CHATHAM— A Town Board Committee held a public meeting on Saturday, March 26 at the Tri-Village Fire Company so that Town Planner Michael Allen could go over the answers on a survey about the Comprehensive Plan update. Mr. Allen reviewed the questions asked of residents in the survey, their answers and talked about economic and business developments he plans to recommend to the town as it updates its nearly 13-year-old Comprehensive Plan.
Mr. Allen, from Regrowth Planning, was hired by the Town Board in April of last year to help with the update. The Comprehensive Plan Update Review Committee (CPURC) had been working on updating the plan since 2020, which was approved by the Town Board in 2009. Councilwoman Abi Mesick, co-chair of the CPURC, asked the board to hire Mr. Allen, saying the board would get a “superior product” working with the planner.
The committee and Mr. Allen produced a town-wide community survey in the fall of 2021. Results were finalized in January of 2022. Mr. Allen said that surveys were emailed and then residents who didn’t fill it out online were sent a survey in the mail; 864 online surveys and 289 paper surveys were returned for a total of 1,153. Mr. Allen said that was about a 39% return, which he said at the meeting last Saturday was “very good.” He said that normally it’s a good turnout with about 30% response.
Over 50 people attended the in-person meeting at the firehouse in Old Chatham and more residents attended on Zoom. As Mr. Allen went through the sections of the survey, he stopped for questions from both the in-person and online audiences. He also said there would be a video of the presentation on the town’s website at www.chathamnewyork.us
And he said that people could still submit comments after the meeting at www.regrowthplanning.com/chatham
There is also a link to the survey results on the town’s website.
According to the information handed out at the meeting, a Comprehensive Plan “outlines long-term goals and vision for the town, particularly as it relates to policies and goals for future land use and development. These goals and visions should be updated periodically and developed from discussions with local residents, property and business owners.”
Mr. Allen said that from the survey it was clear that residents like things the way they are and want to keep it that way. He mentioned maintaining the rural character of the town and working with the farming community. Issues like large solar farms and what type of housing people would like to see in the community were also part of the survey. There was a question about the regulation of short-term rentals on the survey and discussion at the public meeting.
‘These goals and visions should be updated periodically….’
Guidance for communities updating a Comprehensive Plan
Residents commented on the issue of affordable housing and transportation in the area, especially for seniors. There were comments about taxes and concerns about the maintenance of dirt roads at the meeting. At the very end, there was a discussion about Crellin Park and the worry that improvements might mean higher taxes.
When discussing businesses and commercial zoning in the area, Mr. Allen stressed a few times that the town had no control over the Village of Chatham, which has its own Comprehensive Plan and zoning law, but that the town could work with the village and that there is the possibility of growth of a commercial sector for the town right outside the village borders. He also said that the survey showed that residents did not want “big box or chain stores.”
The plan Mr. Allen presented is to work with focus groups this spring and then have a draft Comprehensive Plan by this summer with a final draft by late summer. After the update is approved by the board, the work begins on looking at the town’s zoning law and how it fits with the plan.
Mr. Allen said the committee plans to meet with 5 focus groups on the topics of solar energy, affordable housing, CAP (Chatham Agricultural Partnership), young families and seniors. About 25% of the people who filled out the survey, the largest group, reported their ages as 66 to 75 and the next largest group (24%) said they were 56 to 65. Councilwoman Destiny Hallenbeck, who is also on CPURC, talked about ways to get comments from younger residents.
In 2020, before the shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the CPURC had planned to have meetings in the town’s hamlets. Mr. Allen said they hoped to go back to hamlet meetings.
He did not discuss at the March 26 meeting when the focus groups or other meetings would take place. Information on CPURC and the schedule of their meetings is on the town’s website.
The Town Board has a long history with this current Comprehensive Plan. In 2016, the then Town Board, with a different supervisor and council members, hired a different planner to take over updating the town’s zoning laws to be in line with the Comprehensive Plan from the Zoning Implementation Committee (ZIC).
The ZIC was formed in 2011 “to produce the legal language for modifying the zoning regulations to implement the plan,” according to the town’s website. In 2019, the board created the Comprehensive Plan Update Committee and proposed changes to the zoning law. There was community outcry over the proposed changes to the zoning. Those changes were never passed. And when a new supervisor and Town Board members took office in 2020, the focus became updating the Comprehensive Plan.