(This story was updated at 12:45 a.m. Feb. 14, 2015.)
CHATHAM – It was a full house, too full in fact, at the Town Board’s workshop meeting last week. Some members of the public who came out to support the board’s proposal to place a 12-month moratorium on special use permits and site plan reviews for parcels on unpaved town roads were asked to leave by members of the like-minded Thomas Road Conservation Alliance, who feared the meeting might be rescheduled if the crowd exceeded the capacity of the town hall meeting room and the hallway outside.
About 50 people were allowed to stay to hear the board’s four-to-one decision to hold a public hearing on the moratorium, a requirement before the board can vote on the measure. Councilman Henry Swartz was the only board member who voted against the public hearing, which is now set for Tuesday, February 17.
Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt told residents attending the workshop meeting that they would have a chance to speak at the February 17 hearing. The board did hear last week from Andrew Howard, the lawyer for Adam Slone, whose application to create a tennis camp on his Thomas Road property was at that point being reviewed by the town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). Mr. Slone’s application appears to have triggered the call for a moratorium.
Board members also heard from Jeffrey Baker, the lawyer for the Thomas Street Conservation Alliance, who discussed the group’s concerns about the project.
But discussion of the moratorium has changed somewhat now. Supervisor DeGroodt confirmed this week that Mr. Slone has withdrawn his application to the ZBA for a special use permit.
The supervisor said the board was still planning hold the public hearing on the proposed moratorium.
At last week’s workshop meeting, the board discussed the moratorium proposal, which would temporarily freeze applications for special use permits and site plan reviews involving projects on unpaved roads. The tennis camp plan would have required a special use permit under the existing town zoning law and Thomas Road is an unpaved, residential road.
The moratorium would include applications already filed with the Planning and Zoning boards. But the proposal would create an exception for any property owner who would suffer an “unnecessary hardship” because of the moratorium. In that case the applicant could apply to the Town Board for a variance. The moratorium plan does not include exemptions for current applications.
Councilwoman Jean Rohde and Mr. DeGroodt both said they supported a moratorium with the hardship provision. “I support stepping back and taking a look at things,” Ms. Rohde said of the moratorium.
The board has been working for several years on updating the town’s zoning laws and a town zoning committee is expected to suggest new revisions to the local land use law this spring. The moratorium proposal notes that “the zoning revision process is nearing the end, which is expected to result in the enactment of many new zoning provisions including more specific special use and site plan approval standards.”
Board member Bob Balcom stressed that the moratorium would give the board some time to review the zoning revisions. “A moratorium is not a denial,” he said, adding, “It’s just a waiting period.” Mr. Balcom seconded Councilwoman Maria Lull’s motion to pass to full moratorium with no hardship variance option, but that motion did not pass.
The ZBA had scheduled its own public hearing on the project late last month, but it was canceled once the Town Board started discussing the moratorium.
Mr. Howard, speaking on behalf of his client, tennis camp applicant Adam Slone, told the board that the application has been reviewed by the ZBA for six months and was “deemed substantially complete.”
“Unfortunately, despite the fact that no moratorium has been put in place, the mere talk of it was enough to cause that public hearing to be adjourned,” Mr. Howard said.
He said that there had been a great deal of misinformation about the project “disseminated by a small group of residents” concerning Mr. Slone and his vision of a small tennis camp on his property at 206 Thomas Road. Mr. Howard said that the property had been a horse farm before this and that Mr. Slone was re-purposing the 26-acre parcel, adding five tennis courts. He cited sound studies that had been conducted and talked about the fact that the students would stay at the site and not be bused to and from the site every day during the summer months when the camp would be open.
Reading from a prepared statement Mr. Howard said, “The not-so-well-kept secret in Chatham is that our neighbors are concerned about what ‘those kids,’ meaning inner city kids, those minority kids, will do at night.” At that point he was shouted down by residents.
He said that the project “helps the overall common good,” and that it should not be put off for a year.
Mr. Baker, speaking for the neighbors’ group, said the application for the project was incomplete and that construction trucks would be going up and down the unpaved road for months working on the project. He also said that “the increase in noise levels will be twice what they say it will be.” He said the campers will be transported by van to Crellin Park for swimming during the camp sessions, which has said would increase traffic on the road in what he said is the wettest season. “There is nothing in the plan for after 12:30 p.m.,” Mr. Baker said of schedule for campers.
“The point is, this was not a well thought out plan,” he told the board.
The public hearing will be held at the Chatham Fire House, 10 Hoffman Street, Tuesday, February 17 at 7 p.m.
To contract reporter Emilia Teasdale email firstname.lastname@example.org.