The Saugerties Village Board is considering combining the village planning and historic review boards to speed up the application process for projects, but past and present Review Board members say the real motivation is to get the board out of the way.
All new construction and renovations (including signage) within the village business district and south-side historic area must appear before the Review Board, which has a reputation for punctiliousness in carrying out its mission to ensure work conforms with the village’s historic character.
“It will just make the application process easier and cheaper for the applicant,” said Village Mayor William Murphy. “It would be one-stop shopping.”
Review Board chair Richard Frisbie sees something more sinister afoot, explaining, “We have a Village Board with (almost) every member appointed and then elected running unopposed,” he wrote in an email. “Then re-elected. The boards are all appointed annually — at whim. Not us. We are the only board that answers to a higher power. We are the only board independent of the village politics. It stands to reason (and I don’t know this to be true) that this is a way to bring things under control. I say that because if I had that much power that’s what I’d do.”
According to Murphy, trustees are considering merging the two boards to save applicants time and money. Fewer boards means fewer fees paid to lawyers and engineers, and less time needed to review proposals. Under the new proposal, the applicant who is in the historic district would have to go before only one board, pay his experts for only one set of meetings. The process might only take a month or two. He said the change would keep the village business-friendly.
Former Review Board and current town Historic Preservation Commission member Michael Sullivan Smith said the move could threaten the village’s Certified Local Government status, a distinction granted by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which provides grants and requires an approved historical preservation ordinance and appointment of a “qualified preservation review commission.” Smith said the change would “dissolve the village Historic Review Board and also our CLG status.” (See this week’s Letters to the Editor.)
Murphy disputes this.
“As usual Mr. Smith is wrong, as our village attorney has already done all the research on this and it is perfectly legal,” he wrote in an email, adding that trustees Terry Parisian and Patrick Landewe, liaisons to the review and planning boards, respectively, have also worked on the issue.
Murphy added that Smith’s statements were “sour grapes” stemming from previous conflicts.
The situation calls to mind another conflict between the Review Board and mayor — Murphy’s predecessor, Robert Yerick, who sought to dismiss most of the board after its intercession in the review process of the Diamond Mills Hotel and Convention Center, which he felt would needlessly delay that project.
“This is not the way that Bob Yerick tried to do it,” Murphy said. “This is to streamline the system and would still provide for historic review.”
Each board now has five members. Murphy said a combined board would have seven members with two alternates. The alternates would vote on applications if there were not enough full-time members present to make a voting quorum. By retaining members of the Review Board, the new board would not suffer from lack of expertise on matters unique to the historic districts, said Murphy.
When asked if he believes a new Planning Board system would work, Frisbie said, “I don’t believe the idea is well conceived, presented or considered.” He said he doesn’t believe the plan has much support and should not move forward.
Trustees will discuss the proposal at their Nov. 3 workshop meeting at 5 p.m. at Village Hall on Partition St.