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Liberty eyes streamlining review process

By Kathy Daley
LIBERTY — January 11, 2011 — A proposed Town of Liberty law designed to streamline the approval process for people making minor changes to their home or property will go back to the drawing board for tweaking.
Modeled after similar legislation in the Town of Neversink and other places, the draft law would permit the Planning Board to waive site plan review requirements in certain cases.
“It’s designed to simplify the approval process for people making minor changes to their property,” said Town Board Member Lynn Killian, “such as installing a bay window that might change the footprint of the house as little as three feet but that requires they have to go through the whole Planning Board process, spending time and money.”
Planning Board Chairman Diane Deutsch agreed. “It’s onerous for property owners to come before us for minor things” that can often extend the approval process up to three months. A raft of these minor projects can also clog up Planning Board meetings, she said.
But the draft law has worried various corners of the town, including some town officials themselves.
“One of the concerns of some of us is the provision in the draft that waivers to site plan review requirements would be permitted for additions of up to 2,500 square feet or 25 percent of the floor area,” said Killian. “That is too large a project for a waiver.”
Instrumental in giving a second look at the proposed law were letters to the Town from Anne Hart and her husband Fritz Mayer. The couple lives on Upper Ferndale Road and are worried that the new law would permit more of the type of unregulated growth they have experienced from a neighboring summer camp.
Even with the current law in place, the summer camp – which lies in the midst of an area zoned residential – continues to receive town approvals for expansions, said Hart.
“Currently, when you have non-conforming uses in existing neighborhoods, they have to apply for a special use permit,” Hart said. “But when you have a law like the new one, you basically open up the opportunity for these special uses to come and ask for waivers from the Planning Board. You shouldn’t give more leeway.”
Hart pointed out that the Town should not offer the impression to outsiders that “we’re the Wild West here” and that everything is allowed.
“If you want to streamline the process” for smaller projects, “that’s a whole other issue,” Hart noted.
Killian said she’s considering making the suggestion that the law prohibit non-conforming use properties from gaining waivers.
“The Town has a number of businesses that have grown up over time and adversely impacted neighbors,” Killian said. One of them is a transportation company on her own street, Aden Road, that has grown from a mom-and-pop enterprise to a much larger company that generates bus fumes and traffic in the residential neighborhood.
Killian said the proposed new law is likely to be up for discussion at the Town Board’s regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18. Later, the Planning and Zoning Boards will weigh in with their input.
“We’re looking at months” before a law is passed, Killian said.

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