been debated and compromises made” by the zoning committee that drafted the zoning law proposal last year, he said. And because those many issues are still being debated, “I find that it is now imperative that the Town Board amend the proposed law based on some of the recommendations noted.”

Mr. Richardson said the board could pass the law now and make changes later but he did not think that would be a good idea. Instead, he recommended, “there is another option: the town board could ‘amend now–vote later.’”

The board then reviewed several changes in the proposed law that had been suggested by community members. There were short, easy changes that had to do with cleaning up wording. Larger changes–like the ones affecting short-term rentals, the definition of a membership club and the use of “should” or “shall” in the proposed law—now await discussion at another meeting or when the board has more information.

Both Mr. Richardson and Mr. Wapner suggested that members of the town’s Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee come in to explain some of what is in the proposed law. That committee was formed around 2016 to work with Town Planner Stolzenburg to review the work of the Zoning Implementation Committee (ZIC). The ZIC was a committee that worked from about 2009 to 2015, on updating the zoning laws, making them more inline with the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which was passed in 2009.

Mr. Balcom’s notes from the special board meeting and the issues that the board has decided to change in the proposed zoning law are online at the town’s website at www.chathamnewyork.us.

During the discussion board members talked about how some of the wording in the new law comes directly from the current law, including the section on penalties.

There was also a discussion of reducing the domicile requirement in the short-term rental section of the proposal from 160 days to 90.

Comments from the public included one resident who asked the board to publish a “red line” version of the proposed law with the existing law; another asked about the board reviewing the proposal section by section.

Mr. Balcom said a red-lined version of the law would be longer than the current document, which runs more than 230 pages.

Mr. Wapner told residents with questions to keep asking. “This is the opportunity for you to read carefully and present these things,” he said.

Mr. Richardson asked about the approval process for the new law staying on “an aggressive timeline.” Other board members were not so clear about when they planned to vote on the new law.

“We are going to meet until there is nothing left to meet about,” Mr. Wapner said.

The next regular board meeting will be Thursday, July 18 at 6 p.m. in the Town Hall.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper

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