Zoning change decision likely to lead to legal action
By Jeanne Sager
FREMONT CENTER The decision hasn’t even been made, but the Town of Fremont is already fearing litigation over a proposed zoning amendment.
After nearly three hours of a public hearing regarding a proposal that would open up the LC-2 (lake conservation) district in the township to campsites, the town board went into an executive session to discuss “potential litigation” at its meeting Wednesday evening.
The center of the controversy sits in a lot on Tennanah Lake, owned by Love’s Tee Time, owner/operator of the nearby Tennanah Lake Golf and Tennis Club.
The company has been asking the town for more than a year if a campsite is a permissible use of its lakefront property.
The planning board has weighed the matter, with professional planning advisor Tom Shepstone weighing in that he views a campground as an “accessory use” to a golf and tennis resort.
The town opted instead to address the matter on a larger scale, taking the issue out of the planning board hands. If the town board were to pass the now proposed amendment, campgrounds would then be allowed in both the rural residential and lake conservation districts.
It would make camping a viable business option throughout the town, but the board weathered substantial criticism from residents of the Tennanah Lake community for kowtowing to one developer.
“You should not concern yourself with how this developer is going to make a profit,” said homeowner Jeff Giordano. “You are a public entity, not a business partner.
“There seems to be a lack of objectivity here,” Giordano charged.
Town Supervisor Jim Greier agreed the town has been historically pro-business, but said the way the amendment has been crafted, it is not just for the one developer.
“I don’t think we’ve ever turned down anybody,” Greier noted. “We’ve made them move in many directions, but it’s within the law… sometimes we bend it a little.”
The conglomeration of Tennanah Lake groups, including the Friends of Tennanah Lake and the Tennanah Lake Taxpayers Association, pressed the board to say “yes” to a section of the community they say contributes more than $1 out of ever $5 to Fremont’s tax revenues, representing nearly $30 million in tax assessed value.
In a letter handed into Greier signed by the Friends of Tennanah Lake, a group of 40 families who hired a lawyer and stenographer to attend Wednesday night’s meeting, the board was warned that “lawsuits will be filed if you pass the amendments.”
That was reiterated by attorney Gary Silver, who represented the Friends group.
The requests from residents were couched in complaints about the developer, including complaints that the town’s last decision in favor of the golf and tennis club owner went nowhere. A zoning density change authorized last year to enable the developer to build condominiums has not resulted in any new buildings.
Speaking on behalf of Love’s Tee Time, attorney Todd Mathes asked that complaints be directed to the letter of the law rather than insults hurled the way of his client.
“There are some concerns people have, but most of it is criticism of Love’s Tee Time,” Mathes said. “Public comment should be about the law, not about the developer.”
His comments didn’t sit well with residents, including George Kaiser.
“The purpose of a public hearing is to hear from the public,” Kaiser said. “Until the public is done, it’s not time to vote.”
And the board did hear from the public. The Wednesday meeting was a continuation of a public hearing tabled from the last planning board meeting, a meeting at which Greier read 33 letters against the proposal and one for the idea. He read more at Wednesday’s meeting, again all against the project.
Opening the meeting to the floor, the board heard concerns that visitors who don’t have a vested interest in the area will make a wasteland of the lake, worries of increased crime and safety issues and issues of how the campground will be policed.
Jim Hartinger earned a round of applause when he explained he rehabbed an old property on the lake because the community was quiet and clean everything the residents told the board they’re afraid this proposal could destroy.
“Keep it not [like] White Lake,” Hartinger said. “Stopping a camp right on the lake is a good place to start.”
Planning Board Chairman Len Bauer spoke to some of the concerns, noting his board would still be given authority to craft regulations for a campsite if the zoning amendment was approved by the town board. The planning board’s current plans, he said, are to limit boats to canoes, kayaks and rowboats owned by the resort no motorboats. Usage of the campsite would be limited to campers paying golfing fees at the resort, and the resort would be required to hire someone to staff the site to oversee some of the concerns.
The latter comes straight out of New York State Public Health law, Bauer noted.
Town Attorney Ira Cohen backed Bauer’s assertions up, noting the town will have the power to pass regulations beyond the current amendment. The amendment has already been strengthened since the public hearing started several weeks ago, Cohen said, when the board asked him to have another go at the proposal to address some of the public’s concerns.
If the amendment weren’t passed, Cohen said, the issue would not be dead it would go back to the planning board to determine whether the campsite is indeed an accessory use to the golf course.
With the threatened litigation, the board opted to enter into its executive session, and no decision was made Wednesday evening. The public hearing has been closed, but the amendment will be on the agenda at the August meeting of the town board.