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Choices to Make
For Zoning Board

By Nathan Mayberg
WURTSBORO — November 1, 2005 – The list of possibilities for this Thursday’s Town of Mamakating Zoning Board of Appeal’s meeting is endless – and could be dramatic.
The proposed mushroom factory will be on the agenda for the meeting at the town hall, scheduled for 6 p.m..
A decision could be made on whether to grant or deny the variances requested by the Yukiguni Maitake Manufacturing Company of America over their controversial project.
According to the agenda, discussion over the project has been scheduled, with the possibility of a vote to grant or deny the variances, which include height and lot coverage.
The board will also be discussing and likely voting on whether to hire special counsel, presumably to write a findings statement for its decision on the plant.
The original draft findings statement, submitted by board attorney Ira Cohen, recommended denial of the height variance. The town code limits buildings to a height of 35 feet high, while the factory would reach 80 feet high.
The letter by Cohen sparked a furious reaction from Board Chairman Jim Barnett, who told Cohen in writing that he would be taken off handling the mushroom factory’s review. However, Town of Mamakating Supervisor Charles Penna has stated on many occasions since that only the town board has the right to hire and fire attorneys or other employees.
Cohen himself said yesterday that he was not made aware of the special meeting until he was told by somebody else. Cohen will be attending the meeting as an interested attorney of the planning board, although he is not sure in what capacity he will be acting as ZBA attorney – due to Barnett’s call for him to stay out of this issue. Cohen said he has not spoken to Barnett since last month’s meeting.
Barnett did not return a call seeking answers to the host of questions regarding one of the most intense issues in the town over the last several years.
Cohen said he has heard that his findings statement has been redrafted.
“I assume they had help from another lawyer,” he said.
While the attorney said he is not relinquishing his role as the board’s attorney, he will not fight them if they choose to replace him.
“The lawyer-client relationship should be agreeable to both sides. . . . I am not going to force myself upon them,” he said.
According to Eileen Weil, an opponent of the plant who attended last month’s meeting, Cohen requested the board vote on removing him. That has not occurred yet, as confirmed by Cohen.
Cohen, as attorney of the planning board (which has been hit with a lawsuit regarding its handling of the plant’s review), wrote a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration last month seeking their comment on the project. Bill Squires, a local pilot, has claimed the plant would interfere with the flight operations there.
Weil submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the minutes of the ZBA’s meeting last month but has not received them a month later. (By New York State Open Meetings Law, minutes must be made available within two weeks of a public meeting.)
According to Weil, three members of the board met on the night following the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, October 13, to discuss Cohen in executive session. Barnett, William Fedun and Art Ramos reportedly tabled discussion on the matter. Weil questioned the need to schedule a special meeting this week and at an earlier time than normal (6 p.m. rather than the usual 7 p.m.).
Weil’s husband Andrew has sparred with Penna recently over the direction of the town, including the master plan review committee, which Weil has been chairing.
Weil’s committee, along with Planning Board Chairman John Piazza, called for a moratorium on building in June due to the large number of building applications and loss of large segments of land in the town. No action was ever taken by the town board.
“Certain areas are being lost at a rapid pace,” said Weil.
He also faulted the town board for not acting on a steep slope law to limit construction on high grades of land, which can lead to landslides and flooding.
The committee was also considering rezoning the property where the mushroom factory would go to a residential zone.
Before the board could complete its work, the draft plan was requested by Penna, who obtained it from the town’s planner, Alan Sorensen. Sorensen has been assisting the committee.
Penna responded by saying the master plan review committee’s work has dragged on too long and grown expensive with their use of Sorensen.
He said the committee was established to designate certain areas for commercial development, which he believes will offset rising property taxes for homeowners. Penna said that the public hearings on the new master will plan will run one year long.
The supervisor also criticized Weil and other environmentalists in the town.
“Nothing can be done without the environmentalists,” he lamented. “Companies can be wasted by these people. . . . Nothing will change.”
He said the master plan review committee should not be a platform for extreme environmentalism.
He said that Weil and the committee, which voted 4-1 for the moratorium, did not have a right to ask for a moratorium.
“It’s not his job. . . . They are extreme left-wing elitists,” said Penna.
The committee at the time consisted of Alex Goodman, Lyman Holmes, Sean Moriarty, Mark Schulman (Sullivan County Conservative Party Vice Chairman) and Weil. Only Moriarty dissented against the letter, which was drafted by Sorensen.

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