Timing is everything. Let’s talk about the timing of these proposed zoning laws and the board’s claim of how hard they have worked on them as a reason to pass them now, not later.
Fact: Maria Lull stated this at the June 20th Town Board meeting to over 130 citizens, “At this point, the Town Board is charged with voting on a proposed new zoning law that has taken nine years to draft, six years by the first implementation committee and then three years by the current Zoning Advisory Committee.”
Nine years? Let’s go back and re-examine that timeline (see this timeline on the Town website).
The Zoning Implementation Committee (ZIC), created by Town Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt in September 2011, indeed spent years working hard on recommendations for a new zoning law. The members included mostly people from the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), including Donna Staron, Marilyn Cohen (Planning Board Chairperson), land-use attorney Dave Everett, attorney Mitch Khosrova, Jeff Lick, Aven Kerr, Don Hegeman, Robert Walker, Jean Rohde, Dave Everett, and town-attorney Tal Rappleyea. (There may be others, too, but those were the names easily found in the minutes.)
After diligent, time-consuming work, ZIC gave their recommendations to the newly-elected town board on December, 2015, now headed by Town Supervisor Maria Lull, who dismissed their efforts and rejected the plan. Also, one of her first actions as Town Supervisor was to cut the pay for these members to attend meetings. The entire ZBA and Planning Board resigned en masse. Maria Lull then proceeded to pack the boards with her own people. Note: Many of the people had served on those boards selflessly for years and have spoken up about how Lull would direct them on whose site plan, or special-use permit request, to approve and whose to deny, which was another reason they refused to work with her after she was elected. Then, on March, 2016, Lull and the board hired a planner to assist them in drafting the zoning laws, Nan Stolzenburg.
The draft proposed by ZIC in 2016 was only 120 pages. Each successive draft provided by Stolzenburg grew longer. The July 2018 draft was 182 pages, and the current draft now being 217 pages long.
Please note that in a letter from Stolzenburg to the board, dated March 29, 2016, Stolzenberg suggested to involve the public early and often, “You may want to do an online survey (not called for in the Plan, but easy enough to do) to solicit this input as well.”
Hmmm, a professional planner suggested an online survey in 2016 to override the 2004 survey, and Supervisor Lull did not implement that suggestion. Her pattern of dismissing people’s ideas and suggestions continues to the public’s as well.
So, this “nine years” really is only three, since the laws were recreated by Stolzenberg, via copy and paste from the strictest laws in other towns, instead of being created by ZIC, which was full of residents of Chatham – people who understood this town and its citizens.
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.
Citizens have been paying attention. The only difference now is that more citizens are paying attention.
So, again, we ask, what’s the rush? Maybe when Donal Collins wins the election for Town Supervisor, he and his new board, including Abi Mesick and Vance Pitkin, can pull up the December, 2015 recommendations from ZIC and start over again.
Learn about Collins, Mesick and Pitkin here.