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So they don’t think we’re reading this thing?

The following is a proposal from one of the citizens of Chatham who has read the zoning laws multiple times. We think it would be a fantastic start for the board to consider.

Please read this post with a brief history of where and how these zoning laws came about and the abuse of power by Maria Lull.

Also, in the June 20, 2019 meeting, the Board scolded the public for not being involved up until now. Please read this post with a link to the August 3, 2018 Public Hearing where the public strongly pushed back on these restrictive laws, which at that time were 182 pages and would continue to grow to over 200.


Here are suggestions for creating a zoning law that better fits our rural area and citizens’ needs: 

In embarking on this major revision to the zoning code, I believe the board has undertaken to regulate every possible circumstance it can imagine.  What I mean is that when choosing between a moderate clause (for instance 25 acres to open an inn) the board opted for the extreme option (inns shall be allowed only in business and industrial zones).  At each such point of choice, the town planner, Nan Stolzenburg, urged the adoption of the most extreme language, saying ‘you can always change it later’. In other words, instead of taking a go slow do-no-harm approach, the board consistently chose the most severe option to individuals and the town, with the caveat that ‘it can always be changed later’.

When questioned about the clause that any infringement of the code could carry a fine of $300 and a maximum of 6 months in prison, the town lawyer responded that that provision was seldom used.  But was it taken out?  No.  Again, the board chose to keep the threat in.  That can only be viewed as an attempt to intimidate Chatham’s citizens.  And when calling these further hearings, it was stated that they were for the purpose of informing the public, clarifying any misunderstood regulations, but not for changing any part of the code.

But this is not good enough.  I would suggest that this town board needs to reverse its stance of governing by intimidation, of regulating every possible situation, and adopt a more friendly, neighborly tone.  After all, ‘you can always change it later.’

By this I specifically mean:

Take out specific threats:  Any violation of the zoning code can carry a fine of $200/ day (p.215), although you up it to $500/day for rental violations (p.195), plus civil and potential criminal penalties between $350/ day and $1000/ day for 2nd and 3rd offenses plus up to 6 months in jail.

Take out the removal of garbage cans within 48 hours and instead ask residents to try to secure their garbage cans for the sake of safety (p.150).

Take out many of the endless parking rules:  a residence must have 2 parking spaces (p.29 and p.132 and p. 152), but if you require 3 they cannot be one behind the other, and STRs must have 3 for owners and 1 for each bedroom (minimum of 5?) (p.191).

No storage of travel trailers, boats, cars, etc. allowed in residential areas (p.65)- Yes, storage is different than parking.

No mobile home, boat, trailer, RV or truck can be stored in the front yard (p.169).

But then there’s to be no parking of any recreational vehicle within the required front, side, or rear yard setbacks, 25’ (p.201)

Restaurants can have NO PARKING in the front, unless adequately screened (p.179)

Take out what people are allowed to do in their side yards, in their back yards:  There can be no portable storage units (PODS) in the front of a house; there can be no PODS in the driveway (in parking spaces) (p.179).  Are you supposed to have them air-lifted into the back yard?

There can be no accessory building in the front yard (p.125).  No garage in front of the house.

No garage, shed, swimming pool or tennis court in the front yard of any residential lot (p.133).

There can be only one accessory building per property.

Then there are the dictates of the style police.  Who elected this board to be the style police?

With new builds: 

Earth tones and natural materials are recommended.

 (pp.92-93) The slope of the roof should be angled to mirror the natural terrain.

Large windows should be screened by native trees.

The upper windows should be smaller than the lower ones.

 Any residential lot must have 8 trees (they cannot compel more than 8).

 These trees must be planted before the CO is issued (each tree at least 6’ when planted, with at least 1 tree to mature to 35’ for each building.  The board prefers  conifers.

Multifamily dwellings must choose at least three traditional architectural features from their list (dormers, cupolas, pilasters, a recessed entrance, 4” window trim, etc.).

(p.198). No flat roofs on commercial buildings (p.123) or any other structures, please.

The primary entrances to any building should be oriented to the lot frontage. Secondary entrances should be oriented to parking, plazas or parks. (p. 120)

Homes in hamlets must have a front porch facing the street (p.126).

“A covered front porch is a key element in fostering neighborly connections, providing a human scale to a dwelling, and offering surveillance of public space… Every new dwelling in the hamlet district shall have a covered entry porch oriented toward the common open space or street. This porch shall be open on at least two sides and shall not be enclosed.”

Some building requirements:

An accessory structure used as a secondary dwelling cannot exceed 1.5 times the area of the dwelling’s main floor, or 1,000 square feet, whichever is less.  It cannot be over 25 ‘.  It cannot be higher than the main dwelling- so that limits the size of your guest house (p.125).

No new building with a footprint over 5,000 sq.ft. (p.126).

In any addition, the new section should have doors and windows compatible with the older parts of the building- we don’t want any modern architecture in our town!

No accessory residential dwelling on any undersized lot (1.5 acres).

You must complete the primary structure before beginning any accessory structure (p.133).  So you cannot build the guest house or the barn first, perhaps to live in while you build the main house.

Hamlets must require homes to have a minimum 25’ setback for the front yard (p.48).

Take out endless regulations regarding outdoor lighting (p.94):

Light level not to exceed 0.2 foot candle measured at ground level.

All outdoor lighting shall use fully shielded light fixtures.

Fixtures must be installed so that part of the lightbulb or light source is not visible beyond the property boundaries.

Outdoor lighting must not be visible off site (p.165).

Take out the decibel requirements for noise and ask that neighbors respect one another.

No use of any sound reproduction device that could disturb the comfort or repose “of a reasonable person of normal sensitivities” (p.166).

No impulsive noises over 75dBa for more than 1 hour.

No yelling, shouting or hooting that could disturb that same reasonable person.

No construction, building noise before noon on Sunday.

No radio that could bother anyone.

No ATVs, dirt bikes, or snowmobiles at all over 80 dBA.

And this one- the kitchen sink- no unreasonable noise that could annoy a reasonable person.

And specifically for renters (p.192): No sound shall be permitted that carries further than the property boundary.  So, if you rent in a hamlet, don’t let your children play outside because they might laugh!

Campsite noise must be less than 65 dBA (p.200).

EXEMPTION: Sound of the hunt and its dogs!

Take this out:  No wedding receptions, parties or special events, not part of a farm operation, in any residential zone (p.66). This stipulation is part of the Table of Permitted Uses and applies to districts H-1, H-2, RL1, RL2, RL3.

Rental properties, even those allowed 10 guests, are not allowed to have “weddings, reunions, parties or other group gatherings of any kind” (p.188).  Are these people supposed to be strangers to one another?  And how many people are there in a gathering?

STRs: First of all, second homeowners do not have the same rights as domiciled homeowners (those who live in Chatham 160 days a year).  Second homeowners can only rent 30 days a year.

All renters have to apply, pay permits, keep records on all guests, pay fees, have a local contact.

The local contact person has to be available 24/7 to respond to any problem within 1 hour (not humanly possible).  If the contact doesn’t answer the phone, the owner is still liable to correct a problem within 1 hour (even though the owner doesn’t even know about it yet).  Take this out.

There is an inspection fee.  How much is it?  There is an application fee?  How much is it?  Maria made a comment that they were considering $700 for 3 years.  That is not a fee, but a membership in a club no one wants to belong to.  They keep “tabling” the discussion of the fees.

Take out the mandatory revocation of a license by the CEO (chief enforcement officer) with 3 violations (p.194).  No redress.

Take out the expensive Host Compliance surveillance contract ($5300.00/year), which is only useful in case of violations, and substitute a request that owners screen their renters and ask for their good behavior.  Will there be possible violations?  I dare say, but no more with the surveillance contract than without it.  This is pure intimidation.  This is not Miami.

Most alarming and concerning, all power lies with the Town Board. 

The Town Board, with recommendations with the Planning Board, authorizes and approves all zoning incentives (p.97).

The Zoning Board of Appeals is appointed by the Town Board (p204).

The Code Enforcement Officer is appointed by the Town Board (p.211).

The CEO consults with the Town Board’s attorney about precise legal actions (p.212).

The Town Board can appoint a deputy CEO.

The Board likes to say that they are instituting these new regulations in the name of “neighborliness,” so that neighbors can know one another. But this code is not friendly, it is not neighborly, it is not respectful of citizens’ ability to work things out by speaking to one another.  They are not acting in a civil respectful manner, and this is infuriating to Chatham’s citizens.

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Q&A FROM THE TOWN OF CHATHAM ABOUT THE NEW ZONING LAWS

Below is a link to the Q&A put out by the town council this week and a link to the zoning map. Take the time to read it carefully.

The new, restrictive zoning laws will negatively impact every citizen, from born-and-bred local, to second-home owner, to business owner. Understanding these proposed changes is critical for everyone! (We have a brief summary here that only includes highlights of the law.)

As for the short-term rental restrictions, if you are a second home owner, work for a second home owner or work for or have a business that relies on tourism you have a lot to be concerned about.

In a nutshell, if you are a second homeowner you can only rent a STR if you are in one of the limited business or industrial areas, and you are only allowed to do so for 30 days annually.

The town council has made several small concessions and worded the FAQ to try to put a positive spin on the new laws, when in fact the new laws are so restrictive, it makes no sense for anyone to have a short term rental in the Town of Chatham, especially second home owners.

There will be a a PUBLIC HEARING on the overall New Proposed Zoning Laws at the Tri-Village Firehouse on Monday, July 1st at 6pm. Please attend and make your voice heard.

TOWN OF CHATHAM FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS . ABOUT NEW SHORT-TERM RENTAL . ZONING REGULATIONS

ZONING MAP

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The Town of Chatham wants to ban Short Term Rentals

The Town Board in Chatham is in the process of completing and voting on a new zoning law that includes a provision that would make the vast majority of short term rentals in the Town of Chatham illegal.  Residents who currently have short term rental properties would not have the option to be grandfathered in.

The new law currently states: 

“short-term rentals as defined in this local law are home occupation businesses that take place in an owner’s primary residence and that they are distinct from dwellings that are not the primary residence of an owner and that are used primarily as a business for rental income.”

The proposal also says, “It shall be unlawful to use, establish, maintain, operate, occupy, rent or lease any property as a short‐term rental if the property is not both the owner’s primary residence and owner‐occupied for a minimum of 183 days in the calendar year.”


We love Chatham. Some of us live here full-time, and for some of us, Chatham is a bucolic escape from our lives in more hectic places. Our children have grown up here, and equally love it. This is our home. The recent advent of short-term rental opportunities has enabled us to selectively share our homes with carefully vetted folks who want to enjoy a taste of Chatham, and the larger Berkshire Foothills area that we so love. Since these properties are our homes, we carefully vet our renters, collect large security deposits, have more-than-adequate insurance and maintain a local support network to keep an eye on our homes while we are not there. This is a win-win for both individuals, and the community.

1.    Homeowners can offset costs, allowing them to keep their homes, and frequently allowing seniors to “age in place” rather than having to leave the community they love—53% of AirBnB hosts report that income earned from hosting has helped them stay in their homes.

2.    The village and its shop owners see increased foot traffic and increased sales—research suggests that 42% of the daytime revenue brought by tourists stays in the local community.

3.    The larger community thrives because increased employment of local support staff brings jobs and economic vitality to the area.

4.    Our visitors experience a vibrant and beautiful Chatham, that they frequently fall in love with so much, they seek to purchase a home here.

5. The Internal Revenue Service does not recognize short-term rentals as home businesses. Income reported to the IRS for STRs is filed on the same schedule as any other long-term rental property.

The restrictions that owners be on premises during a rental and not rent more than 6 times a year will essentially eliminate the short-term rental market and all the good it brings to the community.

Well-managed short-term rentals (careful vetting, security deposits, local support) make Chatham more desirable, and, in this fast-changing world, help keep it the very special place it is. Safeguards, such as permitting, make perfect sense and we are all for them. But limiting or eliminating short-term rentals in Chatham is a huge step backward for the town, the village and its residents.

This is our home. We want to stay in this very special place, and allow our children to bring their children here as well. Please reconsider these restrictions that will severely limit the options open to residents, and the potential for the community as a whole.

Contact the Town Board to voice your concerns.

Letter to the Board from Chatham Agricultural Partnership

At the Town Board Q&A, the Planner kept insisting the new zoning laws were created with farming in mind… but the Chatham Agricultural Partnership (CAP) has concerns.

The following is an email CAP sent the board.


July 8, 2019

TO: Town Board, Town of Chatham
FROM: Chatham Agricultural Partnership (“CAP”)
RE: Proposed Zoning Changes


The Chatham Agricultural Partnership (CAP) is writing to express our concerns over the proposed changes to the current Zoning in the Town of Chatham, most specifically as the proposed changes affect farms and farming in Chatham. 

The CAP is a group appointed by the Town Board and charged with overseeing the implementation of the Town of Chatham Agricultural Protection Plan that was adopted by the Town September 17, 2009. Goals of the plan include achieving a “zero net loss” of working farmland by addressing farm transition issues and new farm development, being a “farm friendly” town, and supporting and sustaining a system of locally grown, healthy foods.

As you are well aware, a full 25% of the town’s land is in active agricultural use. Most of that is in NYS designated agricultural districts.  It is critical that our Zoning Law respects and supports this.  Specifically any zoning needs to align with and support the recommendations in the Plan and in concert with policies associated with being in a designated agricultural district.

We believe that the Town Board has consistently, over many years and administrations, sent clear signals of support for farming in Chatham, as demonstrated by:

  • Right to Farm Law passed in 2008.
  • Inclusion of a farming committee in the Comprehensive Planning process, in recognition of the important role that agriculture plays in the economic, environmental, and aesthetic character of Chatham.
  • Adoption of Agricultural Protection Plan in 2009 – which was also approved by Columbia County and New York State.
  • Appointment of a permanent body reporting to the Town Board in support of agriculture – the Chatham Agricultural Partnership.

However, throughout this re-writing of the proposed Zoning Code, no member of the Chatham Agricultural Partnership was on the committee, nor, to our knowledge were any primary-income farmers on the drafting committee.  We are dismayed by this disregard for such an important part of the community.

As stated in the Agricultural Protection Plan, farming in Chatham is a fragile enterprise. One action can put a farm out of business, and that subsequently impacts other farming operations. There are numerous interdependencies among existing farms.

And as you may be aware, trying to survive financially operating a family farm is not an easy task.  Farmers need to be creative in ways to reach their end-market and frequently need to find additional sources of revenue from their farm, farm land and ancillary structures on their land.  We find many of the well-intentioned but over-reaching proposals in the new Code to ignore these economic realities and to potentially limit and restrict farm or adjunct operations.  The unintended consequence will be the loss of farms and the sub-division and development of farming lands.

Outside pressures already exist in NYS and nationwide.  As the Buffalo News writes: “New farm labor mandates will wreak havoc across upstate’s agricultural community…in many upstate areas, family farms are critical to the local economy and a part of community identity.  A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture survey found that New York State lost 2,000 farms from 2012 through 2017. Thanks to these down-state driven labor mandates, there’s no doubt that thousands of other farms will close in the coming years.”

We do not want to see Chatham add further restraints and obstacles to those already coming from the outside.  On the contrary, Chatham needs to be doing everything it can to help farms survive outside pressures.  It takes a community to support farming. Farmers purchase locally. If you lose farms, you lose farm suppliers. If you lose farm land, neighboring farms become less viable. If you lose farms, the local food system is impacted. If you lose farms, the beautiful rural landscape is at risk.

Please pause this approval process to ensure the needs of Chathams farms and farmers are fully considered, meet NYS Agriculture standards, and serve the best interests of the entire community.

Respectfully Yours,
The Board of the Chatham Agricultural Partnership

Mary Gail Biebel
Bob Bradford
Tom Clark
Tom Crowell
Willy Denner
Jeff Lick
Courtney McDonnell
Eric Ooms
Edie Root
Donna Staron


1 Town of Chatham Agricultural Protection Plan, page 5.

Has the Public Been Quiet About Objections All Along? No, They Have Not.

On the June 20, 2019 Town Board meeting, the board scolded to the audience for not getting involved earlier. People have indeed been involved. Please read the August 3, 2018 minutes from a Public Hearing, where many people used the same terminology we are using today regarding these proposed laws as restrictive, overbearing, and a violation of property owners’ rights. 

Please read this post with a brief history of where and how these zoning laws came about and the abuse of power by Maria Lull.

At the beginning of the meeting Nan Stolzenberg gives comments on the process of drafting these laws.

At this meeting in August, 2018, people spoke of the need for the Board to provide the public with a full red-line version, comparing the current zoning to the new proposed zoning. Note: When they post red-line versions on the Town site, they are ONLY posting comparisons from the current draft to the last draft, which is very misleading.

That was one year ago, and the Town has yet to provide the public with a full, accurate comparison from the current laws to the proposed laws.

When the public cries out that there is no transparency, this is an example of why.

Here are two detailed examples of the public comment’s, but please read the entire minutes, because it’s also important to read comments from those who support these changes. You’ll find several speakers from Thomas Road in the minutes.

Page 19, Lawyer Mitchell Khosrova stated the following:

I come here, really, with what I hope is more of an objective look. Those that know me, know I spent 16 years as a deputy chair of the ZBA. I spent two and a half years on the ZIC that was mentioned earlier. This process, these 182 pages that are on the website — which is a work in process for, I think it’s close to six years in happening.

I know for a fact that the council members care what’s going on in this community; and as stated earlier by the supervisor, want to get input; and there’s always been a lot of talk since the change in the last administration about transparency and public input. This is a real chance to do that. I have worked with both your attorney and your consultant in the past and currently I have a lot of respect for what was done here and for what you are trying to do; and I recognize the largess of it makes it very, very difficult.

I guess the long and the short — and I will go through some specific examples but not many. I think that more time is needed. I think that this was posted, literally, on July 20th. I, certainly, have not had an opportunity to go through it more than a few pages; and I looked and highlighted some of the things that I thought might be important. I know at the last meeting, Dr. Wapner — he and I have, sometimes, disagreed in the past — but he had tried to put off a Public Hearing. I do think that more time is necessary.

Also, if there are changes, which I hope there will be, based on the input that you are receiving, that there be another public notice and a public hearing after those changes. This document did not highlight the changes from the current law. It makes it very, very difficult to focus on what needs to be focused on. You literally have to read 182 pages. And many times there would be some kind of a table or there’s a red line. This board has decided not to do that; and it really is unfair to the public, especially in a 12-day period, to give you final comments. I know I cannot do that. I am unable to do that.

(APPLAUSE.)

And I don’t know — it could very well be the Town will, this time, take up Dr. Wapner’s motion from last month; and say, yeah, let’s put this out 60 days; or let’s rewrite base on comments and then put that out for 60 days. I hope that you will do that.

I just want to point out, I guess, there are some things, like inconsistencies. In one place, you say that a residential pond needs a site plan review. In another place, it says no permit is required. Again, I know because it was a rush and largess of it, things like that have to be knocked out.

This is a legal document. You are going to go to Court — if you try to enforce that, you are going to lose that. There’s several things that I think that may not really have, or at least explain proper rationale to it. The three-car garage limit. I think that — as a practical matter, it doesn’t really make sense to me. I have two children. If they were of age to drive, that means we needed four cars. It’s just where we live. I also have a lawn mower, I have a motorcycle. And to say and to limit on any piece of property, without mention of size or anything else — what Nan referred to is you wanted to standardize things — really doesn’t make sense, and there’s no rationale for that prohibition. If someone has a larger piece of property, and wants a bigger garage, why not? It’s not going to hurt anybody.

(APPLAUSE.)

I also think that some people may think and look at this and read this in saying — you know, there are a lot of working class people in this community. I know if you try to get a contractor, repair person, plumber, electrician — it’s really hard out here. And it’s one of the businesses that we need and need to promote because everybody needs those type of things.

Specifically, contractors have need for garages and places to store things. And you are — you know, looking at those type of people, and right away, you are penalizing them for their business. And that goes into the —

(APPLAUSE.)

I love clapping, but hold on a second. It goes into — also the accessory use limit that you have imposed. You have based it on the square footage of the house. To me, that easily could be deemed illegious because if you can afford a 10,000 square foot house, you are going to be allowed to have more accessory uses; and I just don’t see the rationale. If you have a large piece of property, and no one is going to see it, what difference if someone has a shed, a pool, a large garage, or any other type of — a swing set, all of those things — anything that would be considered a structure is limited now as an accessory use. I just don’t see the rationale in that. I don’t really think that that was properly thought through. And to say one-size-fits-all is not what zoning is supposed to do. That’s why you have special permits.

SEQR is exactly the opposite. SEQR specifically comes into existence so you take, fact by fact, specific spaces, and say what is proper for that particular application. You are, kind of, going through that and negating any of that need by saying you want to standardize something.

I just have two more little examples.

The 100-foot buffer zone — you know, whether it’s in a hamlet that could be near a creek or a stream — by the way, I don’t think there’s a definition of a stream. If someone wants to, simply, put a swing set, and they live in a hamlet, it makes it impossible to do. Why is that not allowed? Again, I am not sure that was thought through.

Your mowing and construction restrictions, I think also — I mean, you have it Saturday but not Sunday, you have it after five. I mean, people like me work all day. I get home and I mow. And it’s never between 9 and 5; and I usually will do it on weekends. And I don’t have any neighbors in earshot.

Why can’t I do it at 8 in the morning? Why can’t I do it after 5 o’clock at night? Especially when it’s light until 9 o’clock. I think that those were rather quick to go through. I won’t even go into it because I know other speakers will talk about your town roads — you don’t differentiate between gravel or paved.

The short-term leasing is also a large problem. You don’t define media. For me — and I have worked on other municipality’s Airbnb issue. You know, if someone wants to rent a room in their home where they live, you don’t have the transient issues about all-night parties, about littering, about not caring, and all those other issues. I don’t see why you would make someone, who is trying to make a few extra bucks to have a guest in their home — have to go through a whole obstacle course in order to do it. And you don’t differentiate between someone who wants to — and I thought Karen was very articulate in the things that she said earlier about the Airbnb. I think that that’s a really
difficult issue. I know Hudson just passed it, and they thought it through, I think, a little bit more than what this definition does and what you allow.

So, to sum up, I really think that it took a lot of time to do this. I think a lot more review and input is necessary. I think that if you make changes, we need more time to look at those challenges. If this is passed the way it is, you will lose lawsuits; and I know the town doesn’t want to do that, they don’t want to waste their money.

Thank you again for your effort and your time for allowing me to speak.

Page 31, Wendy Carroll stated the following:

My name is Wendy P. Carroll, and I live in the village. I am here to express my concern that although much of the proposed town code is valid and fulfills the Comprehensive Plan’s intent, there are proposed prohibited uses on all town roads that are not consistent with the intent of the plan.

The Zoning Implementation Committee worked long and hard to establish guidelines consistent with the plan’s intent. Such prohibited uses on all town roads were never included in any of the draft use tables.

The Town Board added these prohibited uses at the final stages, in an effort to compromise with powers that fought loudly and insistently to protect their dirt roads with claims that such uses were intense and would destroy the rural character of their town.

I strongly believe that horse-related activities with similar impacts can coexist with the proposed prohibited uses while maintaining our rural character.

Just out of curiosity, to see the impact, I made this map, and all the red zones on our town are the prohibited use areas. These are our town roads. Roughly, I will
show you guys —

SUPERVISOR LULL: Please show it to the Town Board.

MS. CARROLL: Here we go. There’s roughly 1,786 parcels, almost 88 percent of the town will be impacted by these over-restricted regulations. The plan clearly states recommendations to preserve the rural character of our town, while balancing growth and protecting our quality of life.

Nowhere in the plan are there any recommendations to prohibit uses such as day camps, health clubs, membership clubs, outdoor commercial recreation, facilities, etcetera, on any town roads.

The Comprehensive Plan does include Goals, such as places for our children to engage in our natural environment, homes for our elders, in close proximity to their families and friends, and states: Recreational facilities compliment our rural character. The plan does not prohibit such uses. The plan encourages uses such as that.

I also find it extremely challenging to understand the difference between the town’s paved road and a county’s paved road, other than the obvious distinction of ownership — distinction without a difference.

Why will someone on a county paved road be allowed a use, when someone three houses away on an adjacent paved town road, will not be allowed the same opportunity? Each one of these roads are different. Each site is different. And rather than blanket regulations, I think we should consider each site.

Explicit recommendations to protect and to preserve the rural character of the town are included in the infrastructure section of the plan. The list is long, and due to time constraints, I will mention a few. None of them include proposed prohibited uses.

Roads remain rural and design of maintenance, institute rural road standards that will maintain rural character. Develop and use contact sensitive design standards for new roads built in Chatham which are recognized nationally for their flexibility and ability to preserve rural character.

When I questioned the reason behind the overly-restricted prohibited uses, I was told, as far as the Town Board goes, the choice became, limit the high impact uses or prohibit them all together; thus, the compromise. Surely, you would not want to see those uses eliminated all together. No, I would say that the uses should be based on a case by case basis according to each use and each site.

I was told the number one response from the people was protect road character, and close behind, was protect open space — yes. But the prohibited uses as proposed would not, with rural road standard and adequate review processes, destroy our open space and rural character.

In addition, I was told, as one of the members of the steering committee that completed the plan — I’ll be finished in just a minute — I can assure you, we were told, more than once by committee members living on dirt roads, that they would lay down in front of the road paver before they let their road become blacktopped — they were not kidding.

Is this the real impetus for such heavy-handed prohibitive regulations? A threat. And why, at the last minute, were the prohibited uses included at all? The proposed zoning can and should move forward without such misguided and special interests influencing prohibited uses on all town roads.

To justify these restrictions as maintaining the rural character is nothing less than unconscionable and an obvious attempt to placate certain members of the community at the expense of the entire town — and most definitely, not in compliance with the intent of the Comprehensive Plan. Thank you very much.
(APPLAUSE.)
SUPERVISOR LULL: Wendy, can you enter that?
MS. CARROLL: I can enter it, a longer version with all the recommendations from the town about the rural road standards.

NOTE FROM CHATHAM UNITED: Since Wendy submitted her chart to the Town Board, you can email the Town Clerk to get a copy of that and her further recommendations.

Please read the entire Public Hearing minutes here.

A Look Back at Paul Grunberg’s Thoughts on Zoning

Paul Grunberg fought hard during his 20-year service on the Chatham ZBA (fifteen years as its chairman) for a plan to replace the outdated Comprehensive Plan. The new Comprehensive Plan wouldn’t be passed until 2009, twelve years after his death in 1997.

In 1972, Paul earned a Master’s Degree in Urban-Environmental Studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute while becoming increasingly involved in civic affairs. The following is an article he wrote in 1975, while contemplating the potential impact of zoning laws on our rural town. The Chatham Courier republished it on August 31, 2000.

In this article below, he speaks of the answers to the surveys given the town in 1971. Please note, the last survey conducted in Chatham was in 2004. It certainly would be enlightening to hear what the citizen’s answers to these very questions would be in 2019… before any new zoning laws are implemented.


A review of zoning in the Town of Chatham

Will Eventual Court Test Cause Township to Change the Status Quo Sought by Residents?

By Paul Grunberg, Chatham Center

During the last few years several zoning ordinances in various states have been challenged in the courts on the ground that restricted development were discriminatory to lower income groups. As pointed out in an article in The Wall Street Journal of January 31, 1975, when the pressure to develop occurs, the flight against these ordinances is led by an unlikely partnership of developers and civil rights advocates. In such an occurrence, last March, the New Jersey Supreme Court, upholding a Superior Court decision of 1972, struck down the Mount Laurel Township ordinance and all exclusionary zoning ordinances. In this decision, which promises to become a landmark, according to the New York Times of March 25, the “… unanimous ruling … effectively outlawed restrictive zoning ordinances such as those that prohibit apartments or mandate minimum lot sizes.”

As the Town of Chatham has one of the more restrictive zoning ordinances in terms of lot sizes it is probable that out ordinance will be tested in court when sufficient demand for housing appears. Therefore, this gives us a good excuse for reviving once more the debate on zoning, or land-use planning, in order not only to clarify our thoughts but also, when the challenge comes, to know what is worth defending and what is not. It is hoped that comments and other ideas will follow this article.

The ordinance we have, roughly described, allows more intensive growth in about ¼ of the town area (zones H-2, H-1, and RL-3) and limits development to 5 and 10 acres per family in ¾ of the town (RL-2 and RL-1). In addition, the ordinance contains the more conventional restrictions in regard to uses, zoning virtually the whole town as residential and restricting commerce and industry to five areas totaling several hundred acres and future floating zones. The residential zoning allows primarily single-family dwellings, two-family dwellings by special permit, and some townhouses in Cluster Developments. Only in Planned Unit Developments of 100 acres or more would a developer be allowed to submit plans for other types of dwellings such as apartments. A small list of selected “home occupations” is permitted and, in H-2, usually the core of the hamlets, neighborhood commercial facilities are allowed.

There are two main concepts in the planning of this ordinance: one is the distribution of density of development; the other is the more conventional zoning for use.

Distribution of Density. This should be interpreted as an attempt to conserve natural resources such as land and water, and to reduce the long-term cost of roads and utilities. In our ordinance, the distribution of density is implemented through the device of “large acreage zoning.”

The accusation is often heard that large lots discriminate against people of modest means. Probably, it is true that the size of lots has historically, often been used to discriminate socially and economically; however, that is more true when dealing with smaller lots of 1/4, 1/2, or 1 acre. In those instances, the size of the lots determines, by itself, the type of neighborhood and the cost of the residences. In rural, open areas such as ours, the cost of land varies inversely to the size of the parcel being sold: if five acres can be bought for $1,000: the price is more likely to be $2,000 or $3,000. Similarly, should pressure to develop cause a change in zoning from five-acre lots to one-acre lots, the price per acre would increase substantially, thus benefiting the landowner much more than the prospective buyer.

On the other hand, in recent years, we have become more conscious of problems created by development consisting of small lots and individual residences spread over large areas (also known as “sprawl”). Whereas one small lot in open country can exist with private well and sewage disposal, when many such lots cover large areas the soil can no longer absorb the waste created: one reason is that a large portion of the land is covered by road surfaces, and another reason is that modern families use huge amounts of water (100 gallons per person per day) which they return to the ground in polluted form and, in addition, use numerous poisons, detergents, and other noxious substances. In time, this causes the underground water to become undrinkable, and finally the community is forced to install sewers and public water to reach every lot. When spread over large areas of single-family lots, roads and utilities are very expensive in construction and maintenance.

In 1974, the Council on Environmental Quality published a study called “The Cost of Sprawl” comparing several types of development. In the comparison between a community developed in “sprawl” fashion and one of much more concentrated housing, the construction of roads and utilities turned out to be more than double and the maintenance costs 50 percent higher in the first community. Additional costs are shown in auto ownership and travel, water consumption, etc. In view of these future problems, and in view of the fact that there is much vacant land between Chatham and the nearest large urban center of Albany, it does not seem unreasonable for a town such as ours to decide to save its natural resources—land and water—and to decree that future more intensive development should take place in certain portions of its fifty square miles and that the remaining area should be kept at such low density that sewers public water, and suburban type roads will never be required. Such decision need not imply a limit to the development, but rather a distribution of its density.

Unfortunately, such decision does imply that sewers will be needed in the more intensively developed zones sooner than if development were scattered. In the long run, however, the savings in expenses and taxes would be huge and the rural atmosphere preserved to a large extent.

Zoning for use. In 1971, the planners hired by the town prepared a Comprehensive Plan as a prerequisite to the drafting of a zoning ordinance. In this Comprehensive Plan, under “Goals and Objectives” it is stated that 95 percent of the respondents in a survey conducted in the Town of Chatham like the town the way it is. Further in the Comprehensive Plan, page III-4, Table II, we learn something about the work location of the population, as follows:

Town of Chatham (excl. Village) – 39.5 percent; Albany – 29.0 percent; Village of Chatham – 3.7 percent; Other Places – 16.0 percent; Other (undetermined) – 12.8 percent.

In the Appendix of the same book, page A-4, we find some of the results of the survey conducted by the planners:

  • Question No. 4: Are some of the following needed? – Industry – 108 yes, 35 no; New Business – 84 yes, 34 no.
  • Question No. 5: What type of community would you like to see develop in the future? Leave it as it is – 48; rural – 20; light industry – 14; residential – 10; planning for rural, residential and industry – 9.

The above seems to indicate that most residents like Chatham the way it is; that the town cannot be called “residential” in the sense of most bedroom communities as a great number of residents work in the town itself; that many respondents desired more business and industry; and finally, that only 10 percent of the respondents chose “residential” as the most desirable way to develop. In view of the above, how did it come about that virtually the whole town was zone “residential?” Or, in other words, why was “rural” translated into “residential?”

During the early years of this century it became apparent that, with the rapid expansion of industry, some protection for residential areas was necessary and justifiable. The proximity of large factories, of smoke, noise, odors, and the like could indeed present a threat to health and welfare. In an early decision by Justice J. Owen (Supreme Court of Wisconsin, 1932, State ex. Rel. Carter v Harper), zoning legislation was approved to “bring about an orderly development of our cities; to establish residence districts into which business, commercial, and industrial establishments shall not intrude; In another case, considered a cornerstone of zoning law, Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., Supreme Court of the U.S., 1926, Justice Sutherland laid the widely accepted basis for this use of the police power: “This question involves the validity of what is really the crux of the more recent zoning legislation, namely, the creation and maintenance of residential districts.”

These decisions were dealing with city environment and the protection from large industrial and commercial establishments. But, once the tool of zoning had gained acceptance, like other government control devices, it began to grow. Over the years it became acceptable not only to separate factories from homes, but also to separate single-family residences from two-family residences or from apartments, to separate ¼ acre lots from ½ acre lots. This was done by gradually extending the meaning of “welfare” to include the “protection of property values,” and with everyone’s tacit assent. Since property values and social status frequently parallel each other, zoning became well established as a tool for social and economic stratification. It also became a tool to freeze the “character” of a neighborhood by those who “like it as it is.”

Now, back to the Town of Chatham. It is easy to sympathize with those who “like it as it is.” But we are dealing here with 50 square miles of rural country: it is impossible to freeze Chatham as it is. Any kind of growth will change it. What we must ask is how change will be affected by specific zoning regulations. The present ordinance does not allow most types of enterprises, no matter how small, except in business zones. Instead of some accidents by small entrepreneurs here and there, as in the past, we would promote the growth of shopping centers in the business zones, built by impersonal investors, to satisfy the needs of a growing population. These centers would include the usually large parking lots and be deserted at night. Is this the goal of those trying to preserve Chatham’s character? The pleasant hamlet of Old Chatham contains a service station, a busy tavern, two apartment houses: none of these functions would be permitted by the zoning ordinance were they not already there. Would it have improved the town’s atmosphere to have them relegated to some commercial area? Or to have all new apartments relegated to some large project?

In pondering the consequences of one type of zoning versus another one might consider how strict application of residential zoning has affected the large areas of suburbia, a situation in which Chatham may be someday. Economic groups stratify, all wage earners disappear from sunrise to dusk, life becomes uniform. Children are shielded from all work activities until their late teens: this could not be what Justice Sutherland has in mind when, in his famous decision, he found residential neighborhoods necessary for “the creation of a more favorable environment in which to rear children.”

The probabilities that a new resident might purchase property in Chatham at today’s prices in order to produce an unpleasant “mess” are very slight. On the other hand, once Interstate 90 is completed, the pressure to build residential suburban housing will be very strong. It seems that the benefits of allowing more freedom of the individual homeowner far outweigh its dangers.

However, it is true that property values would be higher in the more conventional residential suburbs than in an area where one could never be quite sure of how the individuality of one’s neighbor might express itself, and this merits consideration too.

I am aware that the virtue of residential zoning is seldom questioned. This is precisely why I question it now: the devil’s advocate must have some voice. And if I sound too emphatic in questioning it, it is because the voice of the devil’s advocate is often shrill. In truth, I am not opposed to all residential zoning, and certainly I am in favor of protection from large businesses whose clout is heavy, whose motive is their own profit, and whose policy makers are seldom part of the community. But it is important, in my opinion, especially in rural towns, to remove from strict residential zoning the aura of superior morality and absolute desirability and to bring back such zoning into the area of discussion, of choice, of preference.

But enough of that, now. At the beginning of this article we noted how large acreage zoning was often accused of being discriminatory. We must ask here one last question: are strict residential restrictions in rural areas discriminatory?

Social and transportation statistics show a strong correlation between income levels and distances traveled to work.

This generally means that lower income groups tend to settle near work centers. But in addition, especially in rural areas, many families must or want to supplement their incomes from a business conducted at home or from some apartments built in the old house or in the barn, and this is done without much expense and overhead. Such families, if not enjoying another substantial and secure income, would no longer move to Chatham when possibilities for work and income are reduced; those living here might someday sell their properties to benefit from rising prices. The new residents would be, almost by definition, commuters and usually of a higher income bracket. The contention made here is that too many restrictions on what individuals may do around their homes would be harder to bear by the less prosperous, and that therefore a change in the makeup of the population would occur in time. Since the change would be toward higher income residents, the residential restrictions could be considered exclusionary and discriminatory toward lower income groups.

The examination of this question, aside from the matter of justice, is important for another reason: should my analysis be correct and should Chatham change into a wealthier community, when the ordinance will be challenged in court, what will be struck down, inevitably, is the large acreage zoning. This would be an unfortunate outcome for those who sincerely believe that the maintenance of large open spaces is important, whether for economic, ecological, social, or esthetic reasons. At the time of a court challenge, in order to defend the principle of open spaces, it might be useful to be able to show that little fuss is made about who lives here and what they do, and it would be advantageous to show some unconventional disorder. Coupled with that, the argument that density zoning is desirable for reasons such as the preservation of natural and economic resources could carry more weight.

There could well be a trend to the thought that, in the words or S.B. Zisman, a planning consultant from San Antonio, Texas, “the separation of functions is not so essential as the creation of a system of open spaces.”

But in general, some of the questions we have raised here are in ground, without the benefit of precedent in the courts or otherwise. This is why careful debate is important. But should the community arrive at a consensus different from the conventional, we can take heart from a statement in a pamphlet published by the Potomac Institute of Washing, D.C.: “Courts respect honest attempts to approach difficult problems rationally.


Letter to the Business Owners of Chatham

Dear Chatham business owner,

I am writing you as a fellow Chatham business owner. I want to call your attention to the new town zoning proposal that is headed rapidly to a vote by the town board. I am very concerned the zoning regulations currently proposed will have a negative and detrimental impact on area businesses. 

Whether or not you live in Chatham, as a business owner in the town or village, your livelihood will be affected by these regulations. Furthermore, the businesses in Chatham hire the residents of Chatham – and availability of local jobs should be a top concern for the town board. 

If you haven’t yet had a chance to read the zoning proposal, here are just a few highlights that are particularly important for business owners to understand:

1.     Short Term Rentals The proposed regulations surrounding short-term rentals (such as AirBnB, VRBO, or a house-swap) will dramatically impact and choke off tourism and shopping in the town and village. Anything that drives down rentals of otherwise unoccupied homes will have a ripple impact through many businesses such as retail stores, restaurants, landscapers, cleaning services.  (§180-41, p150)

2.     Wedding Receptions, Parties and Special Events are not permitted in residential areas (unless part of a farm operation). They are permitted in business and industrial zones without a special use permit. (table, p66) This might impact a business that caters to home weddings and parties. Photographers may have less events to photograph. Caterers, Florists, DJ’s, Musicians, cake bakers etc. will also all feel the reduction. 

3.     Home-based businesses The section on home occupations will take control of the home-based businesses in the area. The proposed zoning has language that breaks down home occupations into levels. Depending on the level you fall into you can find yourself limited in the number of vehicles, employees or contractors you can have. (§180-41, p150)

4.     Auto repair businesses The proposed zoning law has a number of regulations surrounding auto repair businesses. They are prohibited in most residential areas and permitted in business and industrial zones under certain conditions. Pages (§180-58, Section B p172-173) have a lengthy list of regulations surrounding auto repair and sales. Any of the automotive businesses in the town would do well to read these sections closely.

5.     Construction work, building, excavating etc. may quickly run afoul of the noise ordinance if it falls outside the permitted timeframes (p166.)

6.     Restaurants must screen front facing parking lots (p179). This regulation was questioned in a recent board meeting and the owners were assured that their establishment parking was “grandfathered”. However the language is absent from the proposed zoning laws. It’s also unclear what would happen if a restaurant was sold or transferred to new ownership. Parking is vital to restaurants! 

It is a constant struggle to keep a business open– much less thriving– in Chatham. Zoning laws that intrude unnecessarily upon business owners’ ability to operate profitably will ultimately devastate the retail and commercial opportunities in Chatham. Zoning must support the businesses that are here to serve the town, not make it harder to survive. 

I, frankly, am worried that these changes will be the difference between being able to keep my shop open for our 6th year…. or not. We are dependent upon tourists, renters, and special events in addition to full-time citizens to round out our monthly numbers.

If you want to share how the proposed zoning will likely impact your business, please send your story to chathamnycitizens@gmail.com for publication on the Chatham United “Letters to the Community” page.  

You can learn more at www.chathamunited.org. You can pick up buttons to show solidarity with concerned locals at 1811 Antiques or Bimi’s Cheese Shop on Main Street.

Finally, please join the conversation and make your concerns known! Talk about these issues to your neighbors and fellow business owners. Most importantly, come to the upcoming town meetings. The next Town Board special meeting on this issue is:

Monday, July 8th at 6:00PM

TRI-VILLAGE Firehouse

111 CR 13, Old Chatham, NY

The format of this meeting is quite strict: questions regarding zoning must be written one question per card on cards distributed at the door. These cards will be submitted to the moderators who will select which questions will be answered. Please don’t be discouraged by this! The more businesses that show up and participate will help us all!

Thanks for your thoughtful consideration,

Ellen
Ellen Waggett, Bimi’s Cheese Shop

Open Letter to Town Board

To the Chatham Town Board,

To be clear, I am writing representing only myself, no others or 
organizations.

First I would recognize the overwhelming time and effort the Chatham 
Board has invested in the present zoning proposition.

Thank you.

Though you are not done.  It has become clear many of the town residents 
are unaware of a zoning change effort.  Once aware, they are not in 
agreement.  All this in three weeks, some would say “the eleventh 
hour.”  Only through the efforts of a few Chatham residents has 
the proposition come to light to many of the populace.

Recognizing the tenure of the town board without criticism; A first term 
Supervisor.  An appointee.  Two once-elected members. The last member to 
vote and move away, not to be a resident.  Five people.

Well aware of the legal right for the five to bring this to conclusion, 
I suggest this all encompassing proposition, (changing the aura of our 
town), is grand enough to be compared to a school’s budget.  Devised by 
a board it is then sent to the public for decision.  So it should be for 
this proposition.  

Referendum.

The board should otherwise be spending its valuable time educating.  To 
include, but not limited to; meetings, survey(s), flyers, internet 
notice(s), etc.  While I admire the ability of the board to make this 
decision, I admire the public’s more. There is plenty of time until 
November.

The second Tuesday of November, the moving board member will still be 
here, to vote and influence until the end.  Let alone all the rest.  We 
are all stakeholders in this town.  Here one day, one year, one decade 
or generation.  I don’t care if the family came over on the Mayflower, 
we all share common responsibility.

Come November, Yea or Nay.  We will all share the result.

Be well.  Ted Miner