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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 22, 2010

Shared driveways and the one-cut rule

By Zach Simeone

KNOX — After an hour-long discussion last week on shared driveways, easements, and how they tie into the long debated one-cut rule, the town board scheduled a workshop to discuss a policy on shared-driveway easements and their potential ramifications. It has been scheduled for Sept. 7, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

With the one-cut rule, landowners looking to divide their land into two lots are able to circumvent the town’s subdivision regulations and planning process, with one such subdivision being allowed every 18 months. Some families in Knox subdivide their property for a child, who builds a home and starts a family, and shares the original driveway owned by his or her parents.

The conversation began when the town board addressed a letter from the planning board, expressing concern among planning board members because they had been telling residents that the town does not permit shared driveways, when, in fact, the town has no policy addressing the matter. The letter goes on to ask that the town board develop such a policy.

“That’s usually only an issue when someone is using the one-cut rule, but still, they frequently come to us for advice on subdividing,” said long-time planning board member Daniel Driscoll this week. “We were concerned because we would routinely tell them the town does not permit shared driveways, because the town had told us many years ago that they don’t want shared driveways, but there’s no written ordinance, or policy, or anything saying that.”

So, Planning Board Chairman Robert Price wrote the letter to the town board.

Split votes

The first motion following last week’s discussion, for a workshop that would have also included discussion on the one-cut rule, failed, as board members did not agree that the one-cut rule should be discussed. But John Dorfman, the town’s attorney, asserted this week that the two subjects are indeed connected, and told the board at the meeting, “The one-cut rule should go — no ifs, no ands, no buts.”

When asked to elaborate this week, Dorfman said, “Subdivision regulations are set up so that there’s an ability to safely control a property, methods for drainage — there are a lot of issues that come into a subdivision, but they’re very important issues, and they may affect other properties. If you cut off a piece and give it to your child, it doesn’t require subdivision approval.”

He went on, “If you do a one-cut every 18 months, and, at the end of that time, you’ve cut it eight or 10 times — in theory it could be done — you could very well have a private road servicing many properties that would not be regulated. A private road to one house is one thing; a private road to eight houses is another thing. So, in terms of getting fire, police, and emergency people there, there are other public interests that apply.”

After the original motion failed, a second motion to schedule a workshop, discussing only shared-driveway easements, was approved by a 3-to-2 vote, with board members Patricia Gage and Travis Stevens, both Republicans, casting the dissenting votes against the Democratic majority.

“It wasn’t because I didn’t want to have the workshop at all; it’s because I thought both things were connected together, and I thought it would be difficult to discuss one without the other,” Gage said this week of shared driveways and the one-cut rule. “I wanted to discuss both the one-cut rule and Bob Price’s proposal concerning the driveways at the same time.”

Councilman Stevens could not be reached before press time.


“I don’t know why the town board hasn’t adopted a policy formally,” Price told The Enterprise this week. “But, I do know the town has held the position that they don’t like shared driveways, because it leads to problems where the town winds up having to take over a road and spend the money to make it meet town highway specifications, which costs the taxpayers of the town money.”

Asked why the town has no policy on shared driveways, Supervisor Michael Hammond said, “It’s never become such a concern to the town that it required something like that.”

Candidates for town offices were asked in November for their stance on the elimination of the one-cut rule; Hammond, similar to his comments this week, said that, while some fear it will be used as a loophole by developers, it has not been an issue thus far, and he did not see it causing problems in the foreseeable future; Councilman Nicholas Viscio said that, while it should not be eliminated, it should be modified to better protect the town; Councilman Stevens, who took office in January, said only that there should be an open discussion on the topic, and that the town board should seek the planning board’s recommendations.

Price said this week that some issues caused by shared driveways can occur in instances where the one-cut rule applies, as one-cut subdivisions can result in shared driveways. He went on to provide the following scenario.

“Let’s just say somebody builds a house on a parcel that’s 25 acres, and they come before the planning board and say, ‘We want to subdivide this parcel into three more parcels, so there are a total of four, and we want everybody to continue using the same driveway we have, because we don’t want to spend the money to create a new one,’” Price began.

“The planning board says, ‘Sure, go ahead.’ Eventually, three new homes get built, so there are four homes, and four families using the driveway,” he went on. “Let’s say, it’s Henry’s job to plow the snow, and that’s fine, because these guys are all friends. One day, Henry moves off to Milwaukee, and some stranger moves into Henry’s house, and this new guy doesn’t want to plow the snow. So then, they come to the town and say, ‘Will you please plow my driveway?’ If the town starts maintaining the driveway, then they end up owning the driveway by default.”

The town would then have to spend the money to maintain the road.

Referring to the planning board’s telling residents that shared driveways are not allowed, Price told the town board last week, “The bottom line is, we’re not speaking the truth, and we’ve been doing it for a long time.”

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