March 15, 2011 —
The director of the camp appeared before the planning board on March 1 to seek a special use permit to build a modest laundromat. The unusual part of the process was that the proposed facility was meant to replace a smaller one that was built last summer without notification to the town or the required permits.
At an earlier meeting of the Liberty Planning Board in December 2010, the camp director, Meir Frischman, said the people who were staying at newly build duplexes didn’t want to carry their laundry to another part of the camp. “It was something you had to do,” he said. He added that he had seen similar violations of code in the past, and the permits were always granted.
The planning board attorney, Walter Garigliano, categorized the significance of the matter by saying the laundromat was small enough that “I could move it with one of my tractors.”
This reporter’s lives across the street from the camp, and has been actively trying to prevent its further expansion; the camp has been granted 19 building permits since 2000.
At the public hearing on March 1, this reporter argued that the camp is on a street which is zoned residential settlement, and a laundromat is a prohibited use in this zoning district.
Garigliano said that the laundromat was considered an accessory use for a nonconforming use [the camp], and is therefore permitted. Therefore, while a camp is allowed to build a laundromat in the neighborhood, a homeowner would not be permitted to do so without a zoning variance, which is more difficult to obtain than a special-use permit.
Like other land use issues, such as the expansion of the landfill in Monticello, the resurrection of the race track in Bethel, the firewood production facility near Jeffersonville and gas-drilling operations proposed for multiple locations, the camp expansion has brought a share of controversy.
Several of the neighbors on the street have expressed frustration over the camp because since 2002 four large buildings and additions have been built close to the road and, according to records obtained in a Freedom if Information Law request, they seem to have been built in violation of town code. Three of the buildings had no site plan review, public hearing or public comment, and one had a public hearing that was held after the foundation had already been poured.
Anne Hart, this reporter’s wife, said, “Because of the segmented manner in which these 19 applications have been presented for review and approval, there has been no overall review of the total cumulative adverse impacts that these projects have had on the neighborhood.”
In April 2010, a Sullivan County real estate agent testified that a house near a camp is worth 30% less than the same house not near a camp. At the March 1 hearing, this reporter, a former Sullivan County real estate agent, testified that the buildings that went up since 2002 have reduced property values on the street by about $70,000, which would ultimately result in lower tax payments to the town, school district and county.
A man who identified himself as a real estate agent from Fallsburg said the buildings did not reduce property values because people who would like to walk to the synagogue at the camp would want to buy the houses.
The NY State Court of Appeals has written of nonconforming uses, “the highest priority of zoning is their reasonable restriction and eventual elimination.” The board and Garigliano have indicated in the past that the current town code does not allow them to say no to the expansion of nonconforming uses.
The board will again consider the permit request at a meeting on April 5.