VILLENOVA – The fate of Villenova’s planning board is still in limbo following Wednesday’s standing room only meeting. A rather large crowd for such a small space gathered and voiced their concerns over the potential loss the town.
“New York town law allows, but does not require there to be a planning board,” Town Attorney Donald Michalak started as the public hearing to discuss the dissolution began. “The authority of a town board to appoint a planning board is entirely permissive and optional, the town board, which has established a planning board may and has the authority thereafter to abolish the planning board at any time. The town board has no obligation to fill vacancies on the planning board and if abolished, the former functions of the planning board can be undertaken by the town board.”
According to Michalak, under the New York town law, the planning board has jurisdiction of those matters which the town board chooses to delegate to the planning board. However, under the Villenova local law, other than giving recommendations, the only function delegated to the existing planning board is for special use permits that do not include an area or use variance. He cited the restrictions of their logistics as commercial projects involving 5,000 or less square-feet and residential projects involving five or less units; and currently, under the Villenova local law, special use permits for all wind energy facilities is exclusively the jurisdiction of the town board.
A letter, written by Building and Zoning Officer D.H. Crossley, was read aloud. In it, Crossley states that “over the last 10 years, the planning board has only met to comment on a handful of matters. My records show three meetings over this time period.”
Crossley added that “in a small town with little development as in Villenova, the planning board’s lack of experience and commitment to training, can make it difficult to operate within the rules and regulations required by the State of New York.”
Crossley also pointed out that it can be difficult, in his experience, to find residents to serve in these positions due to the training requirements and the difficult political climate created by some of these issues.
As comments turned to the public, many in attendance spoke their mind against the dissolution.
“I was trying to think, what would be the down side to having a planning board? What’s the downside to having more input from the community, from the people who live here, there is no down side to that,” town resident Nancy Huber said. “What concerns me is that just a few number of people are making all the decisions, and although you can say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to decisions made by the town planning board, at least you’re aware of what your citizens, that you serve, want.”
Huber pointed out that she took the time to ask professionals in the area their opinions and was apparently told by most of them that the dissolution is a struggle for more control within the town.
“This is not what we went to war for,” Huber added. “This is a democracy. I did not serve in the military to be told that I can’t be part of a planning board because you want control.”
John Robinson, another resident asked why there was only two people on the board, the answer he supposedly received was that “nobody wants to serve.” Robinson then told the crowd that he and others went out into the community to discuss this and five residents made it known of their interest.
“Do you think that maybe is had something to do with the planning board getting people or encouraging people by being transparent about the openings? Maybe it had something to do with the wind turbines and the control of the power? I don’t think you’re listening to the public, this community, if you had a planning board, you could listen a little bit better,” Robinson said.
Other citizens also chimed in as the hearing progressed. “By abolishing this planning board, you’re proving that you do not have the best interest of this community at heart,” Evan Davis stated. “That’s a direct violation of our civil rights. This takes it to the next level, beyond wind energy.”
“We had five educated and experienced people that volunteered their own time to be on the planning board,” Tina Graziano added. “Here’s five outside opinions that you should welcome with open arms. This isn’t a personal office, you work for the town of Villenova, we’re all here, let people who want to volunteer, volunteer, let their opinions be heard. We need this here, you can’t be exclusive and just tune everybody out.”
Following the meeting, newly appointed supervisor, Yvonne Park, told the OBSERVER that the idea for the dissolution of the planning board was being tossed around as early as January of this year due to spending a whole year inactive. Her statement contradicts the one made by Huber during the hearing that the idea to eliminate the planning board came about after her application a couple of months ago.
The town is expected to vote on the dissolution at their next regular meeting in October.