An unusual array of participants took part in the December 5 Gardiner Town Board meeting. The normal dais had been laid lengthwise and extended with several additional tables down the center of the main meeting room at Town Hall, as if prepared for a game of Musical Chairs. Seated there were not only the “usual suspects” — town supervisor Marybeth Majestic and four councilpersons — but also the bulk of the Gardiner Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, along with several representatives from the Environmental Conservation Commission, town planner Jim Freiband and two attorneys from the law firm of Young/Sommer, LLC: Dave Brennan and Allyson Phillips. On the table, figuratively speaking, was the question of how the town code — and more specifically its zoning code — needs to be updated in order for all these bodies to be on the same page and get their work done in an efficient manner.
The first item on Majestic’s agenda for the multi-board portion of the meeting was a discussion of the need to “enact a local law creating the Planning Board.” She explained that town clerk Michelle Mosher had reviewed minutes from Town Board meetings going back into the 1950s and found many references to the fact that a Planning Board exists in Gardiner, but no record of passage of a local law actually establishing it or defining its “charge.” The Planning Board has documented by-laws, and most of the parameters for its functions are set by New York State law. But, rather like equal rights for women in the US Constitution without an Equal Rights Amendment ever having been passed, the existence of the Gardiner Planning Board still essentially depends on inference from other documents.
Majestic said that she wants to see a local law passed that would make the Planning Board more official. The text of the new law will be drawn up by the town attorneys and voted on by the Town Board, after Planning Board members have had a chance to submit their input regarding the body’s charge. Planning Board member Ray Sokolov recommended that the text of the New York State legislation governing all such bodies be included as a preamble to the local law, so that its specifics will be handy for reference when needed.
Other “housekeeping” matters discussed at the multi-board meeting included the need for a more professional approach to the workings of the planning and zoning boards. Noting that very few current members can document having received the minimum number of hours of annual training required by state law, Majestic said that a new recordkeeping system would be put in place tracking members’ attendance at these training sessions. Moreover, since board members are defined as town employees under state law, even if holding their positions on a volunteer basis, they would henceforward be required to certify that they had read and reviewed town employee manuals. The duties of the clerk to the planning and zoning boards will also be more formally defined, and standard procedures established for intra- and interboard communications, including timely posting of minutes on the town website.
In the “current planning” section of the multi-board meeting, copies were distributed to all participants of a document prepared by the Young/Sommer attorneys, titled “Outline for Proposed Review/Analysis of Town Code,” along with Majestic’s request that all board members review it and provide feedback. The outline breaks down the tasks recommended by the attorneys for bringing the zoning law’s definitions up to date — especially with regard to lodging facilities and campgrounds. Less broad in its scope than earlier ideas that the entire code needed to be overhauled, the list is more focused on vague or contradictory areas in the code that have been presenting challenges to the planning and zoning boards when developers submit applications for uses that did not exist at the time that the code was written. The outline had not yet been posted on the Town of Gardiner website as of presstime.
Freiband then interjected that much of the work of reviewing problems with the zoning law had already been done, but that the recommendations had never been implemented. “In 2009, the town spent a great deal of time reviewing it. We identified nits and holes and inconsistencies that have not been addressed. The report was submitted in 2010.” “It’s not in my in-box,” Majestic replied.
The supervisor subsequently steered the discussion toward establishing protocols for implementing the town’s new Solar Law. “An applicant is going to be coming before the ZBA for the first large solar facility,” she noted. She asked the attorneys for recommendations as to how to conduct a coordinated review, considering that the Planning Board is responsible for site plan review, the Town Board for issuing special permits and the Zoning Board for variances. Phillips pointed out that “SEQR has to be approved before it goes on to any other boards,” and that the lead agency for State Environmental Quality Review is typically the Planning Board. She suggested that the Zoning Board be the next to act if variance requests are involved, noting, “It could stop right there, if the ZBA says no.”
Planning Board chair Paul Colucci suggested that all three boards “receive the application simultaneously. At that point, we should send it to the consultants and the planner so they can specify what’s needed.” Phillips agreed that simultaneous submission might be appropriate. “When the dust settles, could somebody please issue a suggested flow chart?” pleaded Planning Board vice-chair Keith Libolt. Brennan agreed to prepare one.
“I look forward to receiving your comments,” Majestic told the members of all the participating boards and committees before wrapping up the meeting. “Let’s make this an annual event, on the first Tuesday of every December. I think it’ll help our communication as human beings, and help us work together for the good of Gardiner.”