December 16, 2014
Well, it was a marathon meeting on Tuesday that ended shortly after 2am Wednesday morning – and – because we didn’t even finish the agenda – the board will meet again on Friday, December 19 at 12 noon at town hall to continue the meeting in order to vote on the 2015 budget and potentially adopt resolutions dealing with Costco and BJs. I’m not sure whether that meeting will be televised.
1. Town Board vacancies
As Town Board observers know, the Courtesy of the Floor segment of board meetings can always be a surprise. And it certainly was on Tuesday when approximately 12 people addressed the board asking for a special election to fill the two vacancies and citing the November referendum that was overwhelmingly supported by the voters. Supervisor Grace and Councilman Murphy made a motion and second calling for a special election on March 2 just to fill the vacant Bianco seat; the motion was defeated 2-2 when Councilman Patel and I voted against it.
In explaining my vote, and in response to the public comments, I repeated my position that my goal was to get the board up to full strength as of January 7th and that one way to accomplish that goal would be by agreeing to we to two appointments. (I pointed out that the special election law retained the board’s ability to fill vacancies by appointment for a 30 day period before considering a special election.) When Supervisor Grace rejected that compromise position for a second time, I told him I would get back to him with a second, and different, compromise option.
2. Bonding Resolutions
In four separate votes, the board voted unanimously to borrow money for the following projects:
$200,000 to repair the dam at Sparkle Lake (needed to be in compliance with DEC regulations)
$175,389 for repairs to town hall and the police department building. (pointing the leak in the board room ceiling, I stated that the repairs should have been done three years using available money in the fund balance.)
$820,000 for highway trucks
$1.450,000 for road and culvert projects.
Although the resolutions authorize the town to issue serial bonds, e.g., long term bonds, in response to my question, the comptroller stated it was the town’s intention to finance the projects with short term (5 year) bond anticipation notes that carry a lower interest rate than serial bonds.
All four resolutions area subject to a permissive referendum.
Although initially I was reluctant to vote for the open ended $1,450,000 resolution (only four projects totaling $850,000 had been identified and I was not given any information on what was planned for the remaining $600,000), after being assured that no additional projects would be undertaken without additional board votes, I voted for the resolution. I was especially concerned that the long delayed Baptist Church Road repair project finally be undertaken.
In a public hearing on the gas station permit that lasted over two hours, there were speakers for and against the permit, although it was clear that both sides were speaking for and against the overall Costco plan.
As background, it was explained that the special permit provisions in the Zoning Ordinance dealing with gas stations were adopted in 1997, in part to deal with the then new phenomenon of convenience stores at gas stations, and also to limit the proliferation of gas stations.
The Zoning Code, while setting specific physical standards for gas stations, also gives the Town Board the authority to vary those requirements as it deems appropriate. This led to the applicant explaining why he was asking the board to vary three provisions: the height of the canopy, road width and the height of lighting fixtures..
Phil Grealy, Costco’s traffic consultant, detailed the plans to make $3.5 million worth of road improvements along Route 202 and Mohansic Avenue
The main arguments against Costco were the traffic, failure to be in accord with the Comprehensive Plan (Jonathan Nettelfield called the Comprehensive Plan an “orphan”) and the negative impact on the 14 existing local gas stations with Larry Centore, owner of the Hess station, pointing out that even Costco’s own market study showed that there already were too many gas stations in town. He said that the combined impact of the BJs and Costco fueling operations was the equivalent of 10 regular sized stations. He said that when the current station owners invested in their stations they trusted that the town would not change the1997 law and that their investment would be protected..
Costco opponents also felt that the applicant was getting “special privileges” when it was requesting that specific code requirements be waived. When it was pointed out that Costco would generate an estimated $635,000 in school taxes without adding any children, opponents noted that if existing businesses go out of business as a result of Costco, the town would be losing tax revenue.
On the pro Costco side, long time residents Dottie and Bill LaScala recalled the opposition to the JV Mall and the argument that local stores would die because of it. That didn’t happen, they said, and Ms. LaScala said her local clothing store continued to be profitable.
Addressing the issue of the impact Costco will have on existing businesses, Supervisor Grace said that all businesses had to play by the same rules and were entitled to equal protection under the law. He said the town could not deny the permit in order to protect some businesses. He also rejected the claim that the town was “bending” the rules for Costco.
Another more technical anti-gas station argument that the Zoning Code did not allow the fueling operation along with a retail store was dismissed by Planning Director John Tegeder as not an accurate interpretation of the Zoning Ordinance.
Although the Supervisor’s original plan was to close the hearing and vote immediately thereafter to approve the special permit, I said I wasn’t prepared to vote as the first time I saw the approving resolution was at 7:15pm when I came to town hall and found the resolution on the table in front of my seat and clearly hadn’t had time to read it. After some discussion, the board agreed to close the hearing and allow written comments to be submitted through Thursday, 5pm. And, later in the evening, the board agreed to the Friday special meeting for the potential vote.
Representatives of the applicant’s team gave an overview of the project. (given the late hour, Supervisor Grace asked them to limit their presentation to the essentials.)
For the gas station permit, the applicant is asking for three variances dealing with the height of the canopy, the number of permitted signs on the canopy and the total square footage of signage allowed on the canopy. The applicant explained that because of existing conditions alongside Route 202, it was not feasible to erect a more standard pylon-style sign listing prices; instead the prices would be on the canopy.
The applicant explained that an additional 35 trees would be planted on the site and said he would look into whether some additional landscaping could be done to replace the rip rap that the state installed along Route 202. I asked about additional landscaping along Route 202, an issue that had come up at the Planning Board. (Assuming the Town Board grants the special permit, the applicant still has to return to the Planning Board for site plan review.)
When Mr. Centore raised some of the same issues he had done during the Costco hearing, adding that he too would like to show his prices on his canopy, Supervisor Grace said he was open minded and invited him to submit an application. On the issue of displacing existing stations, Supervisor Grace repeated that displacement of existing businesses was not a reason for denial but could be considered. In response, Mr. Centore said: “I understand what you’re saying. I just disagree with you.”
Citing the history of the site flooding, Paul Moskowitz said that an Environmental Impact Study should have been done instead of the less comprehensive Environmental Assessment Form.
Ann Kutter indicated her support for the project but suggested certain site plan changes (that would be the purview of the Planning Board) to improve traffic flow. She also asked for more handicapped parking on the site.
On the rezoning issue, the main issue was whether the C-3 zone behind BJs should extend to the rear of the property or whether the rear 360 feet should be left C-1 in order to provide a buffer for the abutting residential properties.
Some of the same people who spoke against the Costco permit spoke in opposition to this permit citing traffic, stormwater and competition arguments. (The stormwater plan will have to be approved by the NYS DEP.)
Following the example of the Costco hearing, the hearing was closed with a decision possible at the Friday meeting.
5. Sober House
Despite the late hour (around 1am), the board went into work session mode and discussed the draft denial application that I had prepared. The denial was based on the applicant’s failure to meet certain standards in the Zoning Ordinance and other deficiencies in the application.
Supervisor Grace and Town Attorney Koster took turns rejecting the provisions in the draft saying that they were either not applicable or not legal. Calling attention to the fact that the town’s insurance broker was in the room and listening to the discussion, they cautioned me (and by inference Councilman Patel) that a denial would likely result in a federal lawsuit which the insurance company might not cover. The supervisor added that if that happened, he would not vote to indemnify either of us, meaning that the town would not cover our legal costs in the event of a lawsuit He urged us to be careful in our decision.
On the related issue of making changes to the Zoning Ordinance that would change the definition of a convalescent home and add a new special permit with standards, both Supervisor Grace and Ms. Koster said there was no way that could be done; Ms. Koster said that many such attempts had all been struck down by the courts.
Bringing the discussion to a close, I said I would take the comments and cautions under advisement. I also asked to see the draft of a “grant” resolution that the supervisor said he was going to prepare.
According to the town attorney, the board has until January 20 to make a decision.
6. Granite Knolls Barn
The board awarded a bid to Capital Industries Corp. for $26,800 for the demolition of the barn. I explained that Brian Gray, Superintendent of Parks & Recreation had fully vetted the company and was satisfied thata the company could do the job. He said that the wide disparity in the bid prices was explained by the fact that Capital Industries was a demolition company and already had the necessary equipment for the job whereas the other bidders were contractors and would have had to rent the equipment.