The presence of four law enforcement professionals stationed in the George Ross Mackenzie Elementary School gymnasium last Saturday morning was a clear sign of the tension that has built over the past several months as the Town of Lumberland has conducted a series of public sessions on its proposed zoning rewrite. But other than removing one man briefly in response to his repeated disruptions, and gesturing to another to cease doing the same, peace was kept and progress was made.
The February 25 public forum began with supervisor Nadia Rajsz reciting the list of changes made following public hearings conducted on December 14, 2011 and February 17, 2012.
Among those changes was one that appeared to please developer Charles Petersheim, who has been a vocal critic of the process. It reads: “Conservation Subdivision section will be changed from ‘mandatory’ in several districts to ‘preferred’ in all districts for subdivisions over five lots.” Petersheim applauded the change but said there is more work to be done.
While the forum was initially fraught with outbursts, accusations and even cheers, the commotion gradually gave way to a respectful dialogue that seemed to allow for information sharing between town officials and the audience.
Members of the zoning rewrite committee and town board fielded questions and provided clarification on issues related to banners, flags, signs, landscaping, vehicles on properties and more. An explanation of how visible smoke is assessed was offered by code enforcement officer David Sparling, who stressed that the measurements do not affect residents’ ability to use woodstoves or to barbecue in their yards. “We don’t want people burning tires for example,” he added.
Resident Sue Gregg urged people to read the town’s zoning laws from 1998. “Much of the language in the new one is from the old one,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but it wasn’t pulled out of a hat.”
Bruce Worzel and several others raised the issue of private property rights. “I’m totally against any kind of government interference in private property,” said another landowner. Others complained that the town didn’t publicize the process well enough, despite providing the information on its website and advertising in the town’s newspapers of record. Many seemed to prefer notification by regular mail regardless of the cost, and one man suggested establishing an email list of residents.
Peter Comstock spoke on behalf of Lumberland Concerned Citizens to say that their involvement with the zoning has been related solely to the adoption of Article 10, relating to heavy industrial uses in the town. He said, “If this zoning review continues to be slowed down while other provisions are examined, and if that process is projected to be more than two months, we would request that Article 10 be considered and voted upon as a stand alone proposition.”
“Fine. Pass 10,” yelled one man, followed by applause.
Glen Spey attorney David Leamon came with a long list of points. While questioning the panel, Leamon was reminded that several individuals had contacted him to seek his input. “We did reach out to you for help,” said Rajsz. “So will you now help the committee?”
“I will have a conversation about what they would like me to do, but I’m not committing to do anything,” said Leamon. “I don’t want to give people rope to hang me with.”
An anonymous letter mailed to town residents last month was later acknowledged publically to have been sent by Petersheim. Last week, a second anonymous letter went out to residents with the statement: “Hands off our property, Nadia. Stop the zoning rewrite now!”
In response, longtime councilman Joseph Carr took the podium and said, “Just for clarification, Nadia is not even on the rewrite committee. The committee has tried to do the best it can and we’ve got a lot of things to change. But picking on one person is not fair. I think it’s about time that whoever’s done this should stop.”
Gregg echoed Carr’s remarks and thanked the board for its willingness to listen and make changes. “I can appreciate people having concerns,” she said, “but vilifying this woman is outrageous and it’s got to stop.”
Pond Eddy builder Hall Smyth thanked the board for their work. “I know that many of us here, including me, have been very aggressive in terms of asking you to give us what we want, but I do think you’re being responsive. It’s great to see the community come out like this.”
Although many of the roughly 175 people in attendance had left before the two-hour session wrapped up, those who remained until the end saw an increasingly civil conversation take place. Another public hearing has been scheduled with another 30-day comment period.
“We’ve slowed down the process,” said Rajsz. “We hear what you have to say. We’ve made changes and we’ll make more changes, so it’s not engraved in stone.” Visit www.townoflumberland.org  for more information.