EDITORIAL: What’s Plan B?

YOU GOTTA HAVE IT even if you think you might already have a couple of them lying around. The “you” in this case are towns and villages, which must have a Comprehensive Plan that residents and business owners help write. But that’s not all.

Once your town or village has a plan you have to be sure that your town’s land use rules and regulations (planning and zoning laws, mostly) abide by the goals of the plan. And you have to update your Comprehensive Plan every 15 years, approximately. That’s what the state says.

The Town of Chatham was in the process of updating its plan when the pandemic interrupted the process. Now the town is trying to complete the process, starting with a community survey. The survey results are available online (See Page 1, this issue.) The survey had a response rate of 39%, though it’s hard to tell what response means in terms of overall support for a new plan. That’s because the current plan, adopted in 2009, was never followed by the requirement to update zoning changes so that the laws matched the goals in the 2009 plan.

The town was polarized by zoning change issues and in the November 2019 local election control of the Town Board shifted from Democratic to Republican. Then the pandemic arrived. It wasn’t until last fall that a formal survey was sent to Chatham residents. Last weekend the current Comprehensive Plan Update Review Committee held a public meeting in person and online to explain the results of the survey.

(Here I need to disclose that I was the moderator of a large gathering at the Tri-Village Fire Co. in July 2019 about updating the town’s zoning laws. Both sides on the Town Board agreed to my participation. So on a beautiful summer evening a group of town officials and I sat in the doorway of the firehouse facing standing room only audience of Chatham residents a majority of whom sounded angry or dismayed—it was hard to tell sometimes, but audience members and the officials were respectful.)

As far as we know, this latest effort to comply with state Comprehensive Plan requirements hasn’t triggered any single issue debates over personal freedoms or hot-button talking points; not yet, anyway. But this is a mid-term election year and there is still plenty of time for people who want to graft false narratives onto local matters.

Or maybe because here in the world of fact most of us have more pressing concerns that require our attention.

What’s the next step? To avoid the kind of stalemate that grew out the 2019 zoning proposals all sides must be to prepared compromise. On what, we don’t yet know, because there is no updated Comprehensive Plan. It’s not about the specifics, it’s about attitude.

The alternative to compromise is a lot of time and effort aimed at adopting a vague and aspirational document that nobody is willing to support.

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