Democrat Photo by Nathan Mayberg
THE TOWN OF Mamakating Board held its reorganizational meeting Tuesday at the town hall in Wurtsboro where, among many other things, the Sullivan County Democrat was renamed the townships official newspaper. From the left are Town Clerk Jean Dougherty, Councilwoman Judith Young, Town Attorney Richard Stoloff, Supervisor Charles Penna, Councilwoman Regina Saunders, Councilman Nicholas Salomone Jr., and Councilman John Sean Moriarty.
Is a Busy Meeting
By Nathan Mayberg
WURTSBORO February 10, 2006 A flurry of action, tabling and sparring kicked off the new term of the Town of Mamakating Board in their reorganizational meeting Tuesday.
All of the simmering is representative of how sharply divided the town is regarding the proposed mushroom factory by Yukiguni Maitake Manufacturing Corporation of America.
Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Jim Barnett stepped down from his post after a tumultuous year in which he locked horns with Supervisor Charles Penna by removing planning board attorney Ira Cohen and then hiring outside counsel, against Pennas wishes, during the critical decision to approve the variances for the controversial mushroom factory.
He also had engaged in a fierce shouting match with town residents before the approvals of the variances.
Penna and Councilwoman Judith Young attempted to remove Barnett from the board entirely but were outvoted by councilmen John Sean Moriarty, Nicholas Salomone Jr. and Regina Saunders.
William Fedun will replace Barnett as chairman. Fedun and Barnett have both voted identically in support of the mushroom plant. Fedun has been one of the plants biggest supporters. Young and Moriarty opposed his nomination. Penna, Salomone Jr., and Saunders approved him.
Cohen, who is now County Treasurer, will be replaced by Langdon Chapman, assistant to New York State Senator John Bonacic. Chapman was unanimously approved to serve as planning board and ZBA attorney.
The one ZBA member who voted against granting the variances, including the 35-foot height variance, was Fern Laks. Her term expired, and she was not renominated by the board. Instead, Penna, Saunders and Young indicated their support to nominate the towns Conservative Party leader, Mark Schulman.
However, Moriarty and Salomone said they had not completed the interview process, and the vote was tabled. When questioned after the meeting by Summitville resident Andrew Weil as to why Laks was not renominated, Young responded, We dont have to answer that.
But Eileen Weil said the move by members of the board not to reappoint Laks, who had also served as chairwoman of the board, was calculated. According to Weil, a lawsuit against the ZBA by Kevin and Patricia Moore is based in part on the fact that the ZBA did not render a decision within 62 days of the close of the public hearing. In order to get around that, a unanimous vote of the board would need to be held in order to review the variances again. Therefore, Laks was not nominated because it was assumed that she would not allow such a process to take place, said Weil.
The Weils contended that the town board is only appointing members to the planning and zoning boards who support the factory. Last years appointments to the planning board were Gary Tetz, owner of the mining company E. Tetz and Sons, and Edna Fedun (wife of William Fedun) both approved of the factorys environmental impact statement.
Its transparent that they dont seem able to appoint anybody that would be impartial to this situation, said Eileen Weil. Its astonishing. [Laks] is the only person [on the ZBA] who asked hard questions of Yukiguni. She is the only one who voted no.
Its obvious that this board operates under Yukigunis agenda, said Andrew Weil.
The lawsuit will be responded to by the town, but it will not put up a legal defense. In a resolution passed by the board and led by Young, the board agreed to deny the allegations in the lawsuit but will only respond by providing the record of the process.
Moriarty argued vehemently to give the ZBA full legal backing against the lawsuit. Young said such a defense would be too costly. The vote was 3-2, with Penna, Salomone and Young in favor, while Moriarty and Saunders voted against the move.
A new appointment to the planning board also stalled, because Moriarty and Salomone did not have a chance to interview all of the candidates. Penna, Saunders and Young all gave support for the nomination of Todd Berentsen of Bloomingburg.
Several town residents complained about a lack of representation on any of the boards for the Wurtsboro/Summitville/Phillipsport section of the town. The Weils said the boards were dominated by residents of the Bloomingburg and Yankee Lake districts.
But Moriarty said he doesnt believe the town board should be involved in choosing chairmen. He said that decision should be left up to the respective boards themselves. Young stated her support for the idea. Penna countered that doing so would be shirking the town boards responsibility.
Another hot topic was the appointment of the chairman of the Planning Board. Currently, John Piazza holds that position. He has been under fire for more than a year for allegedly not residing in the town. Several residents have found evidence that he actually lives in Middletown. Among that is a STAR exemption on his property in Middletown since 1999, as provided by Richard Morris of Wurtsboro. Morris also cited a 2001 New York State Court of Appeals case which supported his contention that it was illegal for Piazza to retain his chairmanship of the board.
Penna countered by stating that he had a copy of Piazzas drivers license, which lists his address in Bloomingburg. However, Piazza is no longer registered to vote in Sullivan County.
In other business, the town pool has a lot of work to be done. There are plumbing and leaking problems, which will require costly repairs. Saunders is expected to obtain an estimate on the work. Penna said it could cost more than $10,000.
Saunders was also named Deputy Supervisor.
The town spent approximately $400,000 more on its flood repairs than it will receive back from the federal and state government. In all, the town spent about $2 million on work related to the flooding since August 2004.
Jill Ashworth of Westbrookville was appointed to the Board of Assessment Review. Brian McGorman was promoted to Senior Code Enforcement Officer. Penna said he will take over the position of Dave Brown, the current head of the building department.
A public hearing will be held on February 21 at 7 p.m. regarding a 10 percent property tax exemption for local emergency responders. On that same date, the board will likely deal with some of the issues that it tabled this week.