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Talks continue on high level in Ancram


ANCRAM—The Town Board has decided to notify ridgeline property owners who would be impacted by proposed zoning changes intended to protect high and most widely visible parts of town.

About a dozen ridgelines have been designated for protection based on their visual predominance in the landscape. But after some critical public feedback at recent hearings, the Zoning Revision Committee (ZRC) has changed its original proposal. No lot would be rendered unbuildable by the proposed regulation, which would allow residential construction “astride a designated ridgeline” as long as it is “fully screened by existing trees and vegetation when viewed from publicly accessible locations, such as roads or parks.”

At a reconvened public hearing on ridgelines prior to the May 16 Town Board meeting town Conservation Advisory Council Chair Jamie Purinton had questions about how ridgeline regulations would be enforced. She noted the importance of insuring that screening vegetation remains intact after a certificate of occupation is issued on a ridgeline structure. She said she knows of instances when ridgeline property owners have claimed wind damage removed the trees and other “shenanigans” that make regulations hard to follow through on.

Property owner Eric Benn told the board that the ridgelines slated for protection had been “uncarefully designated.” He said ridgeline boundaries are not clear on the map and wanted to know if Ancram had somehow “been damaged” by not having this law in the past. He said he has had potential buyers of his property “run away because of this very conversation.”

Real Estate Broker Drew Hingson, an outspoken opponent of the regulation at prior hearings, criticized the process as not being open. He questioned what the town fears, why prohibitions should be put on clearing the land, noting, throughout history the hills have been cleared. “The purity of uninterrupted trees is in the mind, you are being capricious if you pass this law,” he said.

ZRC member Bonnie Hundt defended the revision process, calling it “completely open” and noted that the committee welcomed everyone and heard them out. Indicating her preference for the original, stricter version of the regulation, she said the board should pass the law because “it’s about protecting people in a community sense, not about single special interests.”

Resident Jack Lindsey told the board that the person who bought ridgeline property behind his place on Doodletown Road, subsequently put it in a conservation easement. “People who pay a lot for their land also protect their ridgelines,” he said, disputing the notion that ridgeline property owners are all against the new regulation.

If the ZRC’s aim was to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, Councilman Chris Thomas questioned why the committee had “jumped” from making the regulation pertain to only major subdivisions to making it mandatory for everyone. He then reinforced a request that he made at earlier meeting that all owners of ridgeline properties be notified in writing of the proposed ridgeline protection regulation.

When Supervisor Art Bassin returned to the notification idea during the regular meeting, asking for board discussion, Councilman Hugh Clark, who also serves as ZRC chair, said it is not a good idea. He said it would be “unfair and inconsistent” to send out notices, noting that changes have been made to other regulations which affect more property owners and notices were not sent. “We are talking about a protective measure not a material disadvantage,” said Mr. Clark.

But “are we doing any harm?” asked Supervisor Bassin, noting the degree of contentiousness the issue has generated.

Councilman Thomas made a motion to notify affected property owners, all board members voted in favor, except Mr. Clark.

The ridgeline measure remains under consideration by the board. The public hearing remains open and will be reconvened prior to the June 20 Town Board meeting. In the meantime, efforts will be made to notify designated ridgeline property owners, so they can weigh in on the issue.

In other business, the board:

*Heard from Lynda Scheer from the Healthcare Consortium about funds available from the Foundation for Community Health, specifically for Ancram and Copake residents to pay for prescriptions costs, including co-pays. A person can have an income that is 300% of the federal poverty level and still qualify. Also available is money for medical transportation. Ms. Scheer said she is eager to the put the funding to good use because if it is not used, programs will not be funded again next year. Contact Ms. Scheer at 518 828-2273 or 1-877-260-9244.

*Heard that the town’s Zoning Enforcement Officer has issued Notices of Violation on the Carson Road wind turbines belonging to Michael Gershon and Joseph Crocco. The special use permits issued for the turbines in 2010 were given based on misrepresentations and failure to disclose relevant information about noise problems, which are grounds for revocation. The Zoning Board of Appeals will ultimately decide whether to revoke the permits.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com.

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