The second of two public hearings on the proposed zoning rewrite for the Town of Tusten brought out more than 80 people with 49 of them stepping up to the microphone to weigh in on the matter. Of that number, about 45 spoke out in opposition to gas drilling, or in favor of retaining Article 14 in the proposed changes, which would prohibit high-impact industrial uses such as gas drilling in the town.
Critics of Article 14 have said that it could lead to a lawsuit, as it has in the towns of Dryden and Middlefield in other areas of the state, but supporters were not swayed by the argument and urged members of the zoning rewrite committee and the town board to stand firm and retain Article 14.
Peter Comstock, one of a handful of individuals from neighboring towns to speak, said Tusten could adopt Article 14, “and never receive a direct challenge; even if challenged, the town could make a decision whether to retreat or whether to engage and, if so, how far to take it and the resources available.”
Narrowsburg resident Cass Collins read a statement from her husband Jim Stratton, a former chairperson of Community Board One in Manhattan who was involved in rezoning in Tribeca and Soho. He wrote, “A court overturning the right of a local community to zone its land would threaten every community zoning resolution in this country… towns that don’t fight will succumb; those that do will likely be defended in court by heavy hitters on our side.”
Lawyer David Slottje, who helped to write Article 14, said the largest law firm in upstate New York, Bond Schoeneck & King, had publicly said that if this issue reaches the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, the court would rule that communities have the right to adopt this kind of zoning. The opinion, he said, was shared by the law firm of Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna LLP, which reviewed the proposed zoning, and also by the New York State Association of Towns.
Olivia Grady, a 16-year-old student, said Tusten should be teaching other towns how to fashion their own version of Article 14, because pollution upriver comes down. She said, “You can’t just protect one portion of the river... it’s all connected.”
Businessman Ned Lang, who is running for a seat on the town board, took the other side. He said that, in part because people in the United States are too dependent on foreign sources of oil, he is “pro gas.”
While the overwhelming number of comments related to gas drilling and high-impact uses, some other concerns were also brought up. The number of dogs allowed to be kept in one house would be dropped from five to three. Also the new regulations, as written, would prevent homeowners from storing on their property more that one recreational vehicle at a time, which would mean that if a resident has a boat on the property, the resident, for instance, could not have a snowmobile or camper.
Additionally, home businesses would be limited to having two employees, and could have no signage and no retail sales.
The bookkeeper referendum
Supervisor Peg Harrison said that the referendum regarding whether the bookkeeper should remain an appointment to be made by the supervisor or be changed to allow the full town board to have input on the selection will not be on the ballot in November.
According to Harrison, the county did not receive the language, which had to have been approved by the full board, in time to make it onto the November ballot.
Council member Carol Wingert made the motion in August to hold the referendum in November, but there was no vote to change the language. The Sullivan County Board of Elections told the town clerk Kathy Michell to run the language of the referendum past the town attorney, Jeff Clemente. Harrison got the language back from Clemente on September 15 but, by then, it was too late to get the question on the ballot.