“Regionally, the misalignment between the economy and its demographics is of grave concern. Overall population growth is essentially flat, and in many areas is declining, dramatically impacting school enrollment. The rapid decline in K-12 population impacts not just our schools, but the availability of a homegrown workforce. The data reflects that the region is getting older, and people are having fewer children than needed to replace the population. Young working-age people, if given the opportunity, leave to seek employment elsewhere, and if they stay, are postponing the formation of families due to the cost of living. Furthermore, high-paying jobs lost in the last two decades have made way for low-skill, low-wage jobs often resulting in workers having to hold down two jobs just to balance their budget.
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?
* * *
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.
For those who haven’t heard, the Town Board has sent the latest version, labeled FINAL DRAFT, to the County Planning Board for review. What does that mean? That means they took the next step to PASS THESE RESTRICTIVE ZONING LAWS… without telling us.
On September 30th, documents were filed with the County and signed by Maria Lull. Her signature was dated October 2nd. That’s a whole other bizarre act. Why post-date a document?
Not to mention, September 30th is also the date posted on the new proposed zoning law that they were supposed to get our feedback on BEFORE submitting to the county.
We think someone’s pants are on fire.
Not only did they post-date it, they buried it on the site. It was NOT posted in the “PROPOSED NEW ZONING” section. To find it, you had to go to the left sidebar, click “Government,” then “Comprehensive Plan” (again, NOT under “Proposed New Zoning” in that dropdown either), and then scroll ALL THE WAY DOWN to the bottom to find it. (Zoning CCPB 239 Referral Form 9.26.19 signed… yet, again, the date Maria put on her signature was 10/2.)
Yep. They never told us. Not one word. The last 2 times they sent the zoning to the county, they DID tell us. They discussed it in the board meetings, as they are required to. do. It is a violation of Open Meeting law for them to do otherwise. Yet, they DID violate the law and didn’t think anything of it. In fact, Michael Richardson (who is on the board yet never got a single vote from any of us bc he was appointed by Maria Lull), said this about our fury at their deception, “I just don’t get it.”
I’m sorry, but why would we want someone representing us who doesn’t get us?
Yet the incumbents keep touting success with the budget process, blaming the past administration for some sort of financial ruin. Um, is it just us or do they not realize Town Supervisor Maria Lull and Deputy Supervisor Bob Balcom WERE part of that last administration they spend so much time blaming!
But back to what the County review of our zoning laws really means.
What Does the County Actually Do in the Review?
The Board has led us to believe that this is a “necessary step” to ensure our laws are good laws. Well, not so fast. The county already APPROVED these horrible laws… TWICE. Yet because of the Q&As with the public, the Board identified 90 issues that needed to be fixed. 90! And again, let us remind you, the County already APPROVED these horrible laws… TWICE.
So, yeah, forgive us, but we really don’t buy this “approval” process. The County approving them does not mean these laws are great!
In fact, the County does NOT care if the law demands we bring our garbage cans in within 48 hours. The County does NOT care if the law requires us to put a front porch on any new building in a hamlet. The County does NOT care what time or day we mow our lawns. Those are only 3 examples of many.
ALL the county cares about is that our zoning does not negatively impact any other towns in the County.
The County does NOT care if one town’s laws are over-restrictive and another’s are not. ALL they care about is if one town’s laws negatively impact another’s.
Oh, and Bob Balcom even commented at the last Board meeting, on October 10th, that they don’t even have to take ANY of the County’s recommendations. Not one.
We can tell you, without reservation, the County WILL rubber-stamp approve this. The Board WILL push this to Public Hearing in late November – Richardson all but admitted that tonight at the Q&A. And the Board WILL pass this pile of overly-restrictive zoning to the next step.
And guess what? They can pass it into law even if they lose the election because the election winners don’t take office until January 1st.
The ONLY way to stop these laws from being voted on by this Board, is to keep telling them what you think is wrong with them! Email your questions to them. Demand more Q&As.
It’s a beast, but please try to check the sections of this law that will negatively impact your life and ask questions! Demand answers! Believe us, there are MANY flaws within these 233 pages! Oh, yes, it is now up to 233 pages of restrictive fun!
Yes, we heard you groan when you clicked that link. Sorry, but they keep making this thing BIGGER! To our horror.
If only the citizens could charge the Board for the hours they have put into fighting this law. But believe us, the Board HAS paid Nan the Planner and John Lyons, the land-use attorney for THEIR time. Tens of thousands of dollars!
The Sham Q&A is a MUST WATCH!
Want to see the video of the Q&A from October 14th? Oh, yes, they had a zoning Q&A on Columbus Day. They don’t care that it’s a holiday and people might be out of town.
This video says it all. It truly is a must-watch event. Richardson acts like he is the King of Chatham, dismissing his subjects and laughing at them.
We know it looks grim, but we can overcome this!
Please do NOT give up! Keep fighting this horrible zoning law! The ultimate voice you have is your right to vote. Of all the elections Chatham has ever had, this one is the most important.
Chatham needs you. VOTE for Donal, Vance and Abi, and send a clear message that this Town Supervisor Maria Lull and Michael Richardson need to be removed from office!
Donal, Vance and Abi are knocking on doors and trying to get to everyone’s house, yet at the same time, they are working hard to read the 233 pages of proposed laws and going to every Town Board meeting to stop this law from passing! So, please know they are already trying to save Chatham from zoning fitting of Westchester County.
With an over 200-page draft of the proposed zoning laws, it’s not easy for anyone to find the time to read them thoroughly. In an effort to give Chatham citizens a way to more easily digest the changes, people are volunteering to read portions and post summaries here.
If you read the marked draft, please note the red marking is only showing the difference between the January 2019 versionof the draft and the current draft. This is NOT the difference between the actual existing zoning laws and this new proposed law. There is a lot that has changed. For example, here’s a marked draft of the current law to the August, 2018 draft.
Please note, the Town of Chatham zoning laws are being voted on quickly. The Town laws do not impact the Village, but the villagers do pay Town and Village taxes and have a vote in elections.
The Village of Chatham will also be updating their zoning laws in the coming months, so please pay attention to those changes and work together with the Village Board in the early stages. If you’re unclear as to where the boundaries are, here’s a Village map.
Regardless of whether you live in the village or in the broader town, the decisions of your Town Supervisor and Councilmen impact your lives.
CRITICAL: The laws are written in a very ambiguous fashion. “Grandfathering” applies only in limited ways. Once these new laws take effect, even if you followed the old zoning law rules, the new ones trump them going forward. This will affect families who have lived here for generations, second homeowners, business people, landlords, tourists… everyone! If the board passes these laws and you violate them, you’ll be fined. Not a cheap fine. And you could spend up to 6 months in jail, though the town lawyer claims that is rarely used. But it’s still in there. It’s an option.
ANOTHER IMPORTANT POINT:
A lot of these laws are written in an ambiguous way and not with a mindful, purposeful intent to serve a rural community. They are written as if we live in Westchester or some other suburb or city.
They are also far too intrusive and overreaching. The explanation we’ve received from the board is that some of the proposed laws comply with existing NYS law.
Fine. But there’s one big problem with that… it is not only redundant to place them in our code, but also laws CHANGE!
The things that are in the code that are “current NYS law” shouldn’t even be in there precisely BECAUSE they are already current law. There’s no need to call them out.
So, if NYS changes the law, these zoning laws are jacked.
ALSO… if something is not listed as “EXEMPT,” it is automatically illegal. Even something that hasn’t been invented or thought up yet.
These new, proposed zoning laws are based off of the old Comprehensive Plan that was adopted in 2007, which is outdated. We’ve been told that the board must work off that old plan. One board member, Councilman Balcolm, even suggested we give the new laws a chance for a couple of years, and then we can always go back and change the zoning laws again.
We all know how hard it is to undo something, especially with the red tape of government. And why should we be forced to live with unreasonable laws?
More importantly, what’s the rush? What harm will it do to slow down and do it right the first time?
A better approach would be to stop pushing these new zoning laws, go back and update the Comprehensive Plan, and then create common sense zoning laws based on a plan that represents the Chatham of today and the future.
As you read the summary below, imagine the impact the laws will have not only on you, but also on your neighbors. As you drive around the town in the coming days, look at trucks, RVs, signs, driveways, garbage cans, etc. that will all be in violation after this law has passed.
Now, remember why you purchased your home. Some of us have lived here for generations. Others are second homeowners. But chances are, you either chose to stay here or chose to buy here because you loved the rural aspects of our town. The freedom of choice. Country living.
We are united in our love for this town.
The fresh air of the country also brings the noise of chickens and dogs. The mowing of fields, and the local children practicing musical instruments in their home. Keep all of that in mind as you read the summaries.
Because we don’t want to only point out problems, but also offer solutions, we hope the board reads a detailed list of suggested changes given us by a concerned citizen who has read the proposed zoning changes multiple times.
We’ll start the summary with the ones that most impact our daily lives.
Let’s dive in!
Check back often, as we’ll be updating this page as we get through them...
All of section 180-49 Noise must be a concern to every citizen living in Chatham. Whether you are a homeowner, renter, or contractor section 180-49 will dictate your activities.
This section overreaches in the fact that it is controlling individual’s lives and livelihoods.
Piano players, pet owners, snowmobilers, contractors and even your personal voices will be regulated under the proposed law. In addition a section on sound reproduction devices including those in your vehicle that “annoy or disturb the quiet, comfort or repose of a reasonable person of normal sensitivities” is a violation. Can someone please define “reasonable person” or “normal sensitivities”?
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 with a special use permit. (table, p66)
The entire section needs to be studied by every individual as there are so many intrusions into your personal life. The restrictions go beyond what should be included in a zoning law. There are civil laws on the books that apply to disturbing the peace if that is the concern of the town.
The violating noise must not exceed ambient noise by 10 decibels for a period of one hour. I’m not certain how we know if we’ve exceeded the limit unless we start carrying sound-measuring equipment on us.
For reference, this site gives information on decibel levels. 60dB is equivalent to conversation in a restaurant or background music at an office. 70dB equals the noise of a vacuum cleaner, and 80 dB occurs when you run your garbage disposal.
SOME, BUT NOT ALL, NOTABLE UNLAWFUL SOUNDS:
use of any sound-reproduction device whether inside or outside a structure
any impulsive noise which occurs repeatedly for one hour and exceeds 75 dBA
“Yelling, shouting or hooting at any time or place so as to annoy or disturb the quiet, comfort and repose of a reasonable person of normal sensitivities.”
sounding of a horn or alarm for more than 5 minutes (let’s hope your date isn’t late)
any other excessive or unreasonable noise which annoys someone (which is totally subjective and easily abused)
any use of a musical instrument in or out of the house (let’s hope no one has a child who is learning the drums or trumpet)
animal, bird or fowl, roaming free, on or off owner’s premise, disturbing neighbors for more than an hour. So, if your dog barks on your property or even gets loose and barks around town for more an hour, that’s a violation. NOTE: Any noise that happens during an official hunt… you know, the kind that Maria Lull used to do in Old Chatham… that’s fine. Those dogs can bark as long as they want. (Page 166, section 9.)
You cannot operate a recreational vehicle (all-terrain, dirt bike, go cart, snowmobile, or watercraft) at any time, at any speed or under any manner whatsoever that exceeds 80 dBA, at a distance of fifty feet. *Fifty feet from…. what? A person? A residence? A tree?
EXEMPT SOUNDS: There are some, but usually limited to certain hours, typically business hours, like construction, agriculture, etc.
But… you are not allowed to mow your lawn or use power tools at all before 9AM on a Sunday. Watch out, you early risers! Early mowing regulations might be appropriate in zoning for a village, but not for those in rural Chatham.
If you hire someone to mow your lawn, they cannot mow after 5pm.
Specific maximum noise level limitations (dBA) are established as follows at the property line:
Sunday through Thursday, 7am-9pm (day): 65 dBA
Sunday through Thursday, 9pm-7am: (night): 50 dBA
Friday and Saturday, 7am-9pm (day): 75 dBA
Friday and Saturday, 9pm-7am (night): 60 dBA
Can you all remember those? There will be a quiz at the end. It’s called the November election ballot.
Rent your property? You could be fined because of your tenants’ actions…
If you’re a landlord, you, too, need to be careful. If your tenant violates any of these noise restrictions, you are the one who is responsible. After you’re notified of a violation by your tenant, the only way you won’t be responsible is if you can prove you have started eviction proceedings. You might not want to rent to families with school-age kids who want to learn musical instruments, or someone who wants to run their air conditioner from 9pm to 7am. Just sayin’.
NOTE: The board claims one of their justifications on restricting short-term rental use is to provide more long-term housing. They’d be better off making it attractive for landlords to rent to families with children and/or pets.
§180-40. Garbage Trash Bins.
“Garbage trash bins placed along a public road for pickup by a trash hauler shall be removed within 48 hours after pick up or be removed to a shielded area within the boundaries of the property.”
Weekenders will have to make a special trip up on Wednesday to take in your garbage cans, as County Waste collects on Monday. Or you’ll have to pay someone to do it… $$$.
And if you’re elderly, or live on a hill and dragging your garbage cans is a hardship, too bad. Pay up. That’ll be $300.
Are you ready? This will impact every single person. Period. Exclamation point.
“Parking is not permitted in the front yard setback unless the parking area is adequately screened to mitigate negative visual impacts.”
This means restaurants with parking lots like East Chatham Food Company’s would be in violation, even though their parking lot has been like that forever. Luckily for ECFC, they’re just over the border into the Town of Canaan (there are odd boundaries in Columbia County that don’t match the town name, so be certain in what town your home’s zoning rules exist).
Again, we ask, why not just grandfather these businesses/buildings in? Baffling.
Almost every business-use states this: “Parking shall be located behind a principal building and shall be completely screened from view from the public road and from any other adjacent residential uses. ”
So much for the board’s claim they want to help promote businesses.
But wait… parking will impact homeowners, too. Ready?
UPDATE: When the Jackson’s ask about their parking at Jackson’s Old Chatham House, Councilmen Balcolm assured them their parking was fine. But… it was later brought up by a citizen that their parking would not be “fine” if they were to ever sell their restaurant, or close it for one year’s time and try to reopen it. The new owners would need to follow the new rules.
“Required off-street parking areas for three or more automobiles shall have individual spaces marked and shall be so designed, maintained and regulated that no parking or maneuvering incidental to parking shall be on any public street, walk or alley, and so that any automobile may be parked and unparked without moving another.”
The above is on page 28, and appears to read that a residence will be required to have 3 off-street parking spaces. Please correct us if you find out otherwise, because this will impact many homes… and good luck to the realtors who have to inform owners who want to sell that they need to do these updates first.
HAVE A RECREATIONAL VEHICLE?
Good luck. “No parking of any recreational vehicle shall be allowed within any required front, side or rear yard setback.” (pg 201)
If you have a RV for more than 30 days but less than 6 months, you need a building permit.
HAVE A RENTAL PROPERTY?
“All multi-unit dwellings shall have no less than two parking spaces per dwelling unit. No front yard shall be used for open air parking or storage of any vehicle.”
“All automotive repair work shall be conducted in fully enclosed building.”
“Where an automotive repair use adjoins a residential use, a landscape screen with a minimum height of ten (10) feet, shall be provided adjacent to the shared property line.”
The laws are written in such an ambiguous way that it’s hard to easily determine if this applies to weekend mechanics or not. From what we can tell, it applies to businesses. If it applied to residence, you wouldn’t be able to change your oil in your driveway anymore, or change a flat tire, unless you had a 10-foot “landscape screen.”
PLEASE NOT that if you have a garage and decide to “play it safe” and work on your car inside, you’ll need to pay very close attention to carbon monoxide poisoning if your garage is not properly ventilated. Please read this thoroughly to keep yourself safe!
We don’t have a lot of auto-repair shops in Chatham, but if you have ever gone to get your car fixed anywhere, you’ll see how restrictive these rules are:
Repair shops have to build screening for cars parked more than 72 hours.
They can’t idle a car for more than 15 minutes
Bay doors shall face the rear yard.
Dumpster locations shall be screened from public view.
There shall be no outside accumulation of parts, tires, spare vehicles, etc.
If you sell cars, “the total area for the outdoor display of motor vehicles, mobile homes and/or boats, including the rows and/or spaces in between, shall not exceed 25% of the total lot. “
Page 57 says Healthcare and/or dental offices are not permitted unless by permit by an industrial or business zone. What about mental health counselors who work from their homes?
MUSEUMS, TOURISM, LODGING:
Did you know the Old Chatham Shaker Museum wants to move into the vacant old furniture building at the end of Main Street? It’ll be amazing for our town!
The restrictions on short-term rentals (STR) will definitely impact the town’s ability to accommodate tourists and your extended family.
There are more details of STR restrictions below, but in quick summary, you can’t rent out your home for more than 30 days a year unless you also live in that home, full time. Most people using Airbnb and VRBO do not want to stay in a house with the homeowners. They want a whole-house rental. Plus the younger generations prefer renting via Airbnb than staying in hotels. It’s the way of the future for travel.
Well, we’ll get to that in an upcoming post on the backstory of this STR mess, but another reason we’ve heard from the board is that “other towns are doing it.”
Other people jump off bridges, but should we do that, too?
The reality is, these “other towns,” like Lake George, already have multiple hotels for tourists. WE DO NOT! Just because a neighboring town is putting in restrictions, does NOT mean we need to jump on the bandwagon!
Take the PS21 for example, the majority of people buying tickets ask where they can stay… Hudson hotels are booked up far in advance, and people don’t want to have to drive long distances after a late-night performance.
Help our town businesses thrive by embracing and welcoming their customers! And also area extended families who want to visit need nearby places to stay.
Chatham has ALWAYS been rooted in entrepreneurs. Most locals have their own businesses, or second businesses to supplement their income. Rental income is a valuable option for us.
Multiple times at the June 20th meeting, Town Supervisor Maria Lull stated these new laws would make the town friendly and encouraging to development.
There were audible gasps, as at sent up a red flag for a lot of people because Supervisor Lull is a realtor.
Then, we noticed that on June 3, 2019, what was supposed to be an Economic Stabilization Committee meeting turned into a Special Board Meeting on the spot.
“Richardson and Dunavin report that between the Sundog Solar ( Box Factory Property) and the Town Hall Properties, there is a possibility of up to 300 acres that could be developed.”
“Richardson reports that possible sights for “Pocket Neighborhoods” could be in areas adjacent to the existing water / sewer system, making expansion the most economical. Locations mentioned include Harmon Heights, River Street, Line Streets,Rte. 66, heading North our of the Village, as well as adjacent or partially in Crellin Park. Possibly totaling three to four pocket neighborhoods, with twelve to seventeen houses each.”
They are also exploring expanding the village water system and even discussed it expanding into Ghent. Ask anyone in the Village about their water bills… you might want to stay on top of this topic.
They also discussed alienating the parklands, meaning getting that designation removed so the land can be developed, including a portion of Crellin Park, to create these “pocket communities.”
What do you think is going on?
We can appreciate the town’s need to raise revenues, find affordable housing, etc, but alienating our parklands, taking a portion of Crellin Park away for this “experiment,” developing 300 acres on 295, and expanding an already failing water system outside of the Village is concerning.
Please read the full minutes to get a more detailed picture. This is only one meeting of the discussion, so not the full information, but certainly something to be aware of.
More importantly, if someone who runs our town is a realtor, the option to recuse themselves from these discussion and decision should be explored at public meetings so the town can understand the person’s motives and be comfortable with their involvement.
SHORT-TERM RENTALS (STR)
STR owners are your friends and neighbors, not the enemy!
The more concerning aspect of limiting STRs is the impact on those homeowners. It’s important not to assume second-homeowners are buying investment properties. There are many reasons someone would want to rent out their homes…
Some owners have inherited these homes, which have been in their families for generations, and they want to keep them, but cannot afford the taxes otherwise. Others have second homes here because they grew up here, and want to share this wonderful community with their children, but again, need a little extra income to afford the high taxes. To hear these families talk at the meetings, pleading with the board, would break your heart. Tears have flowed. We wish you all would come to the meetings to hear how these rules are dramatically impacting your friends and neighbors.
STRs are NOT Illegal in Current Zoning Laws:
The current use of homes as STRs is not illegal. An omission from the current (outdated) list of “permitted uses” does not make something illegal. STR homes are rental properties, which is a legal use of one’s property, and a property owner’s right.
If the town’s lawyer is advising you that they are illegal, Chatham really needs a better lawyer.
Even if you don’t have or want to have a short-term rental (STR), you should read on to see the discriminating restriction of property owners’ rights. Taxpaying homeowners are not being treated equally.
Everyone, especially STR owners, want their neighbors to be happy, their homes to be safe, and their guests to be courteous. We don’t think many would object to having to have a permit and even a home inspection. Everyone wants peaceful, common sense, safe operations. But these restrictions are discriminatory and violate many rights of a homeowner.
There are some basic premises underlying the short-term zoning regulations.
The primary one is the fact that second homeowners are
denied the property rights granted to “domiciles” homeowners, even though they
pay the same taxes. Second homeowners
(Class 1, p.179) are allowed to rent for 30 days or less in a calendar year,
while permanent residents (Class 2 & 3) can rent short-term every day, year-round
either within their home, or on one extra home on their property.
If it is to be a whole house rental, which is the preferred
type of accommodation these days, you’d have to have an extra house on your
If someone, resident or not, bought purely for the sake
of creating an investment property, they could rent year-round if that property
were in a business or industrial zone.
An Inn would now only be allowed in a business or industrial zone, and
we all know how appealing that would be for someone seeking a peaceful stay in
Within these categories there are numerous restrictions
(too many to mention so these are some highlights):
Within class 3 there is a limit of 10 guests (2 per room) whether you have 8 bedrooms or not.
And for all classes, there is a strict rule of “no weddings, reunions, parties or other group gatherings of any kind” (p.180). So do your potential 10 guests have to be unknown to one another? How many people are there in a ‘gathering’?
If you’re following the Chatham Community Facebook page the past few months, you might have seen this question:
This law prohibits growth of jobs in our town. For example, a STR owner can only employ one person. Most people have one person who cleans, one person who mows the lawn, and/or one person who maintains the pool.
Then all categories of rentals must have an inspection (p.183), pay for that inspection, pay a separate application fee (to be announced later when the public has no more hearings in which to object), keep complete records of all guests (names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, dates), and provide a local contact person available 24/7 to address any problems within 1 hour.
The owner will not be called, but the owner must
nevertheless remedy the situation within 1 hour or be in violation and be
subject to a civil fine of $500 per day for starters–each day being a separate
On p. 206 the code adds that any violation of any provision of this zoning code carries a $200 a day civil penalty and potentially a criminal penalty of $350 a day and possible imprisonment for 6 months, for a 1st offense, the fines going up to $1000 a day. The town’s lawyer dismissed the prison time, saying this is very rarely enforced, yet they still insist on keeping that possibility in the written law.
All short-term renters will be subject to surveillance by the Host Compliance Co. which encourages anonymous complaints from owners, for which the taxpayers will pay $5,300 a year.
“Allow complainants to stay anonymous…”
That could be so easily abused by a disgruntled neighbor! Plus, anonymous reporting allows no due process for the STR homeowner.
Host Compliance monitors rental activity and occupancy tax activity. The town approved paying for BOTH of those services, yet a TOWN cannot tax short-term rentals. Only a city or county can collect tax on STRs. So, the Board is approving a $5300 tax-payer expense for a service they can only use 50% of.
The contract for Host Compliance also gives Host Compliance permission to get a warrant and search your house. Read the contract HERE.
And noise cannot emanate beyond the boundaries of the
property, so if you’re in a hamlet, no children laughing outside, no calling
them in for dinner.
The supposed purpose of all these rules is to foster
neighborliness. But you can of course rent for 31 days or more and your renters
can have as many guests as they want, have reunions, have ‘gatherings’, let the
children play outside and the homeowner does not need a permit, an inspection,
a contact person, records on their renters, and is subject to no surveillance.
Does all this seem a little overbearing and like they
aren’t treating homeowners equally? It does to us.
So much for wanting to embrace our community’s history and promote area businesses.
The zoning laws are treating rental properties as home businesses.
The following information was recently sent to the Board from an Enrolled Agent with the IRS:
Short-term rentals are not home businesses. Both the federal and NYS governments, which are taxing authorities, recognize them as rental income.
The facts of law:
Rental income is considered passive income.
Passive income has different rules than business income.
Business income is considered earned income.
Losses for passive income have limitations and are not always 100% deductible.
Losses for business income are 100% deductible.
Rental income of a personal-use dwelling of 14 days or less is not considered taxable income on your tax return, regardless of amount. This is the only known income or profit that is not reportable.
For example, if you sell your personal car and make a profit, you are required to report that to the government.
Another example, if you rent your house out for the Super Bowl, or for Saratoga Race Track, or for any reason, for 14 days or less, which could be three weekends (12 days), for $10K, $100K, or any amount of money, that is not reportable income.
If you are have a business for any amount of days, you must report the income, even if it’s just $1.
There is no such thing as a “home business” that would ever allow you not to report the income, even if you were open for business for just one day.
This code of 14 days or less, does not apply to Bed and Breakfasts because they are considered by the IRS code as businesses. It ONLY applies to rental income of a personal-use dwelling.
Another distinction: Businesses that purchase equipment, such as refrigerators, A/C, etc., are allowed investment credit.
Rental properties, including STRs, are not allowed investment credit for such purchases.
The income from rental properties are not subject to self-employment tax, and are reported on Schedule E, the rental income schedule.
Earned income reported from any Bed and Breakfast, is reported on Schedule C, the business income schedule, subject to self-employment tax, regardless of the number of days rented.
180-33 Design Elements (for Hamlets):
This section reads like code from a Home Owner’s Association (HOA): Pay attention contractors and architects!
Don’t try to be original:
“New or in-fill construction should be designed so as to be compatible with the general character of buildings on the street frontage. The setback, height, bulk, gable and pitch of roofs, use of porches, shutters and other exterior design elements should result in an overall design that complements the existing character of the streetscape.”
“Dead-flat roofs are generally inconsistent with the existing character of the Town and should be avoided, except where the size or type of the building requires a flat roof and facade variations and other architectural features can disguise the flatness of the roof.”
It’s unclear what town they plucked this boiler-plate zoning template from, but there are many flat roofs in the village, why can’t they also exist farther out in town?
How big can you go?
“Buildings of 40 feet or more in width should be visually divided into smaller increments to reduce their apparent size and contribute to a human-scale development.”
What even is a “human-scale development”?
Regardless, alterations of homes to create angles and divisions dramatically increase construction costs. But it’s your money, not theirs, so pony up.
Contractors and architects… you can’t build a home larger than 5,000 square feet in a hamlet. It’s unclear if you could build one larger than 5,000 square feet outside of a hamlet.
“Exceptions may be made only if the facades of larger buildings are articulated to appear as multiple buildings, each part of which does not exceed a maximum building footprint of 5,000 square feet.”
Hamlets exist that are not congested, with a single properties having many acres. Unless the hamlets are zoned as a historical district, all of these restrictions are overboard.
Again, I DO hope the planning board has experience with architecture and design, so they are qualified to made these judgement calls.
The taste police are here…
“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.”
There’s that “human” word again…
They are requiring you to build a front porch. What if you just want a back porch? Or no porch at all?
Here are some more construction rules …
ARTICLE IV. Special Regulations (pages 95-124)
Detailed Site plan review by the Planning Board is required for all “nonresidential uses, public and semipublic buildings, multifamily residential units, timber operations, whether or not such development includes a subdivision, clustered subdivision, conservation subdivision, or resubdivision of a site.”
the requirements of the site plan review are indeed quite detailed (and potentially personally costly for the applicant to fulfill)
Plan review is NOT required for single and two-family dwellings… nor is it required for “structures associated with a farm operation, commercial horse boarding operation and riding academy, and other agricultural structures.” So, if you happen to love (and own) horses, this plan’s for you!
The application form and fee may be determined in the future by the Board.
If the board thinks you aren’t fully presenting all future phases of a plan, they will reject it.
The planning board is tasked with determining a site plan’s “compatibility with the neighborhood and overall quality of Chatham.” Plans “shall honor traditional styles and patterns found in Chatham” and shall “harmonize visually and physically with the town’s traditional character.” Plans should also emulate “traditional development patterns.” (I hope the planning board has the requisite experience and knowledge) A few interesting details:
if you are planning “a conversion of an existing main street structure”, it must have provisions for both commercial and residential uses… what does this mean for the proposed Shaker Museum or does “main street” not really mean “Main Street”?
if you are building a non-agricultural building, you may not face it with plain, reinforced concrete slabs, corrugated steel, press wood, or mirror glass. (Hope you don’t want to build an inventive take on a mid-century modern home in Chatham! Or that you don’t own a home or building in Chatham that already sports these materials.)
utilities must be buried underground ($$$$$$)
there are very detailed rules about the size and placement of accessory buildings, garages, and parking — basically all hidden in back and facing the street.
But, they want you to be friendly!! So you have to build a front porch! Again, read on: “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. Its placement, size, relation to interior and public spaces, and the height of railings are all factors in achieving these intents. 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.”
There are many references to preventing disruption to neighbors by sound, vibration, odor, and light. Fair enough. I am curious how you prevent a “light source from being visible beyond a property boundary” however.
I’m not certain what the following is referring to, but it sure seems like a very specific regulation for a very specific piece of property, doesn’t it?: The horizontal building elevation facing Route 295 shall provide a variety of architectural features such as but not limited to windows, pedestrian entrances, building offsets, projections, detailing, change in materials or similar features for a minimum of 30 percent of the horizontal building facade.” I do hope that landowner knows what this is about!
ACCESSORY BUILDINGS §180-36
One residential accessory building per lot, subject to special use permit.
If you have a detached garage, you already have an accessory building. You are done. No pool, no shed, nothing. You are at your limit, even if you have over 4 acres.
If you want to put in a pool, that counts as one accessory building. You cannot also build a pool house.
Note: there are a lot of “subject to special use permit” clauses. Read that as “Pay up, Buttercup.” See Section §180-30. Special use permits.
“The aggregate footprint area of all accessory structures shall not exceed 50% of the primary structure’s footprint or 1,500 SF in floor area, whichever is more restrictive.”
“No accessory use or structure, including garages, sheds, swimming pools and tennis courts, may be located in the front yard of any residential lot.”
Let’s hope we all have big back yards.
§180-50. Trailers, Mobile Homes and, yes, Tiny Houses.
“No mobile home shall be located in the Town of Chatham, except as authorized by Chapter 151, Mobile Homes. Factory-manufactured homes, as defined in this chapter, are permissible as per 180-36, and 53.”
So, that means, you can ONLY use a mobile home, or factory-manufactured home, if you are housing farm workers (180-36), or as temporary residence due to construction (180-53).
It appears in the §180-62. Cessation section, you would only be allowed to put up a mobile home within Edgewood Acres and Breezy Hill. But if you had land of your own, you could NOT put up a mobile home.
This aspect is in the current law, too, but when this was originally written, factory-manufactured homes were entirely different than they are now. Some are beautiful! Not to mention the economy was different. Such as…
TINY HOUSES: With the student-loan debt so high, many of the 20-something generation are now building or buying “tiny houses.”
“As of June 2018, Forbes reported that total US student debt was $1.52 trillion and that 44.2 million people owed debt. The average student debt is $38,390. The median student debt is between $10,000 and $25,000, while 2% of borrowers owe $100,000 or more.”
Tiny homes are significantly less expensive than buying a traditional home. They are also able to be pulled behind a truck. That puts them in the category of either recreational vehicle or mobile home.
The trend of tiny homes is growing. It’s practical. But just like ignoring the rise in demand of short-term rentals, these new zoning laws do not take future growth and trends into account. They aren’t considering how the next generation wants (or will have to) live because of their economic circumstances.
Example: Let’s say your child has a $40,000 student loan debt. You have a house on 5 acres. Your child wants to save money but also wants privacy. They want to put up a tiny house in your backyard instead of living in your basement, just for a couple of years, while they get on their feet.
What’s wrong with this plan? Property taxes, that’s what’s wrong. Because these homes are mobile, the town can’t charge property tax for them, but only for the land they are on. Hence why they are restricting all mobile homes to be limited to mobile-home parks.
Yet they claim to want to limit short-term rentals because there’s a lack of affordable housing. Can you see the hypocrisy?
This rule smacks of elitism. There’s no other way to interpret the shaming of people for living in an alternate type of home, just to save themselves money.
§180-51. Storage of mobile homes, boats, trailers and trucks.
“Except as may be otherwise permitted under the provisions of this chapter or any other Town regulation, no mobile home, boat, trailer, travel trailer, RV or truck shall be stored (which is different from parked) in the front yard in any district. See also §180-58.”
Please note, the reader has been searching unsuccessfully for the definitions of “parked” and “stored” in the document.
So, if you have a boat and want to store it for the winter, but don’t have a parking area in the backyard… which isn’t clear any type of parking is allowed in your backyard anyway… you need to pay hundreds of dollars to have it stored somewhere else. But that storage facility probably has to put up screening now, in order to be in compliance.
What is the definition of “truck”? Is your Toyota or Ford pickup a truck? Or are they talking about box trucks, or ones of certain weight. It doesn’t matter, because as this law is written today, any truck stored in your driveway would be in violation, even if it’s spanking brand new and beautiful.
Mini-Mart/Convenience Store (No drive through allowed)
At the edge of the village, sits Chatham RiteAid/Walgreens, which is not only a drugstore, but also a convenience store. They have a drive-through pick up. Will that have to be removed?
When you look closely at the Village of Chatham map, you’ll see Rite Aid appears to be in Ghent. Lucky for them!
ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS:
“Chairperson. The Town Board shall appoint one of the Zoning Board of Appeals members as chairperson to preside at all meetings and hearings and to fulfill the authorized duties of that office.”
Perhaps this has always been the practice, but why is the Town Board choosing who is the chairperson of the Zoning Board of Appeals? Shouldn’t that board decide on their own who is their leader?
But while we’re here, let’s talk about history. It was brought to our attention by multiple people who were on the Planning and Zoning Boards that Maria Lull would instruct them on who to approve and who to decline. Many people serving our town quit because of it.
That’s one big section. God help the Code Enforcement Officer.
NEXT TOWN BOARD MEETING IS THURSDAY, AUGUST 1st! PLEASE COME! Town Board Meetings are held at 488 State Route 295 on the first Thursday of the month at 6:00 PM (if needed) and on the third Thursday of the month at 6:00 PM.
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.
of zoning in the Town of Chatham
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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.”
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.”
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.