By Dan Hust
FORESTBURGH Following close to an hour of questions and comments, the Forestburgh Town Board officially abolished the planning board on Monday, thus assuming its duties.
The vote was 4-1, with Councilman Gene Raponi against and Supervisor Bill Sipos and councilpeople John Galligan, Michael Creegan and Susan Parks-Landis in favor.
“The action to abolish the planning board now and transfer its duties to the town board is similar to a moratorium created by the town board, when time is needed to analyze how an issue should be addressed and current legislation and regulations may not properly address the subject matter, in the town board’s view,” explained Sipos just prior to the vote.
The move won support from some and condemnation from others in the audience, according to comments made during a public hearing preceding the decision.
“As a resident of the town, I just think the [planning board] process ... is very complex,” said Mary Milano, who has been pursuing a subdivision of her property since 2010. “... And it’s also a very costly endeavor.”
She initially approached the planning board in November of that year but was told she’d first have to obtain three variances from the zoning board. She returned to the planning board with the variances granted in February 2011, but members wanted to wait for some remaining criteria to be met.
Milano then suffered a delay with the potential buyer of one of her lots. Since that time, she said she’s firmed up the details with her engineer and plans on returning to the planning board shortly.
The buyer, Bill Steinberg, told the town board Monday night that he’s been frustrated with the planning board, too.
“You can’t move back here it’s so difficult,” the Forestburgh native lamented. “The planning board was not letting us do something that was so simple.”
Ed and Nancy Kaufmann, however, argued that the planning board wasn’t dragging its feet on this or any other matter.
“I feel your pain,” Nancy Kaufmann told Milano. “... But people keep pointing a finger at the planning board. ... It’s not the planning board’s rules that were established. ... The town board made them.”
Kaufmann, who is not on the planning board but has served as its secretary for the past seven years, insisted the board is sensitive to residents’ needs.
“I can’t tell you how many times the planning board went out of their way to help people,” she said, recalling instances when she and others, for example, put documents in the required mailable envelopes on behalf of applicants who should have done so themselves.
She also remembered when planning board member Ivan Orisek moved to approve a simple two-lot subdivision application despite a lack of the necessary copies of site maps seeing no need to be strict.
Orisek and Nancy’s husband, Ed, were the last two members left on the planning board when it was abolished Monday.
“Please, let’s call it what it is: ... to get rid of the two remaining people on the planning board,” Ed Kaufmann told the town board that evening.
He accused town officials of being lax in enforcing land use rules, of being disingenuous in why they sought to disband the planning board, and of turning people off to serving or remaining on the planning board.
“We have always followed the recommendations of our engineer. We have always followed the recommendations of our lawyer,” Kaufmann stated. “... We certainly shouldn’t be doing things based on whose last name is on the application.”
Though he’s likely not to be appointed to a reconstituted planning board, Kaufmann vowed not to disappear quietly.
“[I’ve spent] 17 years helping the community in this capacity,” he remarked, “... and now what you’re going to do is say, ‘Get out of the way’ because you can’t deal with somebody who disagrees with you.”
Marcia Raponi worried the abolition (which she opposed) might create problems of its own.
“Who is going to run the town and planning board for the next few months?” she asked. “... It’s a good time for people to sneak in and do what they want.”
Her husband, town board member Gene Raponi, also voiced his displeasure.
“Doing away with the planning board is the wrong thing to do,” he said. “They bring something to the table the town board can’t bring.”
But the rest of the town board disagreed, with Galligan confident he can handle the planning board’s duties for the expected six months before it’s re-created.
“I think I am qualified for a few months,” he remarked. “... I’ve dealt with the planning boards of 15 towns all my life.”
Sipos, too, felt this was a wise and necessary move.
“I think it is important that the public understand that the purpose of this potential action by the town board is to resolve current issues and to ultimately reconstitute the planning board,” he said, “after the town board has had an opportunity to review potential alternatives regarding the make-up of the board and a review of the land use regulations for the town, which the planning board would continue to oversee.”
Till the planning board is resurrected, the town board will serve in its stead. Future meetings (on the fourth Tuesday of every month) will continue as scheduled.
Also at Monday’s meeting, the town board unanimously asked the NYS Comptroller’s Office to conduct a risk management assessment study, or audit, of town government.
Sipos said the state called him to offer the service, which won’t cost Forestburgh.
Highway Supt. Dan Hogue Jr. added that “there have been insinuations of fraud within the town,” but other officials said such audits have been past practice when new town boards are elected.