The importance of monitoring development

How to do that and where to start

Posted 1/25/23

To me, participating in meetings on the local level is critical to protecting the environment, and improving our way of life. 

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The importance of monitoring development

How to do that and where to start


To me, participating in meetings on the local level is critical to protecting the environment, and improving our way of life. 

There is a half-hearted belief that someone else will step up

Or if they say something, it may offend customers or neighbors

Or they don’t know where to find the answers or where to begin

Or they were not aware they could speak

Or they have seen how often the Board chairs sometimes berate, belittle and interrupt people who have the floor and are speaking

Or they are exhausted from work or kids or caregiving and can’t make it to a meeting

Or they think it, a project, will never happen until it’s too late to stop.

This is really for anyone interested in smart, sustainable development. My hope is that it gives a starting point for each of us to be able to speak up regarding the direction and future of our communities and our region.  

There are two documents on almost every New York town website that will be helpful in understanding how projects move from planning stages to completion.

1. The comprehensive plan is kind of a visionary road map, and includes many of the rules for development. Think of it as “where do you see this area in 10, 20 or 50 years?”

The state recommends a full review and update every 10 years. Modifications are routinely made, but not full updates.  

In the last three to five years, we have seen an explosion of growth. Much is good, and some not so much.  It is up to the residents to encourage their supervisors and town board members to undertake the task to involve the community so the comp plans reflect the changes and new needs and desires of the residents.

2. The zoning code explains what is or is not permitted. As economic development changes, there may be a need to expand and redefine what is permitted in each zone. There may be a need to create new zones, overlay zones, gateway zones, agriculture or limited development zones. 

Instead of doing this as a one-off, when specific needs arise we should take a hard look at our strengths and weaknesses, and come up with a plan that will remove any confusion, allows for growth and that protects our environment and the reason we continue to live here.  

For this project, do a word search (hit the control and the f keys, and a search box pops up) to see what the code calls for. If there is ever a question, always refer to the code. The code, be it zoning, building, town, state, DEC, etc., is the rule. 

Variances, such as changes in set-back distances, go with the property and don’t expire—but special use permits expire, often after a year of non-use. This might trigger a new application, which may not comply with the old zoning 

You might be able to get a copy of the special use permit by submitting a FOIL request. While the response time varies by state, the board might be willing to email it more quickly. Worth a call. Just be very specific with what you ask for. The EAF (environmental assessment form) usually has a boatload of important  info. And if it doesn’t, that is just as telling. 

A FOIL request goes to the town clerk in New York, documents come from the planning board, which is often related to the building department.

My biggest concern with any development is water and sewer or septic. It’s not only the use but the size of that use. 

Call your neighbors and friends in the community and ask them to be there. The more people who come to listen and speak, the more ideas and information will be shared. The more people in the room, the more likely the board will listen to your concerns. Prepare what you want to say as a letter to the board, and turn in your letter so it becomes a part of the written record. If you can’t be there, write. See if there is a notice list for meeting agendas . It’s really tough to keep up with them otherwise.

Every township in Sullivan County is experiencing major proposals from outside developers who may not have the best interest of the community in mind. It is our responsibility to do the research and present the facts. Planning boards are appointed and unpaid. Their work is difficult but we can often give them the tools to do the right thing for the community if we show up.  

Barbara Lerner is a longtime Sullivan County resident and business owner. She holds to the belief that “many small voices can create a big roar.”

local, protection, environment, learning, comprehensive plans, zoning, development


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