For the first time, the town of Charlotte has a zoning law.
Following months of planning, hearings, and modifications, the new law, including several more changes, was adopted Wednesday night by the Town Board.
The action was carried out in a vote of 4 to 1, with council members Kenneth Bochmann, Henry Harper, Dennis Lewis, and Supervisor Gary Sargent voting yes, leaving Councilwoman Varsi Peterson casting the lone nay.
The board also adopted a zoning fee schedule, a duplicate of that of the town of Gerry, with exception of the wind energy met (meteorology) tower fee. The meeting was conducted by Lewis, in absence of Sargent, who was unable to attend all but a brief period at the end of the session.
It was a benchmark moment for property owners involved in a wind turbine energy project, planned for development by First Wind, formerly UPC Wind Management. However, Peterson warned that the board’s failure to increase wind tower setbacks before the zoning law was adopted could lead to “serious problems” later on.
In comments following the board meeting, Peterson said she was a “strong supporter” of wind energy conversion. “I support wind energy, and I know the wind farm will mean more revenue for property owners and the town,” she said, “but, I’m still convinced, after research and after talking with officials in other communities, that the wind tower setback for residences should be increased, and I can’t in good conscience, vote for (the zoning law) if that is not changed.”
Peterson first called for a change in setback distances this past spring. In April, she suggested setbacks (distance between wind towers and roads and between towers and homes) be changed from 500 ft. to 1,000 ft. for roads, and from 1,000 ft., to 1,500 ft. for homes.
At that time, the board reluctantly agreed to a compromise, and the setbacks were increased to 750 ft for roads, and to 1,250 feet for houses.
However, that action was rescinded by the board a month later, and during the May board session, setbacks were returned to the original figures, after property owners participating in the wind farm vehemently protested the setback changes.
On Wednesday, in comments prior to the vote, Peterson again called for a change in the setback. “An increase in the (setback) distance from homes,” she said, “would allow the developer to negotiate with both non-participating and participating land owners for lesser setback distances. … That would permit the non-participating owners to have a voice in the setbacks.
“In the end, many might decide to go with less setback, even 1,000 feet, and that would be their decision. I just don’t think we should limit (the setback) to 1,000 feet, because that doesn’t permit any opportunity for negotiations… We’re just asking for problems later on.”
Bochmann said he thought the setbacks were adequate. “We’ve been talking about this issue for weeks. I think we should move on and get this (zoning law) adopted without any more discussion or delays…”
After more debate, the board – with exception of Peterson – voted against setback changes.
In a brief address before the board vote, town attorney William Duncanson said the town had received 10 comments or recommendations from the Chaut-auqua County Planning Board based on a county review of the zoning program.
Six of those recommendations, Duncanson said, had been resolved through clarifications and correction of language errors.
The remaining four county comments listed by the attorney included:
n A suggestion that the zoning law include the addition of a setback for the East Side Overland Trail, a state-owned tract.
n A notation that the zoning law included no fee schedule.
n Another suggestion that the town come up with a more comprehensive map showing the entire municipality, along with various areas designated by zoning districts.
n A recommendation that the town establish a planning board.
After discussion, the board agreed the county’s suggestions presented no serious issues, and that the board should proceed with the vote to enact the zoning law.
Since the Overland Trail was owned by the state, it was agreed the suggested setback was not an issue. The zoning fees were actually approved as a separate but related project. It was pointed out the town’s zoning map – while not elaborate or costly – adequately identified the municipality’s 95 percent agriculture/residential district, the small commercial/industrial district, and an overlay showing the flood plain area.
Last, but not least, town officials have long acknowledged the need for a planning board, Duncanson said, and “that remains a goal in the future.”
“For some time,” he said, “it’s been very difficult to find people to serve on the zoning board (of appeals). For this reason, he said, the Town Board will fill the role of the planning board for the time being, while efforts to organize a planning board will remain a goal.
Duncanson also noted the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation had indicated that agency “would be diligent” in enforcing any runoff problems linked to logging and timbering. However, the attorney said, DEC representatives had assured him that “for the time being, that section of our zoning is OK and they’re not asking for any changes at this time.”
In other comments before the vote, Peterson urged the board to consider an increase in the fee for meteorology towers, temporary structures that are used by developers to determine wind conditions. The fee, per tower, set by the town is $500, much lower than fees of the town of Villenova and other municipalities, Peterson said.
Asked for comments on Villenova’s fee, that town’s supervisor, Yvonne Park – one of more than 25 visitors at the meeting – said the municipality had set its fee at $20 per vertical foot, a rate adding up to $3,000 per tower. Since the town has two towers, Park said, the total amount was $6,000.
Park said the town also had included a decommission bond of $5,000 for each tower, to ensure the responsibility of the developer to remove the towers, should the proposed project be abandoned.
With little discussion, the board voted to increase the met tower fee to $20 per vertical foot, and to include a decommission bond of $5,000 per tower.
In addition, Peterson asked the board to consider the future appointment of an “outside attorney” skilled in laws and regulations pertaining to wind energy conversion systems. “This appointment should be considered when First Wind submits the application (to develop a wind farm) to the Town Board,” said Peterson, noting that all costs for this service would be covered by the developer, and that both the towns of Arkwright and Villenova had obtained this service.
Harper said he thought an attorney should be considered, only if and when William Duncanson, the town’s attorney, indicated such action was necessary, and the issue was soon dropped.
Earlier in the session, town resident Patty Greenstein urged town officials to proceed with caution in connection with the development of the town’s wind farm. “(Developers) are using our tax dollars for these projects…”
The town, she said, should make certain the best interests of property owners and the municipality are served. In comments later, Greenstein noted she was referring to government subsidies made available to development firms, whose costs for wind energy conversion systems may be subsidized up to 50 percent through NYSERDA (New York State Energy Renewal Development Agency.)
Another change in the zoning law was based on a suggestion of Larry Barmore, owner of Gaymark Tire and Wheel – a Route 60 business in the town of Charlotte – and a county legislator. He urged a change in the section dealing with campgrounds which limits campground residency to three months. “You have a number of people camping here who come from Florida and the South. … They stay for the spring-summer season. If they can camp here for only three months, the town’s going to lose a number of seasonal visitors,” Barmore said.
After a brief deliberation, the board voted to extend the campground residency period to six months.
By Alpha Husted
27 July 2008
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