On June 20, 2019 a town meeting was held at the East Chatham firehouse. To begin the meeting, each Councilperson on the Chatham Town Board declared, individually, one by one, declared their wholehearted endorsement of the new zoning code, as it was then written, and their intention to vote yes to passing the code into law. Following that event, a number of citizens read the proposed code and voiced numerous objections, which were published on the Chatham United for Common Sense Zoning website.
On July 8th, another town meeting was held at the Tri-Village fire house. Several hundred citizens attended. They were asked to write their “questions”/issues on note cards. The board was obliged to read what the citizens had written. Having read the cards, the town website published a list of 91 issues that deserved further legal scrutiny and warranted changing. They then published another list of dozens of issues which perhaps did not require legal review required clarification.
The board frequently mentions the fact that they have spent years working on revising the Chatham zoning code. Yet in roughly 3 weeks concerned residents of Chatham came up with 91 legal inaccuracies, anomalies and questionable policies that forced the board to review the entire document. Several council members even stated that they wished the had had this input earlier.
We realize that town boards frequently do not write these codes, but until July 8th, we did not fully realize that the board had not even read the code. Members of the community read the code. Those board members running for re-election characterize themselves as “experienced.” Yet they were grossly unaware of the contents of the proposed zoning code they were fully ready to enact into law on June 20th. This is not “experience,” this is incompetence.
Donal Collins, Abi Mesick and Vance Pitkin have read the code. They, and those of us who have been involved in the zoning debates, are not against zoning. We believe in common sense zoning that does not seek to legislate every conceivable situation that might arise for years to come. That is why we have a Zoning Board of Appeals- to review new situations on an individual basis.
We want to preserve Chatham’s rural character and charm, and to prevent thoughtless development and that would degrade the quality of life here. But we also want Chatham to participate in the 21st century; we want to ensure that our businesses keep their doors open; we want to make Chatham a desirable destination for visitors; and we want to protect property values by familiarizing newcomers to all that Chatham offers.
To this end, Chatham needs visitors- visitors who frequent restaurants, theaters, farm operations, who vacation here, who buy a home here, who send their children to school here, who create the diversity we value here.
We need to see that the Chatham Town Board addresses the concerns of all of its residents, not merely the few who would prefer to see nothing change.
Chatham needs to be a vital living town. We need new blood on the town board who understand the community they serve.