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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 3, 2009
“A big nut to crack”
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND The town’s zoning code, written more than 20 years ago, will get an overhaul after the newly appointed Zoning Review Committee examines the document and decides on appropriate changes to bring the code up to date.
Four people worked on the zoning code document in 1987, including the current supervisor, Kenneth Runion, and the supervisor at the time, Kevin Moss both lawyers. Moss said the document was drafted in response to the growth in town that exploded after the economic recession ended in 1982. There was concern that both residential and commercial growth would have a negative effect on the infrastructure of the town.
Moss, a Republican, said this week that he thinks the review committee is a good idea.
“Zoning is always changing, and there is no such thing as a static zoning law,” he said. “It is wise for any municipality that is continually growing to periodically update the zoning laws.”
Bruce Sherwin, a Democrat, the new committee’s chairman, was appointed by the town board in July. He served on the town board from 2001 to 2005, and said updating the zoning codes is an issue he has felt strongly about for years. Sherwin only served one term on the board because he was not endorsed by the Democratic party to run for a second term. He was sometimes outspoken and didn’t always vote in a bloc with his fellow Democrats.
Sherwin, who owns Publishers Solutions, LLC, said he had talked to Supervisor Runion in the past about updating the zoning codes to make them consistent with Guilderland’s comprehensive land-use plan, which was drafted over a period of time, and adopted in 2001. The plan itself has no teeth unless its tenets are codified into law.
According to Sherwin, Runion called him in the early spring to discuss putting a review committee together. It was the right time to make changes because of the economic climate and the issues some businesses were facing, said Sherwin.
The discussion with the supervisor led to the decision to create a bi-partisan committee. Runion was a Republican at the time he helped draft the code; he has been the town’s Democratic supervisor for a decade and is currently seeking re-election. The town board, which has three Democrats and two Republicans, approved the committee members by unanimous votes after the two Republican councilmen had their candidate, Martin Kehoe, added to the list.
A lot of consideration went into the appointments, and Sherwin said the emphasis was on retaining progressive people who would be willing to make the necessary changes to the code.
In the end, the decision was to create an eight-person committee, with a mix of parties three Democrats, two Republicans, one Conservative, and two independents. The members are:
Joseph Abbruzzese, a Conservative, and an owner of Altamont Orchards;
Peter Barber, a Democrat, and a chairman of the zoning board;
Ken Brownell, an independent, and a local commercial Realtor;
Kathy Burbank, a Democrat, and the executive director of the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce;
Regina DuBois, a Republican who chaired the Guilderland Comprehensive Plan Committee and served on the planning board;
Gary Robinson, an independent, and owner of Robinson’s Ace Hardware; and,
Martin Kehoe, a Republican, and a local attorney.
Overall, the goal of the committee will be to make updates to the code based on changes made over time; streamline permit processes to be more user friendly; and, most importantly, line up the code with the overall vision of the town outlined in the comprehensive plan.
“Drafting the comprehensive plan was a lot of back-breaking work with lots of community involvement. It provided an overall vision of the town that must not, cannot change,” said Sherwin.
Zoning is time-consuming, said Sherwin, and, in order to save time, the committee will be broken up into two sub-committees. The general overview sub-committee with DuBois, Abbruzzese, and Barber is made up of people who are proficient with the code and can go through it quickly and point out issues.
The second sub-committee, the economic development committee with Brownell, Burbank, Robinson, and Kehoe is comprised of business people who know what works and what doesn’t. Sherwin will participate with both sub-committees.
The committee will also be working with professional staff, including Jan Weston, town planner; Steve Feeney, chairman of the planning board; and Don Cropsey, the chief zoning administrator. In addition, a professor of biodiversity at the State University of Albany has offered to be a consultant, free of charge.
The committee will focus on agriculture, green space, and new technologies.
At a meeting on Aug. 25, the review committee members discussed their goals and worked to create a meeting schedule. The meeting was open to the public; a handful of people attended.
The full committee will meet on the fourth Tuesday of every other month, with the sub-committees meeting on the fourth Tuesday of the between months.
The first sub-committee meeting will take place at Town Hall on Sept. 22, and the next meeting of the full committee will be Oct. 27.
There is no time limit on the committee’s completion of its task, but Sherwin said the project should not last more than seven or eight months, because each member is a volunteer and it is hard to dedicate so much time to the cause.
“Zoning is a big nut to crack, and it’s pretty time consuming,” Sherwin said.
According to Peter Golden, making his first run for supervisor on the Republican ticket, the formation of the committee is purely a political move by Runion, and, if Runion is re-elected, Golden said he believes the committee will disappear.
Golden, who attended the meeting, said, “I’m glad that Mr. Runion is finally addressing the zoning problem. But he’s the author of the code and he’s had 10 years to fix it, and it’s hard to believe that he’ll accomplish something in two more years that he failed to accomplish in the last 10.”
Moss, the Republican former supervisor, agrees that the committee has a political factor to it.
“When you have two-year terms,” he said of the supervisor’s post, “it’s impossible to do anything that’s not political. It’s all political in the sense that it’s government responding to its constituents. There’s nothing wrong with it; that’s the way it should be.”
Whether or not the creation of the committee was politically motivated, Sherwin is confident that the membership is fair and balanced.
“It had to be non-political,” Sherwin said. “It’s a group of people all coming together for the same reason to improve the town.”