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In Chatham, does no tennis camp equal hardship?


CHATHAM–The Town Board held a special meeting last week in North Chatham to hear arguments for and against granting a hardship waiver for Adam Slone. Mr. Slone wants to build several tennis courts and host a not-for-profit tennis camp on this property on Thomas Road, but can’t begin work without first convincing the board to waive the town’s moratorium on new construction along unpaved roads.

Several months ago Mr. Slone applied for a special use permit with town’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). As his application was being reviewed by the ZBA, the Town Board discussed imposing a moratorium that would temporarily ban building projects on property accessed by unpaved town roads. The moratorium, which the Town Board did adopt, remains in effect while a town Zoning Implementation Committee reviews and suggests changes to the town’s zoning laws so that the laws reflect the goals of the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Before the Town Board adopted the 12-month moratorium in February, Mr. Slone withdrew his application to build the Life Serve Tennis Camp. But a few weeks later Mr. Slone applied to the Town Board for a waiver from the moratorium, claiming the temporary ban causes him hardship. If the board agrees, Mr. Slone could again seek town approval for his tennis camp.

At the June 24 special Town Board meeting on the hardship waiver, Mr. Slone stressed that he was following the process the town required of him to get a special use permit. He talked about the money he has spent on the property, which he bought for about $1.2 million, to be used for the camp. He said legal and contract fees already amount to about $117,000 for his initial proposal to the ZBA.

“I spent $100,000 and then I hit a moratorium,” he told the board. He said that he had gone through months of work with the ZBA before the moratorium was put in place.

In a letter to the board, Mr. Slone’s lawyer, Andrew Howard, who was not at the meeting, cited case law in support of Mr. Slone’s hardship waiver. He also pointed out that Mr. Slone efforts to find donors for his foundation have been put on hold, causing another financial strain. Mr. Howard also wrote about the fees and money spent on the project, calling it “money that simply cannot be recovered.”

Mr. Howard also pointed out in his letter that there were no applications before the ZBA that concerned properties on unpaved roads except for Mr. Slone’s, suggesting that this moratorium only affects his project.

About 60 residents attended the meeting at the North Chatham firehouse, many of them speaking against the request for the waiver and in support of the moratorium. Karen Murphy, the co-counsel for the Thomas Road Conversion Alliance, a local group that opposes Mr. Slone’s plans, told the board that Mr. Slone’s delay in planning was not a hardship. “No one is denying him anything. He just has to wait,” she said of the moratorium.

Ms. Murphy said that if the board wants to grant the waiver, Mr. Slone must prove real hardship. “They have to get it right and they have to get it right under the law,” she said.

Linda Ziskind, also a member of the local opponents’ group, said that the money Mr. Slone spent should not be considered a hardship. “Spending money isn’t a guarantee of approval,” she said.

She said that under the terms of the moratorium, delaying a project is not reason for a hardship claim.

Many other people spoke against granting a waiver until the town can review the zoning laws. Others talked about Mr. Slone spending the money on the property before he had the special use permit. “You made a mistake, you bought a piece of property without a permit and you needed a permit,” said resident Jeff Murdock.

Another town resident urged the board to be careful about issuing the kind of special use permits sought by Mr. Slone, saying the permits are passed down for many years without being reviewed or changed by new zoning laws. “What you do might last another 80 years,” she said.

On advice from the Town Attorney Tal Rappelyea, the board did not make a decision at the meeting. Mr. Rappelyea said he would meet with board members privately and work on a resolution the board could review at another meeting. The board will have its next meeting on the issue July 7 at 6 p.m. at the North Chatham firehouse on Route 32.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.


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