Chatham Residents Are For Reasonable Zoning, Not Restrictive Zoning

The Town Board didn’t listen to the residents — again. The Board continues to push ahead with a proposed zoning law that will severely restrict residents’ property rights, hurt local businesses and trades and discourage people from improving their land and the quality of their lives in our Town.

On September 30, 2019, the Town Board released and submitted for County review their latest version of the proposed zoning law. It contains just as many burdensome restrictions as the last version of the proposed law, which hundreds of residents rejected at a public meeting. Its contents make it clear that the Town Board is out of touch with the residents. 

Below are some examples of the onerous  zoning restrictions in the revised law which the Town Board plans to adopt after the election.

* The proposed zoning law now contains over 230 pages of incredibly detailed and weighty regulations which are single spaced with small print — nearly three times more lengthy than the law submitted by the original Zoning Implementation Committee (ZIC) to the Town Board at the end of 2015. These voluminous regulations are more appropriate for Westchester County or Long Island, not a rural town like Chatham. Why do we need so many regulations in our Town?

* The proposed zoning law mandates that 85% of residents’ land in the rural districts must be kept as open space.  (Section 180-32(C)(2)). Residents are not allowed to develop their property in any way if the open space drops below 85%.  So, if you live on a smaller lot with a driveway, house and a pool and you don’t have 85% open space now on your land, you can’t add a garden shed or gazebo. This constitutes a brazen taking of land by the Town Board. Why would the Town Board want such an onerous restriction in our rural Town?

* The proposed zoning law mandates that only 6% of residents’ land in the rural district can be covered by impervious surfaces (i.e., buildings, driveways, patios, etc.).  So, if you have a small lot with improvements now, you may exceed the 6% and may not be able to build anything else on your land.  Residents improving their land increases local taxes and make peoples’ lives better. Why does the Town Board want to severely restrict residents in this way? 

* The proposed zoning law makes it difficult for residents to put small accessory structures on their land (e.g., garden sheds, pools, gazebos, patios, etc.). For example, in the hamlet districts which have a broad range of parcel size and configurations, accessory structures are not allowed in the front yard between the street and the house. (Section 180-36(D)(7)). So,        residents with larger lots and long driveways can’t use the front of their land. Then, curiously, the section immediately following (Section 180-36(D)(8)) directly contradicts that rule.

* The proposed zoning law prohibits accessory structures located closer than thirty-five feet from your home. (Section 180-36(D)(6)). This prevents, for example, people from putting a woodshed close to their house so they don’t have to walk in the snow and rain to get wood for their fireplaces. Throughout the Town there are countless accessory structures close to homes. Why are they a problem now?

* The proposed zoning law prohibits residents from expanding their homes to add an accessory apartment for their elderly parents or family members.  (Section 180-36(C)(2)). Interestingly, the law allows home expansions for other uses, but not for in-law apartments. Why does the Town Board want to discourage this form of affordable housing for our families?

* The proposed zoning law requires residents to go through a site plan approval process with the Planning Board to build an accessory structure over 700 square feet, such as a pool with a deck or a 3-car garage, in the rural districts.  (Table 2, Section 180-36(E).  This expensive process will take months to complete.  Comically, the law allows homes to be built as large as 15,000 sf (Section 180-32(C)(2)) without site plan approval (Section 180-29(B)(1)) but requires it for a small garage. 

These pointless and onerous restrictions on residential land will increase the number of people seeking variances from the ZBA (through a lengthy and expensive review process) because they simply want to improve their land. It doesn’t make any sense. Other proposed zoning regulations don’t make any sense, either:

* The proposed zoning law imposes oppressive noise regulations which curtail people’s enjoyment of their land.  Section 180-58(DD) states for swimming pools that “human voices shall not be objectionable to the occupants of any neighboring property.”  So, kids having fun in a pool and making noise in the summer would be in violation of the zoning if a disgruntled neighbor found it objectionable. This zoning restriction is illegal because it gives your neighbor control over your land. Is this what we want for our Town — zoning that pits neighbor against neighbor? 

* The proposed zoning law prohibits commercial lawn mowers from mowing residents’ lawns before noon on Sundays.  (Section 180-49(B)(8)).  However, residents are allowed to mow their own lawns before noon; they just can’t use a commercial landscaper. Why does the Town Board care when landscapers mow peoples’ lawns? 

* The proposed zoning law prohibits contractors from doing any work before noon on Sundays.  (Section 180-49(C)(3)). This hurts the tradesmen in our town who need to work in the summer and on weekends to feed their families. Tradesmen have stated that they will increase job costs to homeowners if they can’t work on weekends to complete a job. Why does the Town Board choose to punish local tradesmen who are a vital part of our community?  

* The proposed zoning law wants to stop contractor noise on Sunday mornings, but, comically, it allows personal firing ranges to create noise on Sunday mornings without any limitations (Section 180-49(B)(16)).

* The proposed zoning law permits Zero Lot Lines and adds “Townhouses” (defined as three or more attached units) as permitted uses (with Special Use Permit) in Hamlet and RL-3 Zones. Not only will this intensify the population in those areas, it ignores a 2017 source water survey which concludes that hamlet water supplies are already strained. Dense townhouse developments will further strain the quantity and diminish the quality of the water supply in those areas. The hamlet and rural zones represent our history and our rural character. Why would we alter the character and landscape of our historic countryside by allowing this type of development?

* The proposed zoning law severely restricts residents’ rights to rent their homes for short stays on Airbnb and similar websites to earn extra income to pay for taxes, school tuition, home repairs, and making ends meet. The proposed law now contains twelve pages of burdensome regulations targeted at stopping short-term home rentals. Meanwhile NYS is looking at ways to welcome short-term rentals, and has determined putting sales tax on them will bring in over $100 million in revenue for the state, of which Chatham would get its cut. Why are they restricting something that our NYS Governor wants to support?

* The Town Board claims limiting short term rentals (there are less than twenty in Chatham) will somehow increase the inventory of affordable year-round rental units. Yet under the revised law, citizens who rent out their homes in the traditional way will be liable for fines and possible jail time for loud noises created by their tenants, even though the homeowner had nothing to do with making the noise. (Section 180-49(E)).  Why would we discourage landlords from renting the young families who would otherwise remain or choose to live in Chatham, and who keep Chatham diverse and vital?

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The Town Board spent almost four years creating this onerous zoning law and tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on lawyers and consultants to help prepare the law. To be clear: the Town Board used our money to develop and promote a restrictive law that takes away our property rights.  

It’s vitally important that residents send a message to the Town Board that we don’t want their overbearing zoning law. We must stand together to protect our Town, our property rights and our rural way of life. We need to vote on November 5 for new leadership that will listen to residents and adopt zoning that is reasonable, not unduly restrictive.

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