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Building in Copake? Leave plenty of time


COPAKE—Complaints about the length of time it takes to get a project approved by the Planning Board along with the allegations about the “adversarial” attitudes of some Planning Board members were aired during public comment time at the April 11 Town Board meeting.

Linda Chernewsky, an architectural designer with her own firm, LMC Design, came to the Town Board to ask that something be done to streamline the building permit process. Bearing several testimonial letters from clients, builders and even a building inspector for several other towns, Ms. Chernewsky told the board about delays incurred when trying to get a building project done in Copake.

One client, whose statement Ms. Chernewsky read, said she wanted to add a “simple” 200-square-foot screened-in porch to her cottage. She said she went through “several months” of hearings and meetings and endured unnecessary costs before she could get a permit for the porch, which took less than two weeks to build. The client said she “nearly gave up” because of the prolonged process and is now hesitant to pursue building a garage because of the amount of “red tape” she had to go through.

Currently, Ms. Chernewsky represents Eric Sokol, whose home renovation project at 453 Lakeview Road at Copake Lake requires several variances: two side yard, one each for rear yard, height and setback, and is considered by the Planning Board to be the “modification/expansion of a non-conforming structure on a non-conforming lot” at Copake Lake.

Among the letters Ms. Chernewsky presented to the Town Board was one from Walt Simonsmeier, the building inspector for the Town and Village of Chatham, the Town of Ghent and the Village of Valatie, who said the Sokol project is an “alteration not new construction” and should therefore not be subject to the same type of review.

David Goldman, who described himself as a owning a second home on Golf Course Road at Copake Lake, also addressed the Town Board and presented the board with a letter. “Our Planning Board is not treating our fellow citizens with respect, fairness and common neighborly wisdom,” Mr. Goldman said in his letter. Describing interactions with the Planning Board as “us against them” and “adversarial,” Mr. Goldman said the Planning Board should help citizens get their questions and issues resolved rather than telling them, “No—come back next month.”

Mr. Goldman said the Planning Board should take into account that a landowner is losing money when his or her project is delayed or supply orders have to be adjusted.

He added that it’s not only citizens who are “nervous and uncomfortable” when they have to appear before the Planning Board, but architects, contractors and specialty workers also dread it.

Real estate agent Lindsay LeBrecht agreed, saying Copake’s “reputation is horrible.” It is not a place where builders and the board can find “common ground.”

Ms. Chernewsky said in a phone interview after the meeting, she initially went to the town building department last December, was denied a building permit because of the need for variances and was referred to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). She brought the project before the ZBA in January and also had a conference with the Planning Board that month. The ZBA granted the variances in February pending a site plan review by the Planning Board. Ms. Chernewsky appeared before the Planning Board in February, March and April, when the Planning Board voted three to two to approve the site plan.

But the following day, the Planning Board revoked its approval when it was realized that though a quorum of 5 of the 7 members was present, a majority of the 7 member board, or 4 Yes votes, are required to approve any action.

According to the draft minutes of the Planning Board’s April 4 meeting, much of the discussion focused on the adequacy/inadequacy of the Sokol septic system. Planners wanted their engineer to review a response from the applicant’s engineer, which disagreed with the board engineer’s conclusion about the system.

“As you know the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation considers Copake Lake an impaired waterbody segment due to phosphorus. This nutrient is what has caused weed and algal growth in the Lake. While herbicides have been effectively used in the Lake to combat the increased vegetative growths, they do nothing to address the underlying cause of the nutrient problem.

“The quantity of nutrients such as phosphorus in the lake are likely directly related to undersized wastewater system[s] such as exists on the Sokol property,” wrote Planning Board Engineer Erin K. Moore, with Clark Engineering and Surveying, P.C.

Asked after the meeting whether she believes the Planning Board process was more time-consuming in Copake than elsewhere, Copake Planning Board Chair Marcia Becker said, “absolutely not.” Applications often involve many of the same issues here because Copake has two water bodies—Copake Lake and Robinson Pond—and heavy development around them. She said many applications involve variances and also a site plan review. The DEC’s “impaired waterbody” classification and what causes that designation also figures into the board’s consideration.

Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer responded to those who spoke at the board meeting that he was not present at the April Planning Board meeting and the Town Board’s liaison to the Planning Board, Councilperson Linda Gabaccia, was not present at the Town Board meeting to give her input. He also noted that the town’s Land Use Revision Committee is working on revising the zoning law.

The supervisor said in a follow-up phone call that he planned to meet with the Building Department and has asked to speak with both the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals at upcoming meetings to address the concerns expressed. He said he wants to hear all three sides of the story: “your side, my side and the truth.”

In the meantime the Planning Board has scheduled a special meeting for Saturday, April 20, 2 p.m. to review the Sokol application some more.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.


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