Schoharie County

Proposed zoning law revisions draw criticism in Richmondville

A new zoning law has drawn criticism from some Planning Board members who say it will hinder large-s

A new zoning law has drawn criticism from some Planning Board members who say it will hinder large-scale commercial development opportunities in the town.

But a member of the committee that helped draft the law says it won’t hurt economic growth in the town as much as some fear.

The zoning law now in effect was adopted in 2001. Nearly two years ago, the town appointed a number of Schoharie County and Richmondville officials to a Rewrite Committee that was tasked with drafting a new zoning law to prohibit the controversial hydraulic fracturing method of gas drilling in town.

The effort took on new significance recently, when the state’s highest court ruled that municipalities have the power to ban fracking under their home-rule authority to regulate land use.

The Rewrite Committee amended the current law so that it would ban fracking and then sent the finalized revisions to the Town Board. The board then sent the draft to an attorney who is familiar with anti-fracking legislation and he made some changes to the document.

Mike Piccolo, a Planning Board member who also sat on the Rewrite Committee, said that the attorney made more changes than expected. “When I first saw the document it looked nothing like what we had sent out,” he said. “The attorney changed way more than I thought he would.”

He added that the proposed zoning law “inhibits business development terribly” and said that land along the Route 7 corridor should be used for commercial development.

But Piccolo is confident that everything will be worked out and the necessary changes will be made before the law takes effect.

Tighe Lory, a Planning Board member and town resident, pointed specifically to language in the draft that allows only for certain small commercial expansions — small retail, small manufacturing or flea markets — in the town. But he feels that large commercial development would help the town because it would provide property tax relief and jobs for people in the area.

“We need more big commercial development in the area,” Lory said. “We need to increase the tax base and stop people from spending their money in other towns and cities.”

The law would create new “Hamlet Districts” that allow for “less intensive commercial [development],” which the law says would “help protect the existing residential uses.”

Under the new law, Hamlet Districts would replace land that was previously designated for potential large commercial development projects, Lory said.

Lory feels that too much land previously dedicated to Planned Development Districts would be taken away and replaced with Hamlet Districts, especially along Route 7 and near Exit 21 of Interstate 88.

“The land along that corridor is perfect for large commercial development,” he said.

In addition, new “floating districts” were created in the draft that allow for “unique” projects that would be reviewed by the Town Board, but Lory says it is unclear where the floating districts would be placed.

Shane Nickel, a senior planner for Schoharie County who also sat on the Rewrite Committee, said he won’t make a generalized statement saying the new law hinders economic development.

He said while some may worry the law hurts large development opportunities, others will find that it actually encourages economic growth in the town.

“The new law has to recognize the mix of development along Route 7,” Nickel said, noting that there are businesses, farms and residential property along the corridor. “We wanted to rewrite the law so that McDonald’s or Home Depot couldn’t come in and build next to someone’s home.”

Richmondville Town Supervisor Richard Lape said he has not yet taken a stance on the issue and will continue to listen to public comments.

“Before I make a decision about where I fall on this I have to listen to some more information,” he said.

The Planning Board will meet with members of the Rewrite Committee to iron out its disagreements with the law, said Lape.

A public meeting will be held Aug. 16 to further discuss the new law.

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