COPAKE–All members of the committee abolished last month were invited to join a new committee this month, during a significantly more agreeable Town Board meeting March 8.
At last month’s board meeting Democrats passed a resolution to disband the existing Zoning Review Committee and start a new committee called the Land Use Review Committee, saying the old committee “was not formed using proper procedure.” Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia, who authored the resolution, Councilwoman Susan Winchell-Sweeney and Councilman Bob Sacks voted in favor, while Councilwoman Kelly Miller-Simmons, a Republican, and Supervisor Jeff Nayer, an Independence Party member, were opposed.
The board’s action triggered a storm of outrage from members of the dissolved committee and the general public present at the February meeting. The uproar continued following the meeting in newspapers, online and on the street.
Before a packed house last Thursday Supervisor Nayer said he had composed a resolution he hoped would address the situation and had circulated the draft to Town Board members five days before the meeting as dictated by town policy. Councilwoman Winchell-Sweeney contacted the supervisor with her concerns and the two went back and forth about it until they “reached consensus,” arriving at “a good working document” that would allow the town to “move forward,” Mr. Nayer said.
The resolution, which Mr. Nayer asked the board and town residents to accept, was co-sponsored by Councilwoman Winchell-Sweeney.
The new resolution calls for all members of the dissolved committee to continue as members of the new committee without having to re-apply or be re-interviewed. New applicants who applied to serve on the new committee by the March 6 deadline will be interviewed. Supervisor Nayer said by phone Tuesday that nine new applicants have submitted letters of interest.
Knowledge about the town zoning code is not a pre-requisite for appointment to the committee and while it is desirable to have a farmer on the committee, if one cannot be found to serve the absence of a farmer will not invalidate the committee’s work. The Town Board has the option to increase the committee to 13 members.
The new committee retains the old committee’s mission statement, adopted by the Town Board last December. The mission calls for using the Comprehensive Plan as a basis to review zoning ordinances, land use issues and state, federal and local laws.
The new committee will work with the guidance of a consultant to be hired by the Town Board, and the committee has a year to get its work done unless it gets an extension from the Town Board.
Mac Simms, a member of the old committee, pointed out that the new committee is not required to abide by the Comprehensive Plan.
John Keeler wanted to know how many members of the old committee will join the new group. Supervisor Nayer said he hoped that they all will. He and Councilwoman Winchell-Sweeney plan to visit those who decline and personally ask them to return.
Marcia Peteroy was skeptical that the committee will be able to finish its work in a year. Ms. Winchell-Sweeney said according to her research it doesn’t take that long.
The new committee will not meet until after all returning members have met with the board and all new applicants are interviewed, said Mr. Nayer. “We’re taking it one step at a time,” he said.
The supervisor said there is a little over $9,000 in the budget for the committee and a grant has been written and is ready to be submitted. He said the consultant could cost around $40,000, but the final cost will not be known, he said, until requests for proposals are received. He said somehow the town will have to find the money.
In the roll call vote that followed, all Town Board members voted in favor of the resolution. Councilwoman Gabaccia was absent.
“I think this is a very good thing for the town,” said the supervisor.
In other business, the Town Board heard from David Proper of Copake, a Sheriff’s Office resident deputy, who wanted to know what the board was doing in response to the petition that was submitted in January bearing the signatures of 620 people who want the board to bring back the town police department.
When Mr. Nayer responded that the board would not put the matter to another vote, Mr. Proper asked how the board could act on a petition with 100 signatures and put the question of whether to keep or dissolve the police department on the ballot in the first place, but then “disregard” the 600-signature petition calling for a do-over.
Town Attorney Ken Dow explained that there can be no revival of the former police department because it has been dissolved by local law. “The only way to have a town police department is to start from scratch,” the attorney said.
Copake resident Mel Salberg asked what steps need to be taken to get a police department back and the attorney told him the Town Board could do it with a resolution to establish a new police department.
“Our little town police department did more than write tickets and piss people off,” said Deputy Proper, who went on to describe how Copake Police helped an elderly woman who was alone and afraid.
Mr. Salberg said the public will remember whether the board was listening or not when election time comes again.
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