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October 26, 2016
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Still looking for reasons in Delaware

Liam Murphy

A growing number of residents in the Town of Delaware are wondering why the town spent about three years redrawing the boundary of the Delaware River (DR) zoning district. There must have been reasons for such a big investment of time and effort. But we still don’t know what they are.

Until now, public discussion of the amendments took for granted that the county required the change. The minutes of the May public hearing report planning board chair Gerald Euker saying, “The county had requested that zoning lines should be definable on the ground by roads, streams, or property lines.” But then the Sullivan County Planning Division, in its review of the proposed amendments, made a point of saying that it had made no such request and noted that there was no legal requirement to make the change.

That makes it look like we’ve been told something false. But it’s always good to double-check, so I reviewed some videotaped meetings and then asked the planning board for clarification. (I encourage anyone interested in the eventful history of the amendments to take a look at the videos, which can be found at youtube.com/communityfilmwatch, starting with the tape of April’s town board meeting.)

It turns out that what Euker actually said at the public hearing, and repeated at the July town board meeting, was that the county had asked the town to certify that the zoning map was correct, and that “counsel” had advised that zoning district lines should be definable on the ground.

At the August meeting of the planning board, Euker confirmed that it wasn’t the county planning division that had asked for verification of the map, but the office of tax services (where the zoning maps are produced). Okay, but what about the advice from “counsel” that zoning district lines should be definable on the ground? Could Euker explain the legal basis of this advice? No, he could not.

The town attorney, Kenneth Klein, was at the meeting. He evidently gave no such advice, because he stated emphatically that the decision to redraw the map was a “policy decision.” I asked Klein and Euker again, just to be quite sure: “So there was no legal requirement for the change?” Correct. No one present (not supervisor Ed Sykes, not town planner Thomas Shepstone, not Euker) dissented from Klein’s statement that it had simply been a policy decision.

So there you have it: Nothing coming from the county, or from any law mandated these changes, which means that the entire public discussion has been based on a false assumption. The public had been led to believe that there was outside pressure to redraw the map; in fact it was a discretionary policy decision by the town.

Under the old law, all land in the River Corridor (RC) was subject to clear local regulation. Now much of it is not. Before, there was a list of permitted and special uses. Now, for much land in the corridor, there is not. That’s a simple fact. At all the public discussions, the issue was whether there was a better way of meeting the external mandate to redraw the DR boundary. Nobody mentioned the best option of all: Do nothing, because there is no mandate.

The town decided to spend three years redrawing the map to make zoning regulation less clear than it was before. Perhaps our elected representatives have reasons for this policy decision, but they haven’t felt the need to disclose them to the voting public.

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