Plan to merge historic, planning boards gets warm reception

Historic Preservation Commission member Michael Sullivan Smith (left) has criticized the plan;  Mayor Bill Murphy (right) says the new board will serve the same function more efficiently (photos by David Gordon and Dion Ogust)

Historic Preservation Commission member Michael Sullivan Smith (left) has criticized the plan;
Mayor Bill Murphy (right) says the new board will serve the same function more efficiently (photos by David Gordon and Dion Ogust)

The Village Board’s plan to combine the Planning and Historic Review boards to streamline the approval process for projects within the village’s two historic districts was praised at its most recent meeting.

Review Board member Jonathan Shapiro said a combined board “will be more efficient.”

Advertisement

Other speakers painted a picture of a board overzealous and inconsistent in enforcing its mandate to maintain the village’s historic character.

Village Apothecary owner Neil Smoller described a trying experience he had with the board, whose approval he needed for an awning and sign.

“They say ‘they can’t do this’ or ‘don’t do that’ and then you look up the street and see that anyone does what they want,” said Smoller. “I don’t know if there is a better way to attack this thing, but as a business owner things would work better if there were a single group.”

Ed Quirk, a member of the village Zoning Board of Appeals, also expressed frustration with the Review Board as constituted.

“There’s no rhyme or reason in that board and something has to be done about it… They come in with their minds made up on an application. They have a czar attitude.”

Two residents who have come out against such a proposal, Richard Frisbie, chair of the Historic Review Board, and Michael Sullivan Smith, a former member of the review board and current member of the town’s Historic Preservation Commission, were not at the trustee’s meeting. In an Oct. 30 letter to Saugerties Times Smith warned the change could abrogate agreements made by the village with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which include the establishment of “a qualified preservation review commission.” Mayor William Murphy said the village attorney has reviewed the matter and concluded a combined board would be allowed by law.

The new board would include seven full-time members and two alternates. It would be called the Village of Saugerties Planning Commission and would perform all the duties now done by the Planning and Historic Review boards. Murphy has called it “one-stop shopping” and predicts it will cut the review process in half.

A public hearing on the proposed law has been scheduled for the trustees’ Dec. 1 meeting at 5 p.m. at Village Hall, 43 Partition St.

The proposed law also:

* Removes the review of signs in all districts from the hands of the Review Board and makes it part of the duties of the village code enforcement officer.

* Creates a new zoning district – Business/Residential that permits residential use on the first floor of a building that is zoned for a business. The previous business zone prohibited residential use on the first floor of a building in this zone. This is based on the request of a building owner on Livingston St.

* Make the use of a property for weddings a conditional use in residential zones. A property owner on Mynderse St. is advertising that his property can be rented for weddings. The property is located within a low-density residential zone and trustees want to ensure that such a use must first be approved by the Planning Board to ensure there is enough parking, and that the weddings do not go late into the night.

* Makes a new zoning map with an historic zone overlay on the official map of the village. In 1985, when the village created its historic zones, it filed a map with the National and State historic registers. However, in 2004, a newer map started to be used as the official zoning map of the village by the Planning Board and the Historic Review Board. Recently it was discovered that trustees did not properly approve the 2004 map. The new map, as established by this proposed law, mirrors the 1985 zoning map and will become the official zoning map of the village when the law is adopted.