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Ghent residents give freezer plan frosty critique


GHENT–Town residents spoke out last week in opposition to the proposed Ginsberg’s expansion project at a public hearing held by the Ghent Zoning Board of Appeal.

Ginsberg’s, a regional foodservice distributing company in Claverack founded in 1909, is applying for a site plan approval to build a new facility on a 33-acre parcel on Route 66 on the border of the towns of Ghent and Claverack. About two-thirds of the proposed site would be in Ghent. The proposal is for a “phase 1” plan, which involves constructing a building to house a freezer facility and offices by the end of next year. The plan also calls for a warehouse to be completed within 10 years. The Ghent and Claverack planning boards have been jointly reviewing the proposal.

The Ghent ZBA held a public hearing last Tuesday August 26 to address the company’s requests for variances. Brandee Nelson, engineer with Crawford and Associates representing Ginsberg’s, told the ZBA that the company is applying for three area variances: one would allow the structure to exceed the 35-foot height limit by an additional 15 feet; a variance for rear yard setback of 40 feet; and a variance to allow the excavation and removal of almost 183,000 cubic yards of material in order to level the area for the structure. In the proposed location’s zone, town code only permits the removal of 375 cubic yards of material.

Ms. Nelson said the reason for the request for additional height is business efficiency. “With modern food storage and modern management, it’s more efficient to do your stacking vertically,” she said. The current Ginsberg’s facility nearly 30 feet, she said. She said the higher will allow the company “to grow vertically rather than expand horizontally.”

Ken Dow, an attorney who said he is representing “some parties” in the community, said that what the applicant is applying for in regard to the excavation and removal of materials should be classified as a use variance, not an area variance. Mr. Dow said that the request from Ginsberg’s falls under the definition of mining.

“They are not in the mining overzone, so mining is not permitted,” he said. “This is clearly a use variance.”

Mr. Dow said there are more requirements for granting a use variance, and he believes Ginsberg’s would not meet those requirements. For example, he said to be granted a use variance, applicants need to prove that the hardship they are seeking the variance for is unique and only applies to that property. Also, he said, the applicant must prove the hardship is not self-created.

“The uncontested facts make it impossible to show that. There’s nothing unique about being in a place where you can’t do mining,” he said. He added that the need for a variance is self-created because the applicant knew about the town code mining restrictions for the property.

“If you can’t make use of a land under the permitted zoning, then you shouldn’t acquire it,” said Mr. Dow. “It has to be subject to a use variance, and it’s our contention that this cannot be granted.”

But Chuck Malcolm, attorney representing Ginsberg’s, said it does qualify as an area variance because mining is allowed in the zone, though it is restricted to 375 cubic yards of materials removed.

“The book says you can do mining subject to these restrictions. We’re just looking for a deviation from those restrictions,” he said. “And it’s a big one. I’m going to admit that.”

Of the 182,700 cubic yards of materials Ginsberg’s seeks to remove, Ms. Nelson said that approximately 140,000 of it would be done in phase 1, and not all of it would come out of Ghent; a portion would be come out of the Claverack side of the parcel.

Mr. Malcolm asked the board to consider the reason for the variance request.

“This isn’t a mining use over many years. That’s not what we’re doing,” he said. “We need to remove this material so we could build something.”

Chair Mark Huston said the ZBA “is looking at both aspects” and will determine whether it is an area or use variance that is being requested.

Ghent resident Ron Cartis said the proposed project doesn’t fit the property.

Grace Harrison read aloud a letter written by her mother, who was unable to be present for the hearing. The letter spoke of the beauty of Columbia County and renewed tourist attraction of the area, and said the project is better suited for “the side of an interstate.”

“The zoning we have in place is there because it is appropriate for the setting,” Ms. Harrison read from her mother’s letter. “We urge you to uphold the zoning code as it stands, protect our property values, and deny the outrageous variances that Ginsberg’s requests.”

Tom Runyon, a neighbor the of the proposed project site, said it was a “very inappropriate spot,” citing the existence of wetlands on both sides and the potential increase of traffic on Route 66.

Richard Harrison said the proposed structure’s height is beyond “anything in the area.”

Mr. Huston said he wanted to see what the visual impact of the 15 foot variance would be. The ZBA closed the public hearing, but will accept written comments on the matter through September 5. The next meeting of the ZBA is scheduled for September 10 at 7 p.m. at Ghent Town Hall.


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