Dear Fellow Chatham Citizens… We Need New Blood

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 20thThis 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.

The Board Took Action Toward Passing Zoning… Violating Open Meeting Law. Watch the Video from the Zoning Q&A. Shocking!

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!

Here it is: NEW PROPOSED ZONING LAW

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.

PLEASE SHARE!

Response to the Incumbent Mailer

Local elections should not be partisan. They have nothing to do with national politics. They are personal, impacting our day-to-day lives in an intimate way. Having trust in our officials is critical for citizens to feel hopeful and confident in our leadership.

Bob Linville shares his concerns regarding a recent misleading mailing by the incumbents.


To the Residents of Chatham,

The Democrats’ mailer of August 2nd is audacious, pompous and misleading.  It demands a response to correct the perception it creates.

Claiming that an inherited budget deficit existed four years ago is wrong.  Monies moving around between accounts as the need dictates does not show a built-in deficit.  To talk of a structural deficit is to speak of something that is not there.  And what is a zero-based budget anyway?  Gobbledygook to impress. 

Further, there have always been reserve funds for different purposes in the Town.  Again, those funds are created and used as necessary.  They are then replenished as necessary.  Holding tax increases to 2% is not heroism.  It has always been done and is the state law.  There is no triumphant success here, just noisy back-patting.

Further, puffing about increasing the number of meetings, committees and participants is no more than gassing.  When is a meeting a product?  Anyone who has attended the Town Board or Committee meetings knows there is no real exchange of ideas leading to modification of decisions.  Questions are not answered except with promises of answers later. 

Only heavy pressure causes the Board to react at all.  When it does react, the response is grudging and often displays contempt for the citizen.  It is clear the Board members do not like or respect the citizens of Chatham or their well-being at all.  The proposed zoning law and its choking requirements make that clear.

Lastly, listing goals like business development, park improvements or less expensive housing is tiresome and obvious.  What has happened, really, in the last four years?  Everything is in the future and we are told member re-election is necessary for it.  I think not.

Bob Linville
Old Chatham

#TruthMatters #TrustMatters

SAM Party of New York Endorses Donal Collins for Chatham Town Supervisor

Focus on engaging the community earns Donal Collins SAM Party Nomination

October 2, 2019 — SAM Party of New York Chairman Michael Volpe today announced the endorsement of Donal Collins for Chatham Town Supervisor. Collins is part of a wave of residents who are looking for a way to break through partisan politics to get results for their community.

SAM Party of New York was founded to support candidates who are involved in their local communities and dedicated to getting things done. The SAM Party interviewed more than 200 candidates across New York State interested in running on the SAM Party line and promoting SAM’s principles of good government, transparency, and engaging residents to build solutions that work.

“The SAM Party is supporting candidates like Collins who are dedicated to improving the public engagement in their community and improving public discourse around important issues Chatham’s residents face,” said SAM Party of New York Chair Michael Volpe. “Donal’s understanding of the local economy across multiple sectors and efforts to increase economic opportunity for Chatham’s residents make us proud to nominate him for Chatham Town Supervisor. We encourage residents to vote for Donal Collins on the SAM Party line on November 5th.” 

“Chatham is a township of great diversity and I would like to see this defining characteristic brought to not only the town board, but the public participation in its deliberations as well,” said Chatham Town Supervisor Candidate Donal Collins. “I want to thank the SAM Party for nominating me for Town Supervisor. Their message of for ‘people over politics,’ is exactly how I believe elected officials should lead, and as Supervisor I promise to represent the concerns of all Chatham citizens regardless of party affiliation.”

For more information about SAM and what we stand for visit www.joinSAMNY.org.

Meet Donal Collins, our next Town Supervisor!


What is SAM?

SAM is New York’s New Party – an inclusive party, not separated by an aisle. SAM is about people who don’t want to be in a “red” or “blue” box, but want to come together for change and solutions.

Who really closed the door to communication with the citizens of Chatham?

The Lull, Richardson, and Sperry camp sent out a mailer recently, full of chest-thumping claims that are inaccurate. We’ll just address one of those today, because our focus really is on zoning. This one just couldn’t go without addressing, however, because we have spent hours and hours on the town website, researching, and laughed out loud at the following claim…

CLAIM: When speaking of the current Town Board, the mailing claims, “the old closed-door backroom days are gone.”

Really? From our view, the communication just keeps getting worse instead of better. While they take one step forward, like creating a new Facebook page (which we applaud), they take two steps back by posting only 2 times since it launched – a post about flu shots, and another about a farm tour, yet no posts at all about meeting dates and times.

When looking at the principle communication device of the Town of Chatham’s Town Board, their own website, we discovered some illuminating lack of information and what a logical person might consider “closed-door backroom” behavior.

FACTS:

Let’s take this one committee at a time.

Citizens Finance & Planning Committee: Michael Richardson is the chair, and candidate Gabriella Sperry is a member, and there are no minutes posted since June 30, 2017, when Bob Balcom was the chair. Balcom seemed to post minutes. There is one set of minutes in 2017, and 7 minutes for 2016. But Richardson then took over as chair… and the minutes stopped. Not one in 2018. Not one in 2019. Yet we know they had meetings, because some of those meeting dates were on the calendar, but not all.

Chatham Agricultural Partnership (CAP): Michael Richardson is the board member on this committee, and no minutes are posted on the website for any year. It is unclear if this committee has met recently. No information is available on the site. (But we do know that the current CAP sent a seething email to the Town Board, strongly objecting to the proposed zoning laws as not being agriculture friendly!)

Climate Smart Committee: Kevin Weldon is the board member on this committee, but according to the site, Councilwoman Landra Haber is also listed as a committee member. Note that she is no longer a councilwoman, but still listed as one on the website. No minutes posted. Yet, again, we know they had meetings, because some of those meeting dates were on the calendar, but without agendas.

Communications Committee: Kevin Weldon is the chair. Maria Lull, as supervisor, is a de facto member of all committees, but has chosen to be listed as a member of this committee only. No minutes are posted on the site. Yet we know they had meetings, again, because some of those meeting dates were on the calendar, but without agendas.

Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee: Bob Balcom is the chair. Like the Ag Committee, we aren’t sure if they have met in the past few years because nothing is available on the website and, per the board, they did not intend to review the Comprehensive Plan until the new zoning laws are passed… even though on page 6 of the current Comp Plan (adopted in 2009) it specifically states, “…it should be formally reviewed a minimum of every five to seven years to ensure that it remains a vital document to help guide Chatham in the future.”

Park and Recreation Committee: John Wapner and Kevin Weldon are the co-chairs. No minutes are posted. Yet, once again, we know they had meetings, because some of those meeting dates were on the calendar, but without agendas.

Roads Committee: John Wapner is the board member on that committee. The website shows they met twice in November, 2017, but not before or since. Information created by this committee was posted on the site, but no minutes or agendas.

Now… let’s look back at the only committee from the past administration that is posted on the current Town of Chatham website:

Zoning Implementation Committee: 2012 to 2015 from the previous administration (which, remember, the Democratic mailing defines as “closed-door”), has a total of 59 minutes posted: 2012, 15 minutes posted; 2013, 14 minutes posted; 2014, 17 minutes posted; 2015, 13 minutes posted. Again, 59 documents. Full disclosure and transparency!

Gee, that doesn’t seem very closed-door to us!

If one was to believe the website (which we’ve been assured by the current Town Board is the best place to find out what’s going on in our town), the current board is operating in a “closed-door backroom” manner.

Of course, despite the lack of information on the site, we know these committees indeed meet and are working hard. No one is disputing that. We truly appreciate the volunteers attending and helping the board find solutions to problems. But the lack of transparency as to agendas and minutes is alarming, leading a logical person to surmise the recent Lull, Richardson, Sperry mailing is misleading, at best, to imply they are governing with full transparency.

That doesn’t even go into how the agenda posted on the website for last Thursday’s board meeting was actually for a previous July 18th meeting instead of a new agenda for September 19th. Apparently, the real agenda wasn’t posted until an hour before the meeting.

IMPORTANT FACT, missing from the mailing: According to the New York State Open Meeting Law, minutes for any open meeting, including committee meetings, are to be posted no more than two weeks after the meeting date.

As of today, not only are the above committee meeting minutes mentioned still not posted, the last set of minutes posted for the Town Board meetings are from July 8, 2019.

Hmmm…

We’ve often heard excuses of “troubles with the new website,” or the new webmaster (who is a volunteer, appointed after Michael Richardson shamefully, wrongly, and publicly humiliated our Town Clerk) being behind on updating the site — but remember, he’s only a volunteer and has only been doing this a short time. The missing minutes go back years.

This is not the webmaster’s issue. Then or now. The information has to be provided to be posted. Provision is the direct responsibility of the committee/meeting chair. Who, of course, finally answers to the Town Supervisor. Start of issue, 2016. And still not addressed after continual exposure. Start of first term Supervisor Maria Lull, 2016.

Communication is lacking (ironically, the one committee her name is listed on as a member). The doors are indeed open at their meetings, but if they aren’t listed on the calendars and minutes aren’t provided, how can the citizens feel anything but a door slamming in their faces? They feel disrespected and dismissed. That is the truth.

Truth Matters… and sometimes it hurts to hear it.

#TrustMatters #TransparencyMatters #WhoClosedTheDoor

From Open Public Involvement to Broken Promises

There are several people who run our Facebook page and website, but I wanted to share that this post is from me, Jeanne. I have gone to almost all of the Q&A and Town Board meetings, and tonight, at the August 28th Special Town Board meeting, I’m the one behind the camera. And yes, you occasionally hear me huff or puff. It’s hard not to, sometimes. But up until this week, I had been hopeful about this Q&A process, because I witnessed it working, firsthand. Then… things abruptly changed.

Most of the recording below (and also posted via Facebook Live) consists of the discussions by the board of possible changes to the zoning law (a law they were about to pass on June 20th, but are now clearly finding many faults within it). It’s important to watch the discussions. That’s why we film them—to show how the sausage gets made. You’ll see that when the Board chooses to listen to the public’s comments, and re-examine the document, good changes happen.



But I also suggest you fast forward to the Public Comment section at the end to witness the citizens’ frustration when the Board chose not to confirm continued scheduling of zoning Q&As with us, despite having previously promised they would keep having them… until all questions were asked and answered.

In fact, the Town Board’s promise was quoted in the Columbia Paper, in earlier Town Board meeting minutes, and in their own Democratic Party mailing that went out recently.

“We will meet until there is nothing left to meet about.”

John Wapner

I don’t believe for one second that the decision to not schedule another Q&A is unanimous by the Board. I do believe when John Wapner made the declaration above, he meant it. He offered that opportunity in good faith.

However, tonight, Maria Lull refused to promise more Q&As, and Michael Richardson said that he wasn’t saying there would be no more Q&As, but in the next breath he also stated that he was not going to promise that there would be more Q&As either.

“Let’s get the revised document together and see what happens…” was the theme.

I do understand the need to clean the document up and do a reset. It’s a mess. But why stop the progress of the Q&As and block the public involvement while you’re doing it? We’re capable of multitasking!

Another unkept promise was to put a red-line version of the new law vs. the existing law on the Town of Chatham website. Up until now, there has never been one presented to the public. We’ve only seen red-line versions from one draft to another. That is not what people need to see. For example, it would be extremely helpful for citizens to know when something is a mere carryover, as opposed to a new regulation.

Full transparency means you show the citizens how their current law compares to the law you would like to pass.

Let’s hope they do that. As soon as possible.

I’ll tell you what’s going to happen if the public feels locked out again… another Tri-Village Firehouse meeting, overflowing with 300 angry citizens… or more this time.

What baffles (and saddens) me the most is these Q&As were absolutely helpful to the board and to the citizens. People want to feel heard, and we mostly did. Were these perfect meetings? Of course not, but we at least got to have an open dialogue with two board members at a time, even if our opinions didn’t always make it back to the remaining three board members. It was better than nothing. The Board even referenced previous Q&A discussions in tonight’s workshop and admitted the Q&As were helpful in reaching agreement on changes. (Well, everyone except Maria).

They are clearly in a rush, but we don’t know why. There is quite literally no zoning emergency that Chatham is suffering from. None.

I won’t even go into how tone deaf it was to set up a Special Town Board meeting on the first night of the Columbia County Fair… the biggest family event of the year.

We’ve heard over and over how much time the board has put into these proposed laws, but the public’s commitment is equally important. Some have missed vacations, time with their kids before sending them off to college, taken days off from work to read the proposed zoning laws and do research, all to attend the barrage of meetings crammed into the past weeks. They are volunteering their time because of their love and commitment to Chatham.

In their recent Democratic mailing that supports the re-election of Maria Lull, it was stated this Board should be applauded for having over 40 meetings this year. I respectfully challenge that statement. The reason they have had so many meetings about this proposed zoning law is because they have chosen to take the control and duty away from the Zoning Board.

Do they not trust their own Zoning Board? Even if they do, they have certainly usurped their authority.

Town Boards creating zoning laws is not the standard in municipalities. Why? Because they are not zoning experts. Zoning Board members are required by NYS to take classes on zoning so that they can recommend appropriate potential laws, sometimes involving a Zoning Implementation Committee, then those draft laws go through a series of steps and reviews by multiple committees, finally ending up at the Board level for a vote, after a Public Hearing.

Maria Lull chose to task the Board with the minutia of going line by line. We can only assume this is because she wants more control over the law, and over the timeline. We don’t know though, because she rarely talks at the meetings.

That is not effective leadership.

Ironically, this decision to halt Q&As will actually waste time. The public participation has sped up changes to lightening speed!

So, let’s just give Ms. Lull a bone. Let’s say her involving the public in Q&As was strategic to make this go faster. Brava! But then why stop the Q&As?

They worked.

I can’t imagine the number of hours a Zoning Board would have had to endure to get to the quantity and quality of revisions made on this proposed law since early July. So much has changed for the better because of public involvement.

We are not slowing this down. We are speeding it up.

Which brings me to my next point… the Board is not just wasting time, they are also wasting money with their “take control” approach. Instead of using the free hive minds of a very intelligent public to assist, they are going to toss things back and forth to Nan Stolzenburg (the planner) and Jeff Lyons (the attorney), then back to a public hearing, then back to Nan and Jeff… more of your tax dollars lost.

How is that helpful for anyone?

I can say without reservation that I truly believe if they kept going with the Q&A approach, they would have succeeded in creating a better law, faster, and with much less money. Now? They are refusing to toss this back to the Zoning Board and also refusing to promise an open door to continued public involvement.

Please note, if you went to the Tri-Village Firehouse and wrote a question down on a card, do not assume it’s being considered. Two people in attendance submitted questions that were ignored after that firehouse meeting, yet when they came to the Q&As, their questions got answered. If this happened to two people, I assure you, it’s happened to more.

So, if we have no more Q&As to ask questions, how can we ever be sure our concerns will be addressed?

We can’t.

Mr. Richardson stated that part of the Board’s reluctance to continue Q&As is that they were starting to hear repetitive questions. Of course they were. Unless someone came to every single Q&A, they would have no idea what was asked because, again, no information was posted on their website.

Clear communication is not rocket science. We, Chatham United, are just a bunch of concerned citizens, yet we quickly created a website, Facebook, and Instagram that we update consistently and timely. It works. All they had to do is have someone live streaming the Q&A meetings online, like we do for the Board meetings, and everyone could have watched and potentially heard answers to a question they, too, might have had. (Note: The Town of Chatham Communication Committee has reestablished a Facebook page, so please follow it.)

We also know many people did not attend the Q&As because they were waiting to have their questions from the Tri-Village Firehouse meeting answered and posted on the Town website, as not to duplicate their questions at these meetings. Tonight, the Board held up a stack of papers with what they claim are “rhetorical” questions that are being addressed by the Board (any question starting with “Why…” was considered rhetorical). We appreciate the Boards efforts in answering them and look forward to those being posted, but they will most likely not be up for weeks.

It is with a heavy heart that I admit I no longer have faith at all in this process, and I have also lost faith in our Town Supervisor’s ability to keep her word. A person’s word matters, especially the word of someone we put into office.

If we can’t trust the word of our leader, what do we have? We certainly don’t have a healthy democracy… or a healthy town.

“If your actions don’t live up to your words, you have nothing to say.”

― DaShanne Stokes

Our actions matter, too. We can’t bellyache about these laws if we aren’t willing to be a part of the solution. We need to be active in solving the problem, not just gripe and moan on Facebook.

So, what can we do? We can keep working hard, keep making lists of questions, keep going to as many board meetings as possible, email questions and concerns to the Board, spread the word about upcoming Town Board meetings, and stay engaged.

Even if they never schedule another Q&A, our town deserves our dedication and commitment to its success. You deserve it! Please stay engaged!

If this unfortunate turn of events taught us anything, it’s that bad things happen when we don’t stay on top of our government.


Check our Facebook page, this website, and the Town of Chatham website and calendar for updates. VOTE FOR DONAL, VANCE, AND ABI ON NOVEMBER 5th.


Ted Miner Thoughts on Q&A Meetings

Thoughts from Ted Miner. An important read, as Ted has attended every single Q&A and Town Board meeting since our stampede into the Town Hall on June 20th to voice our objection to the proposed zoning laws.

**** 08/10/19 ****
It has been a bit since I have commented on Chatham’s zoning proposition issue. I thought to write this in satire, but, having second thoughts……..

The process has been grinding along with all indications openness and clarity were to be hallmarks of the effort at the finale. That may yet be, but recent events are throwing roadblocks, making this possibility a challenge.

June 20th, 2019 was a pivotal day for our town. Regardless, the purported agenda, or lack of, our town, (notice please I did not say any group exclusively), learned we have a communication problem. A tipping point was achieved. Through the efforts of a very few, in a very short amount of time, a wave of town residents showed to voice an opinion. Right/wrong/yes/no, it does not matter the thought. The raw fact they all felt necessary to break their habits to come was lesson enough.

Our town needs better communication devices. Happily the board has come to recognize this fact and has challenged for solution(s). Unhappily, the old sentiment, “they all know when we meet”, will never carry the day again. While the legality of the thought is fine, the practice has dire consequences, as evidenced that evening.

The movement to a Zoning Proposition based on a minimum ten year old Comprehensive Plan concerns me. Even within the document, (page 6), it specifically calls for 5-7 year review. Our board recognizes the short coming while considering ongoing committees of Comprehensive Plan and Zoning review. The Plan was wrote at approximately the same time Chatham schools submitted a 47 million dollar bond proposal for school upgrades, (for multiple of reasons). It failed. Dramatically. I suggest for the same shortcomings the Plan suffers. If reviewed the past couple years those that rose to defeat the 47M Bond would contribute and the Plan would include low-income housing concerns as well. Etc.

The FaceBook page “Chatham United for Common Sense Zoning” has been attacked with some vicious vitriol. Some of which, wisely, has been removed. While the sentiments have been heartfelt, the lowering to personal attacks has been demoralizing. I have to say that the tone was achieved first by “the opposition.” You may disagree. My point made.

Letters have appeared in the local paper(s). Again, the lowering to personal attacks have not carried the factual arguments, nor made positions more attractive. The skirting of issues to twist to advantage insults me. I would hope it insults you. BTW – I don’t care the partnership status, or lack thereof, of ANY participant.

Nor do I care as to anybody’s longevity of Chatham occupation. A day, month, year, decade, or generations; we are all in this together having made the financial and emotional commitments to reside in our town.

Finally, regarding the letters’ “late to the party” comments…….. How about, “Welcome. Glad to have you. Sit down, may I get you some coffee? Do you have any questions? Anything to add?” What a novel idea. I fully appreciate the extended effort of those involved “from the beginning.” But that is not a card carrying right to exclude or demean another. Conversely, respect must be accorded knowledge. Especially when given openly and generously.

“Truth Matters.” Welcome to the party. I wish I had known of your FaceBook presence earlier. In an effort to promote all views to come to common ground I would encourage the review of their information. I hope “Truth Matters” takes a lead from local schooling efforts and publishes thoughts from all sides. As we all know, “truth” is most of the time dictated by the victor, a position I would hope we all may lay claim.

The actions of the Aug. 8th board meeting concern me. After suggesting at the Q&A’s “Short Term Rental concerns be tabled for a more detailed review of the balance of the proposition”, the board dramatically revised the STR “domicile” definition. All previous conversation had been as to the longevity of owner’s stay at site factoring rental abilities. Then, “whatever is identified on tax returns” became the norm. I suggest the, (category 2,3,4), STR people may feel short changed. I would. The balance of the board meeting was then kindly opened up to the floor for public dialog. Certainly needed as subjects came up for decision that still had not been fully reviewed in the Q&A’s. I applaud the board for the “meet in the middle” attitude. I expect the next Q&A meeting to be along the same lines. Finally, a Q&A is scheduled for Aug. 20th from 5-7:00. I hope it is enough time to satisfy an earlier board comment, “We will continue to have these Q&A’s until there are no more questions”. If not, I expect to sit through more.

I recognize “politics is a blood sport,” yet I do not condone the mirroring of state and federal representatives’ actions locally. This is not about party affiliation or position. Local politics is about local people, neighbors all, who have to live together at the end. Some of us even to the end.

Thank you for taking the time. Back to work.

**** 08/13/19. Update ****
10 hours since the gavel dropped on the best Chatham Board experience I have ever sat through. Not because anybody “won”…. or lost. Because of the openness and concise and concerned participation of all. This was town government at its best.

Congratulations to the Chatham Town Board and I would add the same to Chatham United and Truth Matters. And to all the neighbors who have given effort towards an end we all may live.

Next Q&A. 08/20/19. 5-7 @ the town hall.
“These will stop when the people don’t show and the questions are exhausted.”

Summary of Zoning Laws

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 version of 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.

Some History:

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...


“Like” our Chatham NY Citizens for Common Sense Zoning on Facebook to get up-to-date information and interact in the discussion with your friends and neighbors.



NOISE: §180-49:

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:

  1. use of any sound-reproduction device whether inside or outside a structure
  2. any impulsive noise which occurs repeatedly for one hour and exceeds 75 dBA
  3. “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.”
  4. sounding of a horn or alarm for more than 5 minutes (let’s hope your date isn’t late)
  5. any other excessive or unreasonable noise which annoys someone (which is totally subjective and easily abused)
  6. 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)
  7. 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.)
  8. 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.


PARKING

Are you ready? This will impact every single person. Period. Exclamation point.

RESTAURANTS:

“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.

OFF-STREET PARKING:

“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.” 


AUTOMOTIVE REPAIR:

“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. “

HEALTHCARE

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!

But…

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.

Why Now?

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.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENT

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.

STR Restrictions

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 property.

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 the countryside.

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 violation (p.186).   

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.

If you aren’t aware of the fabulous museum’s efforts to move to Chatham, please check out the information in this PDF.


STRs are Not Home 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.

NEW CONSTRUCTION:

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.”

Your roof…

“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.

Shameful.


ENFORCEMENT:

That’s one big section. God help the Code Enforcement Officer.

DOWNLOAD THE NEW ZONING LAWS HERE


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.

Contact the Town Board to voice your concerns.

Mark Your Calendars for Hamlet Meetings! COVID Date Changes

NEW DATES DUE TO CORONAVIRUS PRECAUTIONS – SEE BELOW

The Comprehensive Plan Update Review Committee is collecting data and starting their community outreach by having meetings in the different town hamlets to discover the unique issues that exist in these specific hamlets.

The committee will also be doing a general public meeting at the Tri-Village Firehouse, at a later date, to address the needs of the rural communities as well.

(Note: They aren’t tossing out the current Comp Plan, just reviewing it to see what updates need to be made.)

See dates below and keep track of the committee’s road-trip tour, minutes, and link to current Comp Plan here.


The following notice is from the committee:

The Town of Chatham’s Comprehensive Plan was adopted in September of 2009, created from data obtained from a 2004 survey. Although there are many parts of the plan that remain relevant, there have been a number of significant changes in our community over the past 16 years. Regular updates are not only standard practice for Comprehensive Plans, but in Chatham’s case, is also overdue.

“The Plan was developed to cover a 15-year time period with an expectation that it will be reviewed and updated as necessary. However, it should be formally reviewed a minimum of every five to seven years to ensure that it remains a vital document to help guide Chatham in the future.”

Hence, a new Comprehensive Plan Update Review Committee (CPURC) has been formed to conduct public outreach, review, research, and suggest potential updates to the Town Board. The character of your hamlet and the community is the focus of the Comp Plan – a vision for the town. We are not writing zoning. We are not rewriting the entire Comp Plan. We are just reviewing it and recommending updates to the Town Board after a thorough analysis of all the data collected. The hamlet meetings are merely one step in the data-collection process, which will also include a town-wide survey.

In an effort to ensure an accurate and thorough data collection process, keeping in mind the following three questions:

1. What are the current conditions, features, and character of Chatham?
2. What does Chatham want for itself in the future?
3. What are the various ways Chatham can attain that desired future state?

What is a Comprehensive Plan?

The New York Planning Federation defines this nicely for us: “A comprehensive plan sets forth a community’s goals and recommended actions which will make the community a good place to live, work and visit. The plan outlines what needs to be done and how to do it in an orderly, well-thought-out fashion and that the needs of the community will be met.

“A comprehensive plan is NOT a static blueprint of how to get to some specific endpoint. It is a living document that provides continual guidance for the work of the community leaders and staff. Municipal decisions need to be weighed against the values and ideas set forth in the plan to ensure that the community is heading in the right direction.”

How can you help us and help yourself?

Whether you have read the current Comprehensive Plan or not, we encourage everyone to participate in open discussions on any thoughts you have on how we can improve our Comprehensive Plan, in general. This plan will have profound effects on our community. Please participate.

It’s important that we collect information on not only what citizens want to see for Chatham’s future but also what they would rather not want to see change. Our Committee is reaching out to obtain further information, including but not limited to the following areas:

  • What has changed?
  • What are old or unresolved issues or new issues?
  • What are things you would like to protect and/or avoid?
  • Is there a project(s) that would make Chatham life better?
Resources on the Town of Chatham Website: https://www.chathamnewyork.us/
Current Comprehensive Plan: https://www.chathamnewyork.us/document_center/Comprehensive%20Plan/Final-comp-plan.pdf
Source Water Protection Plan: https://www.chathamnewyork.us/Source%20Water%20Protection%20plan.pdf
Agriculture Protection Plan: https://www.chathamnewyork.us/FinalAgplan_v5_1009.pdf

The follow are prompts for discussion but please share any opinions you have:

  • Do you want to see businesses that personally serve the people in your hamlet (including home occupations)?
  • Do you want to see businesses that are broader and serve larger than your hamlet?
  • Do you want to consider architectural design guidelines for businesses?
    • Would you like it to be part of the zoning or a suggested guideline?
  • Do you want to consider architectural design guidelines for residential?
  • Would you want your hamlet to obtain historical designation? (Tim to research)
  • Do you want to explore possible water or sewer infrastructure, knowing that it would be an added expense to taxes and monthly bill?
  • Do you want to see the minimum lot size changed in relationship to water availability?
  • What kind of different housing choices do you want in your area – tiny houses, multi-family, etc.
  • Would you be in favor of historic district designation?
  • Where do you see the traffic problems most and is there a specific time of day it occurs?
  • Rail trail concerns – parking, noise (North Chatham and Kinderhook Lake)
  • Kinderhook Lake: noise, people using lake, water quality, parking, building height

Feel free to attend any CPURC meeting at the Town Hall (dates are on the calendar on the Town’s website) or email Councilperson Abi Mesick at amesick@chathamnewyork.us.

We deeply appreciate your participation in this process!

Abi Mesick, Jeanne Veillette Bowerman, Donna Staron, Dave Everett, Tim Mackerer, Jeff Cox, Lucinda Buckley

Please attend the CPURC hamlet meeting in your area!


SATURDAY, MARCH 7th: 

North Chatham Firehouse, 653 Route 32, North Chatham

10am-12pm – North Chatham
1-3pm – Kinderhook Lake 


SATURDAY, MAY 2nd:

Malden Bridge Community Center, 1087 Albany Turnpike, Malden Bridge

10am to 12pm – Malden Bridge, Rayville, Riders Mills

SATURDAY, MAY 9th:

East Chatham Fire Dept, 14 Frisbee St, East Chatham

10am to 12pm – East Chatham

SATURDAY, MAY 16th: 

Tri-Village Firehouse, 111 Co Rd 13, Old Chatham

10am-12pm – Chatham Center
1-3pm – Old Chatham

SATURDAY, JUNE 6th:

The Society of New Concord Meeting House, 2689 County Rd 9, East Chatham

10am-12pm — New Concord


If you cannot attend the meetings, please feel free to contact the Comprehensive Plan Update Review Committee to voice your opinions.