The laws are meant for everyone to follow
Zoning laws are needed for the common good. Individual property owners give up some of their rights in order to meet the needs of the community at large.
This means, for example, septic systems aren’t allowed where they would pollute another person’s water supply.
Setbacks are common requirements in zoning ordinances. The planners who draft such legislation and the town boards that pass them into law, as representatives of the people, recognize the need to set boundaries.
In Knox, a landowner for the last half-dozen years has felt frustrated that his complaints alleging zoning violations haven’t been heard.
Vincent Virano, a deliveryman for an Albany restaurant, bought a large and beautiful piece of land in rural Knox on Singer Road. He had originally planned to build a home there.
His five-acre lot is bordered on each side by similar lots. His neighbors have each built grand houses on their land.
So far, so good.
The problem, though, lies in where his neighbors to the south, Gerald and Traci Hackstadt, built their home.
The Knox zoning law requires that houses be set back at least 50 feet from side property lines. This is good planning, allowing for residents to enjoy privacy on their land.
However, the Hackstadt home is closer than that, near the edge of the property bordering Virano’s rather than being centered in the acreage.
The setback violation apparently arose because the building permit was granted based on a hand-drawn map. We understand the reasoning behind allowing hand-drawn maps. Professional surveys are expensive and, over the decades we’ve covered Knox, many honest residents wanted to build and were allowed to do so based on their hand-drawn plans. They might not have been able to afford to build otherwise.
Judging by the look of the Hackstadts’ home, they could have afforded to have a survey done. The town may want to re-visit the procedure since it would be difficult for a board to allow hand-drawn plans in some cases and not others. In the same way an architect’s stamp is needed for a building project, perhaps a survey should be required as well.
Since the Hackstadts were not required to have the land surveyed, they built with a permit issued by the town’s building inspector. Virano felt his property was being encroached upon and paid for a survey himself in 2006, which made it clear that the home was built in violation of the code. The zoning board then issued the Hackstadts a variance, making it legal.
We can understand both why the board did this — the Hackstadts had been through the prescribed process and given a green light — and why Virano would be disturbed. He has a house standing closer to his property than the law allows.
Virano was further concerned by activity at a large pole barn on the Hackstadts’ property, which he says is used to run a towing business. Businesses aren’t allowed in a residential area. The town’s zoning administrator checked the premises and said no business is being run from the barn.
The third and final straw for Virano came in the form of the Hackstadts’ large, free-form, in-ground swimming pool, built in 2004. Virano’s survey shows that the pool is four-and-a-half feet from his property line rather than the required 40 feet.
Virano is justifiably concerned these encroachments will devalue his property.
Frustrated by the lack of action in Knox, Virano has taken the matter to the New York State Superme Court.
In the meantime, he spoke again last month to the Knox Town Board about the swimming pool, a meeting covered by our Hilltown reporter, Marcello Iaia who has since talked with the town’s lawyer after the zoning administrator declined comment. After the June meeting, the zoning administrator issued a ticket, meaning Hackstadt will appear in town court.
We covered a request in New Scotland a few years back where a resident in a suburban neighborhood requested a variance to build a front-yard swimming pool. The neighbors turned out in force to protest the proposal and the variance was not granted.
Often in rural areas, zoning enforcement depends on the squeaky wheel. A part-time building inspector is unlikely to be able to regularly survey the town to find violations. This puts a difficult burden on residents who have to speak up to get justice.
We find it hard to believe that the Hackstadts were unaware their pool was being built so close to Virano’s property line. They built the pool without the required permit and now expect to get another variance after the fact. That’s not fair. The law is clear; it is a public pact that should be followed, not circumvented.