CHATHAM – The Town Board hired Tal Rappleyea as town attorney at their February 20 meeting. He will be paid at a rate of $125 an hour, with a $833.33 monthly retainer.
Mr. Rappleyea had been appointed as town attorney for an interim period in January. This new appointment runs through December. He was town attorney for 16 years before being replaced by a new law firm in 2016. The previous board hired two attorneys–one for town business and another for land use issues.
Town Supervisor Donal Collins said Mr. Rappleyea was the only person to apply for the position, which the board advertised for in January.
Mr. Rappleyea brought paperwork to the February 20 meeting required by the state for an environmental review of proposed changes to the town zoning law. The changes include regulations affecting short-term rentals (STRs). He advised the board to pass a motion declaring the town “lead agency” for the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR).
The board will have to complete the SEQR and declare that the proposed amendments to the zoning law would have no adverse environmental impacts (a so-called “negative declaration”). That would clear the way for the town to hold a public hearing on the proposed changes and then to adopt them as part of the town zoning law.
Councilman John Wapner was the only board member to vote against both the motion to hire Mr. Rappleyea and the motion to approve SEQR lead agency status.
The board held a workshop meeting at the beginning of the month to look at proposed STR regulations. Residents at the meeting talked about their concerns and the benefits of allowing STRs in the town. There was no discussion about the details of the proposed regulations drafted by Councilwoman Abi Mesick at the workshop meeting.
At the February 20 meeting, Ms. Mesick said it was her understanding that at the next workshop meeting on March 5 the board and residents would discuss the updated proposed regulations. She also said she hoped to send the proposed law to the county Planning Board for review, another step that would move the proposed law closer to a vote by the board.
She said of having a new law for the Town Board to vote on, “I think we are really close.”
The new draft of the proposed local law is now online at https://www.chathamnewyork.us/Announcements/index.php
The new proposed regulations include definitions for Investment Short-Term Rental and Standard Short-Term Rental (SSTR). SSTRs include 3 classes in proposed regulations: Primary Residence, Second Homeowner and Accessory. There would an annual permit on SSTRs, given by the Code Enforcement Officer, with a $50 fee. Also in the definitions was a Good Neighbor Statement, which in the proposed regulation “shall be made available. SSTR owners are strongly encouraged to review this statement with visitors to avoid trespassing on private property and possible violations to the Town Code such as noise, parking and littering.”
There is also a section for proposed fines and penalties.
Board member Kevin Weldon asked if board members could see the proposed law first. He said he didn’t know what was changed in the regulations Ms. Mesick was proposing.
Ms. Mesick stressed that the board needed to move forward with passing regulations so that they can get “control of” STRs. “We have zero control,” she said because there are no STR regulations in the current zoning law.
Cynthia Bobseine, a town resident and head of the town Democratic Committee, was one of two residents who spoke about their concerns over the STR regulations and the speed at which the board was moving toward passing them. She pointed out that proposed regulations were “extremely controversial” when the previous Town Board had discussed the issue of zoning updates.
Ms. Bobseine also said that the town would be changing the zoning law before the board finishes its review of the town Comprehensive Plan. In January, the Town Board appointed a committee members to start that review.
Mr. Rappleyea, commenting on another resident’s concerns about moving the proposed law along to a vote, said he didn’t think this process was hurried and that STR regulations had been on the board’s agenda for a long time.
Ms. Mesick also said that even if the board passes the regulations, that is “not the end of the discussion.”
Also at the meeting:
• The board heard from Sheriff 1st Sergeant Louis Bray about the Enhanced Enforcement Patrol program in the town. The town has had the enhanced enforcement agreement with the County Sheriff’s Office since 2016 on a yearly contract to have extra hours of patrolling by a sheriff’s deputy.
Sgt. Bray said that mostly the enhancement patrols deal with traffic issues but they can also be used for town events like parades. He said the goal when giving out tickets is not to raise revenues for the town. He said the tickets are “not a cash cow for the town.”
“We do it because there is a need for it,” he said of the program.
Sgt. Bray also said the town could tell the Sheriff’s Office where the areas are that they feel need to be patrolled but that “the town’s not going to tell the sheriff how to do police work.”
By signing the contract, he said, the town is not obligated to use the patrol for the whole 12 months. He said that the town could call for the patrols when it is needed.
Highway Superintendent Joe Rickert said at the meeting that he appreciated the help he received from the Sheriff’s Office, adding, “I hope this service continues.” The board approved contract at the February 20 meeting
• The board briefly discussed the construction of the proposed pavilion at Crellin Park. The board was planning to move forward with construction to upgrade the structure in the spring but needed to put it off since it would not be a good time for the town Highway Department to do some of the work that would save the town funds on the construction costs.
Councilman Wapner, who is on the town’s Recreation Committee, said of the plan, “It’s very much in flux.”
Recreation Director Michael West said that the camp program is looking forward to moving to the front of the park by the swimming pond but if the new pavilion is not ready for summer camp the program would stay in the back pavilion near the soccer fields
• Mr. West was also at the meeting to show the board plans for three miles of trails at the park that would connect to the property owned by PS21, the local performance space that abuts Crellin Park. Mr. West was looking for funding through grants and volunteer work. He said PS21 would be responsible for the sections of the trail that would be on the organization’s property
• Superintendent Rickert announced that the Albany Turnpike Bridge traffic light project construction plans had gone out to bid last week. The plan is to have a sensor traffic light over the bridge in East Chatham.
The next regular meeting will be March 19 at 6:30 p.m.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email