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Greenwich Town Board Meeting, April 10
Zoning Issues Dominate

by Tracy Frisch

GREENWICH—Approximately 50 people attended this meeting where the hot topic was zoning. The town-appointed zoning commission has worked for 18 months to develop a zoning ordinance and the recommended ordinance is now in the town’s hands.

The meeting room was filled to capacity and the audience overflowed into the two anterooms beyond. Town Supervisor Don Wilbur declined a request by resident Rulyn Graves for him to move closer to the door so that those sitting and standing outside would be able to hear.

Following Wilbur’s preliminary remarks a public comment period continued for two hours—past 9:00 p.m. The board then conducted its regular business until after 10:00 p.m.

With two councilmen away on vacation, a special town meeting was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on April 24, so the entire town board could discuss the zoning ordinance. Councilman Bob Jeffords urged the use of a larger venue to accommodate the public and the high school cafeteria has been reserved for this meeting.

Wilbur began by objecting to several statements on a widely distributed flyer entitled “An alert from your fellow Greenwich residents. The rural, small town character of Greenwich is being threatened!” The flyer states that more than 400 acres of high-density development and more than 1,000 units would be possible. Wilbur dismissed these figures on several grounds, although they appear to reflect the amount of land in large parcels (Lots in the residential zone may be half acre down to eight acre with water and sewer).

He contended that the zoning ordinance’s limit of five building permits a year in each subdivision would deter large-scale developments. He also argued that high-density residential belongs near the village, and again suggested putting a sidewalk up North Road. Wilbur claimed that his idea to expand the residential zone stemmed from his discovery that it contained 83 acres of “protected land” belonging to Pam Keniry. Consultant Stuart Mesinger of The Chazen Co. is to report on the number of house lots that could be created in the residential zone designated in the draft ordinance. But zoning commission member Tammara Van Ryn strongly recommended that Mesinger look at how many houses can be put throughout Greenwich.

Rather than segregating all the housing in a residential zone and all the stores in a commercial zone, most uses are allowed in most of the town. Since Greenwich’s “zoning lite” does not use modern planning tools to preserve farmland and open space, expanding the residential zone would not help protect agriculture or undeveloped land. Van Ryn suggested that if there are changes to the residential and commercial zones, then the board needs to dust off the 18 months of zoning commission records and look carefully at all the alternatives discussed.

Dawn Sharts, a farmer and zoning commission member who lives on North Road, said, “People are here because we care about the future of Greenwich.” She proposed enacting a moratorium on development until a zoning ordinance is enacted. She claimed that a 35-lot development is being proposed on Cottrell Road and mentioned that a landowner reportedly wishes to construct a 40-unit apartment complex in Middle Falls.

The idea of a moratorium gained momentum. Another North Road resident, John Ginard, said, “We need a moratorium because if people are trying to pull a fast one, we should nip it in the bud. Let’s give the zoning plan a chance.” Wilbur tried to deflect the call for a moratorium by insisting it would take as long to enact as to pass a zoning ordinance. If interest warrants it, the possibility of a moratorium will be on the April 24 agenda.

The Gibson family, proprietors of Capital Tractor, owns approximately 180 acres (North Fork Farms) in two large, adjacent parcels within the area that Wilbur proposed adding to the residential zone. Of the rezoning idea, North Road property owner Andrew Sharts said, “It seems like you’re describing the boundaries of his [Gibson’s] property.” He told Wilbur that it struck him as suspicious to suggest rezoning property that would benefit “a single person” when you’re “lifelong friends.” John Ginard of North Road added that he finds it “very strange” that “all of a sudden you [Wilbur] propose extending the residential zone just to his [the Gibsons’] property.”

After being hammered for nearly two hours, Wilbur said he would withdraw the request to look at expanding the residential zone and ask to adopt the zoning ordinance as is.

The need to pass a Right to Farm law was also passionately argued. The town board has been considering such a law. As a dairy farmer, Brian Barber urged passage of a town Right to Farm law so that when people purchase property in an agricultural area, they would be notified that farming is taking place. With a new several-house subdivision going in next to his North Greenwich Road farm, new homeowners will be moving in who may be unprepared for a farming neighbor and he wants to avoid potential problems.

The Railroad Bridge over the Battenkill at Greenwich - photo by Clifford Oliver