DISSENSION IN TOWN OF RICHFIELD
It was troubling to attend the Richfield Town Board’s latest meeting, on Monday, Feb. 17.
The meeting room in the Town Hall on East James Street was full, which is good – citizens participating. But what followed was less so.
Control of the Richfield Town Board shifted from 3-2 to 2-3 on Jan. 1, with the majority shifting from supporters of the town’s new comprehensive plan and zoning code to those opposing it.
That evening, the two minority members, Larry Frigault and Rex Seamon, voted against or argued with every measure raised by the new majority, Supervisor Nick Palevsky and Ed Bello Jr. (with Fred Eckler participating by Skype from Florida.)
When that happened Frigault and Seamon supporters packing the room applauded. Intimidating, to say the least.
As has been reported, the Nov. 5 town elections, which preceded the New Year’s Day transfer of authority, centered on a
disputed comprehensive master plan and resulting zoning code.
A decade ago, opposed to the Monticello Hills Wind LLC six-turbine project, neighbors in the town’s west end organized as Protect Richfield, and sued the developers. Opinion was more mixed in other parts of the town, which saw $150,000 a year as welcome property-tax relief.
When the Appellate Division, state Supreme Court, in 2015 opened the way for Monticello Hills to move forward, the neighbors refocused on getting fully involved in the committee developing the comp plan, and to enter town government on the planning, zoning and town boards, where they had achieved a 3-2 majority, (Frigault, Seamon and Seamon’s nephew Kane).
The comp plan and the zoning code that followed envisioned the town as agricultural and residential, a Protect Richfield vision that troubled other residents who, dismayed by the falling enrollment at Richfield Spring Central School, were inclined toward more proactive development.
Unsurprisingly, the plan and code Protect Richfield adherents developed blocked wind turbines within town boundaries – and, thus, the Monticello Hills Wind Farm.
Granted, there was some give on one of the most restrictive measures – prohibiting any development alongside Route 20, a major artery through the town. That clause was modified.
Still, in the face of continuing objections, Frigault-Seamons bloc then approved the zoning code, 3-2, Sept. 30, five weeks before the election.
That election turned out to be a repudiation of the Protect Richfield bloc.
Palevsky, who had been controversial when he served a decade ago, and was also the focus of some intense personal attacks, nonetheless defeated his opponent, David Simonds, a local pastor, 369 to 356.
Palevsky’s running mates romped, with newcomer Ed Bello Jr. leading the ticket with 444 votes, followed by Eckler with 405. Their opponents, incumbent Kane Seamon (343) and Jeremy Fisher (246) were well behind, indicating the Palevsky bloc had captured Richfield minds and hearts.
That should tell Frigault and Rex Seamon that, whatever their good intentions, they failed to gain support of the electorate at large. They should respect that, and allow the new majority to move its program forward, which will likely lead to the rejection of the new comp plan and zoning code, and development of a new approach.
Prior to the Nov. 5 election, people of good will urged election of the Protect Richfield bloc, saying it would bring the community together. Given the margin of victory on the town board level, that seems unlikely.
Here’s the optimum outcome. Frigault and Seamon – and the badgering attendees at the recent meeting – should accept the judgment of the electorate at the ballot box. It’s the American away, (at least it was before the 2016 national elections).
The new majority should proceed with revising the comp plan and zoning code, per instructions of the electorate, but should assemble a zoning commission that represents the whole community, including Protect Richfield.
Certainly, zoning should identify areas for development, for housing, for recreation, for protection – and even optimum areas for
producing renewable energy, while minimizing the impact on neighbors and optimizing tax benefits for all townspeople.