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December 10, 2016
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More trouble in Delaware

Liam Murphy

The zoning amendments currently before the town board in the Town of Delaware have had a bumpy ride.

Originally they included gas compressor stations as a special use. The board pretty quickly dropped that. Was that because of the public outcry? For the sake of an easier environmental review process? We were never told why.

The amendments also originally gutted the town’s noise law. When this was pointed out, there was denial that the amendments did not gut the noise law. But they did. Eventually that part was also dropped.

The current bump in the road is perhaps the biggest of all. The amendments propose weakening regulation of large areas of land in the Delaware River corridor. In current law, all land in the corridor is subject to clear and restrictive regulation, in the form of lists of permitted and special uses for the Delaware River district and two special districts for the hamlet of Callicoon. The amendments propose that a good part of the land within the corridor now be regulated by the much more permissive list of uses specified for the Rural Use (RU) district.

In response to the obvious objection that some uses in the RU district, (e.g. junkyards, “manufacturing and industry,” “natural resources processing,” and “multi-family dwellings and projects”) are not appropriate in the river corridor, the town added a footnote: Anything that happens within the river corridor has to conform to the Land and Water Use Guidelines in the River Management Plan. But as Delaware resident Buck Moorhead has been patiently explaining for a long time, those guidelines are not regulations. A property owner or planning board cannot find clear answers in the guidelines. They are guidelines for a town to follow when making its own regulations. And the town has already made regulations for the river corridor with the express purpose of complying with the guidelines. Why not refer back to those existing regulations?

For many months, no explanation was given. Instead, there was the familiar denial and stonewalling. We were repeatedly told that regulation within the river corridor would be just the same as before. This is clearly false.

At the July town board meeting, Supervisor Sykes finally gave us an answer. He said that the point of referring to the guidelines rather than existing regulation in Delaware law was to introduce “flexibility” within the river corridor.

Now this “flexibility” should be of concern to the Upper Delaware Council and the National Park Service. But it should also be of concern to residents of the Town of Delaware for two reasons.

First, we care about responsible and representative government. Why were we never told that the aim was to weaken regulation in the river corridor? Why, at the public hearing on the amendments, was the case for this weakening not made? Why is the town board rushing to approve these amendments without ever having made its case? The pattern here is depressingly familiar for residents of Delaware.

Second, for anyone who has the long-term economic interests of the town at heart, weaker regulation in the river corridor should set off alarm bells. The river and its environment are a huge asset in a heavily tourism-dependent economy. We should be focusing on ways to enhance the recreational appeal of the river, not introducing “flexibility” that has the potential to destroy it. At the very least, an open public discussion of the costs and benefits (and for whom) of changing regulation in the river corridor should be held. We should expect nothing less from responsible and representative government.

[Liam Murphy is a resident of Kenoza Lake, NY.]