So, They Don’t Think We’re Reading This Thing?

The following is a proposal from one of the citizens of Chatham who has read the zoning laws multiple times. We think it would be a fantastic start for the board to consider.

Here are suggestions for creating a zoning law that better fits our rural area and citizens’ needs: 

In embarking on this major revision to the zoning code, I believe the board has undertaken to regulate every possible circumstance it can imagine.  What I mean is that when choosing between a moderate clause (for instance 25 acres to open an inn) the board opted for the extreme option (inns shall be allowed only in business and industrial zones).  At each such point of choice, the town planner, Nan Stolzenburg, urged the adoption of the most extreme language, saying ‘you can always change it later’. In other words, instead of taking a go slow do-no-harm approach, the board consistently chose the most severe option to individuals and the town, with the caveat that ‘it can always be changed later’.

When questioned about the clause that any infringement of the code could carry a fine of $300 and a maximum of 6 months in prison, the town lawyer responded that that provision was seldom used.  But was it taken out?  No.  Again, the board chose to keep the threat in.  That can only be viewed as an attempt to intimidate Chatham’s citizens.  And when calling these further hearings, it was stated that they were for the purpose of informing the public, clarifying any misunderstood regulations, but not for changing any part of the code.

But this is not good enough.  I would suggest that this town board needs to reverse its stance of governing by intimidation, of regulating every possible situation, and adopt a more friendly, neighborly tone.  After all, ‘you can always change it later.’

By this I specifically mean:

Take out specific threats:  Any violation of the zoning code can carry a fine of $200/ day (p.215), although you up it to $500/day for rental violations (p.195), plus civil and potential criminal penalties between $350/ day and $1000/ day for 2nd and 3rd offenses plus up to 6 months in jail.

Take out the removal of garbage cans within 48 hours and instead ask residents to try to secure their garbage cans for the sake of safety (p.150).

Take out many of the endless parking rules:  a residence must have 2 parking spaces (p.29 and p.132 and p. 152), but if you require 3 they cannot be one behind the other, and STRs must have 3 for owners and 1 for each bedroom (minimum of 5?) (p.191).

No storage of travel trailers, boats, cars, etc. allowed in residential areas (p.65)- Yes, storage is different than parking.

No mobile home, boat, trailer, RV or truck can be stored in the front yard (p.169).

But then there’s to be no parking of any recreational vehicle within the required front, side, or rear yard setbacks, 25’ (p.201)

Restaurants can have NO PARKING in the front, unless adequately screened (p.179)

Take out what people are allowed to do in their side yards, in their back yards:  There can be no portable storage units (PODS) in the front of a house; there can be no PODS in the driveway (in parking spaces) (p.179).  Are you supposed to have them air-lifted into the back yard?

There can be no accessory building in the front yard (p.125).  No garage in front of the house.

No garage, shed, swimming pool or tennis court in the front yard of any residential lot (p.133).

There can be only one accessory building per property.

Then there are the dictates of the style police.  Who elected this board to be the style police?

With new builds: 

Earth tones and natural materials are recommended.

 (pp.92-93) The slope of the roof should be angled to mirror the natural terrain.

Large windows should be screened by native trees.

The upper windows should be smaller than the lower ones.

 Any residential lot must have 8 trees (they cannot compel more than 8).

 These trees must be planted before the CO is issued (each tree at least 6’ when planted, with at least 1 tree to mature to 35’ for each building.  The board prefers  conifers.

Multifamily dwellings must choose at least three traditional architectural features from their list (dormers, cupolas, pilasters, a recessed entrance, 4” window trim, etc.).

(p.198). No flat roofs on commercial buildings (p.123) or any other structures, please.

The primary entrances to any building should be oriented to the lot frontage. Secondary entrances should be oriented to parking, plazas or parks. (p. 120)

Homes in hamlets must have a front porch facing the street (p.126).

“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.”

Some building requirements:

An accessory structure used as a secondary dwelling cannot exceed 1.5 times the area of the dwelling’s main floor, or 1,000 square feet, whichever is less.  It cannot be over 25 ‘.  It cannot be higher than the main dwelling- so that limits the size of your guest house (p.125).

No new building with a footprint over 5,000 sq.ft. (p.126).

In any addition, the new section should have doors and windows compatible with the older parts of the building- we don’t want any modern architecture in our town!

No accessory residential dwelling on any undersized lot (1.5 acres).

You must complete the primary structure before beginning any accessory structure (p.133).  So you cannot build the guest house or the barn first, perhaps to live in while you build the main house.

Hamlets must require homes to have a minimum 25’ setback for the front yard (p.48).

Take out endless regulations regarding outdoor lighting (p.94):

Light level not to exceed 0.2 foot candle measured at ground level.

All outdoor lighting shall use fully shielded light fixtures.

Fixtures must be installed so that part of the lightbulb or light source is not visible beyond the property boundaries.

Outdoor lighting must not be visible off site (p.165).

Take out the decibel requirements for noise and ask that neighbors respect one another.

No use of any sound reproduction device that could disturb the comfort or repose “of a reasonable person of normal sensitivities” (p.166).

No impulsive noises over 75dBa for more than 1 hour.

No yelling, shouting or hooting that could disturb that same reasonable person.

No construction, building noise before noon on Sunday.

No radio that could bother anyone.

No ATVs, dirt bikes, or snowmobiles at all over 80 dBA.

And this one- the kitchen sink- no unreasonable noise that could annoy a reasonable person.

And specifically for renters (p.192): No sound shall be permitted that carries further than the property boundary.  So, if you rent in a hamlet, don’t let your children play outside because they might laugh!

Campsite noise must be less than 65 dBA (p.200).

EXEMPTION: Sound of the hunt and its dogs!

Take this out:  No wedding receptions, parties or special events, not part of a farm operation, in any residential zone (p.66). This stipulation is part of the Table of Permitted Uses and applies to districts H-1, H-2, RL1, RL2, RL3.

Rental properties, even those allowed 10 guests, are not allowed to have “weddings, reunions, parties or other group gatherings of any kind” (p.188).  Are these people supposed to be strangers to one another?  And how many people are there in a gathering?

STRs: First of all, second homeowners do not have the same rights as domiciled homeowners (those who live in Chatham 160 days a year).  Second homeowners can only rent 30 days a year.

All renters have to apply, pay permits, keep records on all guests, pay fees, have a local contact.

The local contact person has to be available 24/7 to respond to any problem within 1 hour (not humanly possible).  If the contact doesn’t answer the phone, the owner is still liable to correct a problem within 1 hour (even though the owner doesn’t even know about it yet).  Take this out.

There is an inspection fee.  How much is it?  There is an application fee?  How much is it?  Maria made a comment that they were considering $700 for 3 years.  That is not a fee, but a membership in a club no one wants to belong to.  They keep “tabling” the discussion of the fees.

Take out the mandatory revocation of a license by the CEO (chief enforcement officer) with 3 violations (p.194).  No redress.

Take out the expensive Host Compliance surveillance contract ($5300.00/year), which is only useful in case of violations, and substitute a request that owners screen their renters and ask for their good behavior.  Will there be possible violations?  I dare say, but no more with the surveillance contract than without it.  This is pure intimidation.  This is not Miami.

Most alarming and concerning, all power lies with the Town Board. 

The Town Board, with recommendations with the Planning Board, authorizes and approves all zoning incentives (p.97).

The Zoning Board of Appeals is appointed by the Town Board (p204).

The Code Enforcement Officer is appointed by the Town Board (p.211).

The CEO consults with the Town Board’s attorney about precise legal actions (p.212).

The Town Board can appoint a deputy CEO.

The Board likes to say that they are instituting these new regulations in the name of “neighborliness,” so that neighbors can know one another. But this code is not friendly, it is not neighborly, it is not respectful of citizens’ ability to work things out by speaking to one another.  They are not acting in a civil respectful manner, and this is infuriating to Chatham’s citizens.