Potter feels stymied by planning board delays

Officials, neighbors say they need more information

Posted 6/10/24

HIGHLAND, NY — Nonna Hall left the planning board meeting in tears.

The board pushed her application back to June—its second postponement. In the meantime, Hall can’t begin …

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Potter feels stymied by planning board delays

Officials, neighbors say they need more information


HIGHLAND, NY — Nonna Hall left the planning board meeting in tears.

The board pushed her application back to June—its second postponement. In the meantime, Hall can’t begin renovations, much less open her business.

“Why is it this hard to open a pottery studio?” she asked the River Reporter after the meeting last month. “It’s just a small pottery studio. I’m losing money.”

Hall’s project, a mixed commercial/residential use, requires site plan approval and a special use permit. Besides the studio, the application includes a retail and gallery space and two apartments. The site is 550 State Route 55 in Eldred.

Town of Highland officials say they need more information. A neighbor complaining about encroachment said he never received notification of the public hearing. A planning board member recused himself after a dispute with the applicant. A resident said he’s been trying unsuccessfully to see the application. The planning board attorney recommended extending the public comment period for two weeks.

More info needed

The planning board’s engineering consultant, Kenneth Ellsworth of Keystone Associates, asked for more information about the well and sewer system. The parking plan seems to comply with town code, he said, but he asked if, practically speaking, it was sufficient.

Planning board chair Jeff Spitz said that, in light of Keystone’s requests, it was “reasonable” to wait before voting on the application. The board had requested additional information the first time it put off the vote.

Planning board attorney Steven Mogel also asked for proof that notifications of the public hearing previously held on Hall’s application were mailed to the full list of neighbors provided by the county, a legal requirement. At the hearing, neighbor George Haas said he hadn’t received notifications for all of his parcels.

Planning board secretary Helene Hoffman assured Haas and Mogel that she’d sent all the notifications required and had the certifications to prove it.

Planning board member JT Vogt asked Hoffman for the notifications. He said he didn’t feel comfortable voting on the project if the planning board had made an error.

Haas said Hall’s gas tank crosses his property line. “It’s by inches, but it’s on my property,” he said.

An audience member asked, “Well, why didn’t you bring it up with the former tenant?”

During the public hearing, Norm Sutherland, the former chair of the planning board, said he never saw the application or engineering notes. He had requested Hall’s application under the Freedom of Information Act before the hearing but, 13 days later, still had not received a response, he said. A response is legally required in 10 days.

“We didn’t have this plan last time,” Sutherland said. “And it seems like now we’re wasting a lot of the public’s time, because this is the first time we’re seeing this plan.”

Mogel said many of the documents were submitted within the past couple of days and that “the public has a right to have time to review them.”

A representative for Hall said all of the required materials had been submitted to the planning board more than the required 10 days before the meeting.

‘This is my life’

Spitz announced at the start of the May meeting that planning board member Tim McKenna would neither vote nor comment on Hall’s application.

The town board received three “letters of concern” about McKenna. In response, Spitz and Mogel attended a meeting with the code committee—town board members Laura Burrell and Tom Migliorino—and McKenna’s attorney, Michael Davidoff, the previous town board attorney.

Letters were written by Nonna Hall, Paula Campbell, and Roswell Hamrick, the husband of the town supervisor, Johnny Pizzolato.

Hall wrote that she was “disturbed” by a conversation she had with McKenna at the Stickett Inn. McKenna told her that because her pottery studio was not a large project, it might be pushed down as a priority.

“That made me very upset,” Hall wrote. Her business might be small, she wrote, but added, “this is my life, and without operating my business I’m losing money every day.”

She said small business owners rely on community support, “but if we have people like Tim McKenna on the planning board, I don’t think our community can thrive or succeed.”

McKenna told the River Reporter that Hall misunderstood his comment. “I never used the words that she said. I just said there are some very large projects, so let’s get this sorted out.”

The planning board is working its way through two sizable applications—the Camp FIMFO resort and the former Catskill Mountain Resort at 211 Mail Road. 

“All I was trying to do was to get her in front of the eight ball to begin with, so we can get everything done to quickly pass it through,” McKenna said. “But the hoops have to be jumped through, That’s not up to me, that’s the rules and regulations of the town.”

McKenna said he recused himself on the advice of his attorney “to not further agitate” the situation. 

Hall said the whole process has been confusing.

“I never thought that there would be these extreme delays for a project and use that is less taxing on the neighbors and town residents than what was there before,” Hall said.

Thirteen letters in support of the pottery studio were submitted to the town board and may be read on the town's website (https://townofhighlandny.com/wp-content/uploads/Hall-Space-Emails.pdf). 

Planning board member Frank Monteleone compared the commercial business that used to be on the property with Hall’s pottery project. “They stored a lot of flammable liquids and waste, while you guys aren’t gonna do that, right?” he said to Hall. “They have that propane-filling station that’s gone, right? It’s pretty noisy. Your pottery machines probably aren’t going to be making too much noise, right? No air pollution with exhaust from small engines. The shipping containers that were across the street, you’re not planning on doing anything like that.”

McKenna said he only “wants the best for the town.”

“The last thing I want to do is hold any business or anyone up,” he said. “I don’t want someone making applications for three months. If you can get it all done in a month, we can get you through, and you can open for business. But bending the rules—it’s not good for us. I have to follow planning board rules and regulations.”

Hall said she too loves the town, which is why she wants to open a pottery studio.

“People come and learn, create, and have a wonderful time with their friends and family,” she said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct a name. It was George Haas, not Jeff Haas, who said during the public hearing he hadn’t received notifications for all of his parcels. A link to the letters supporting the pottery studio has also been added.

Nonna Hall, Highland planning board, Eldred, Highland, pottery studio, Kenneth Ellsworth, Keystone Associates, Jeff Spitz, Steven Mogel, Jeff Haas, Helene Hoffman, JT Vogt, Norm Sutherland, Laura Burrell, Tom Migliorino, Michael Davidoff, Paula Campbell, Roswell Hamrick, Johnny Pizzolato, Stickett Inn, Tim McKenna, Camp FIMFO, Catskill Mountain Resort, Frank Monteleone


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