Editor’s Note: Richfield Town Supervisor Paul Palumbo read this assessment of the town’s proposed comprehensive plan and zoning code at a public hearing Monday, Sept. 23. Palumbo and Town Board member Fred Eckler want to delay approval; Town Board members Larry Frigault, Rex Seamon and Kane Seamon, want to vote at 7 p.m. next Monday in a meeting in the school cafeteria.
By PAUL PALUMBO • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
You are probably asking yourself, how could a document that supposedly represents the desire of the residents and what is best, compiled over several years be so controversial here, at its final stage? A very good question, so I will summarize how we got here.
A few years ago, it was recommended the Town of Richfield should have a “Comprehensive Plan Document.” Although we already had a land-use ordinance, we were told that if we wanted to be seriously considered when applying for grants, it was much better to have additionally a Comprehensive Plan, in the proper format.
Fair enough, being better positioned to receive grant money sounded like a good thing. However, even at that time there was a bit of skepticism, folks wanting to know what else this effort might bind us to do.
“Nothing else” we were told: This document is not a law, this document is just a guide or roadmap, it will not have any binding significance.
As the comp plan was being developed, the public was given occasional peeks at it. Many people were puzzled, as it seemed to be banking on farming being our entire future, even though few residents actually do it, or plan to.
But again we were told, don’t worry, you don’t have to go this way.
Agreed – a lot of work went into the plan by nearly a dozen people at one point. It was so well written in fact, it did win an award (not necessarily for its future outlook, but more its presentation and content). By the end of 2017, the plan was ready for approval.
Some board members and residents still had concerns, but again we were told “don’t worry”, and it was passed.
Then what seemed like only a matter of days later, we were informed that our land-use ordinance was so out of whack with the comp plan we just passed, that we were now in legal jeopardy, and must update our zoning immediately.
All of a sudden this benign, harmless comp plan became a serious driving force.
Then much to the public’s surprise, an updated 70+ page zoning document appeared almost overnight. But how, as the board hadn’t even appointed a zoning commission yet!
It was written in private meetings by a small subset of the comp plan committee, oddly before the comp plan was even approved! And when it came time to appoint the “official committee,” by a lopsided board vote, the people who had written the document in private were selected, and no new members were allowed in.
Yes, there were some minor personnel changes thereafter, but it ended up being only three people.
OK, enough of the troubling history. Not surprisingly, this zoning update is heavily weighted toward farming – just as the Comp Plan was.
It clearly states that yes, farms will be emitting odors, noises, bright lights, nighttime activity, traffic from vehicles, heavy equipment, general nuisances, etc.
Alright, we all know what farms are, and none of those comes as a surprise. But what is surprising, is that absolutely no other business can do any of those things, along with a laundry list of other restrictions.
Does that seem fair to you? To have one business type totally exempt from everything, while other businesses are tightly controlled?
For example, larger business activity will now be limited to a very small area of the town. Your customers cannot park in front, they must park at the rear or side. You can’t display your goods outside. Anything outside needs to be fenced, so that others won’t see it.
If you rent your home as a short term summer rental, you will now have a pile of new rules. If you want to do a larger solar project on your property, you can’t. Many uses are now prohibited. These are just a tiny sample of the many inequities.
Oddly, most of these new rules don’t come from the comp plan, many appear to be cut and pasted from other towns’ zoning laws. There is also minimal evidence that discussions occurred with people that would be affected by the new rules.
Tonight I am asking this board to truly listen to what the public has been saying to for a while now – they are just not on board with this, or how it was done! Does this update need to be totally scrapped? No, but it does need a good review from an independent group of residents, including folks that are effected.
Anyone not totally on board with this update is being called uninformed and misguided. But let’s not be misled again, as we have been multiple times throughout this process, by the name calling.
This update is just not equally fair to all property owners by any stretch, and needs some heavy duty revisions.