December 20, 2011 —
The six lots on 39 acres adjacent to Route 17 at exit 99 are at the heart of a controversy in the Town of Liberty. In 2006, the Town of Liberty, together with the Village of Liberty, began the process of creating a joint comprehensive plan. In 2008, the committee working on the plan produced a map in which it was proposed, among many other things, that the zoning of the parcel be changed from industrial commercial (IC) to residential.
In 2010, the intent of that decision was underscored with the issuance of a new map with the same zoning change, and a third map with that change was produced before the town board voted to update the zoning in March 2011.
Before the vote in March, however, the town board became involved in a process with a company called Upstate Shredding that plans to locate a metal recycling operation and an automobile crusher on the 39 acres. The town board, therefore, moved to pass a new local law that would change the zoning of the property back to IC, saying that the board made an “error,” and it never intended to change that property to residential.
The site is situated next to an existing asphalt plant, but the rest of the area is residential and some of the neighbors have raised objections to the establishment of what they have called a junk yard.
Planning consultant Jonathan Hyman was hired by resident Jeffry Cohen, who has a house near the site, and Hyman appeared at a public hearing regarding the Upstate Shredding project on December 19. Hyman said this was not simply the correction of an error. He said, “This appears to be an applicant-driven zoning change that will require the town to do much more work and rigorous review, under the law.”
If the action is seen as merely a correction, then no environmental impact statement (EIS) is needed. If action is seen as a zoning change, an EIS would be required, and would become a much lengthier process.
County planning commissioner Luiz Aragon weighed in on the matter via a letter sent as part of a process called a 239 Review, in which the county reviews zoning changes that are likely to have an impact between municipalities, in this case the Village of Liberty and the Town of Liberty. Aragon’s letter said that the matter should be viewed as a zoning change, not the correction of an error.
Glenn Pontier, the project manager with Sullivan Renaissance, said, merits of the project aside, the proposed action was a zoning change.
On the other side of the issue, board member Lynn Killian, who was one of the people who initiated the comprehensive plan process in 2006, and who was a member of the Zoning Review Committee, said the board had not intended to change the zoning of the lots in question; therefore, this was a correction of an error.
Several residents agreed that this was the correction of an error, and it should be corrected quickly because the town needs the 10 to 20 jobs that the facility will provide.
Kenneth Klein, the town attorney, said that regardless of the way the board voted, there was going to be a party that would be unhappy with the outcome, and could possibly challenge it.
He said, however, that he was comfortable with viewing the action as the correction of an error, and said that position would be defensible.
Ultimately, the board voted four to one in favor of passing the law to correct the error, with Maurice Gerry abstaining.