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Is a summer camp the same thing as a drug rehab facility? One candidate responds to citizen’s query

By Fritz Mayer
October 9, 2013

Zoning is likely to be a campaign issue this year in the Town of Liberty, at least in part, because town officials are split about whether zoning should be changed to prohibit the expansion of summer camps in residential neighborhoods. What is clear, however, is that in some cases, officials don’t enforce the zoning that already exists.

My house is located on a residential road and across the street from a former drug rehabilitation facility called Inward House. It was a non-conforming use, because it existed before zoning was established, and thus was allowed to continue to exist. But in 2007 the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) revoked the facility’s license and it was shut down.

An organization bought the property and opened a summer camp in 2009. The problem with that is that a summer camp is a prohibited use in a residential neighborhood, and thus can’t legally be operated without a variance.

But the owner of the summer camp told Mark VanEtten, the Liberty code enforcement officer, essentially that the camp was the same as a drug rehab because this particular camp taught young men how to find a wife, and Inward House taught people how not to be drug addicts. Yes, when you write it down it sounds laughable, but VanEtten bought it, never mind that the camp does not have a license from OASAS.

VanEtten has said that he thinks the camp is actually an educational facility, which would still require a variance because an educational facility is also a prohibited use in a residential neighborhood in the town. In any case, this facility has been in operation for four of the past five years with no variance and no permits from the town, in clear violation of the town zoning code.

Further, even if one assumes for a moment that a summer camp is the same thing as a drug rehab facility, it would still be a nonconforming use, and town code has a provision that says, “All changes and additions to non-conforming uses” require “special use permits.”

The facility has changed in many ways: the old facility was open 12 months, the new facility is open two months in the summer; the old facility had a tax exemption because it was a healthcare facility, the new facility has a religious tax exemption; the old facility served members of all faiths, the new facility serves only members of the Hasidic community. The new facility has built a swimming pool. All of these changes require special use permits, and none have been sought or applied for.