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Decision Time is Nearing
Greenwich Zoning Committee Holds Final Public Hearing

by Jenny Lyttle

On February 2, Bill Tompkins, chairperson of the Greenwich Zoning Commission, began the meeting before nearly 100 people who had gathered in the primary school cafeteria. All 11 zoning commission members - plus their consultant, Stuart Mesinger, were present. These volunteers have worked for more than a year drafting a zoning law to present to the Greenwich Town Council for its approval or disapproval. The draft is now in its final stages. Comments from this meeting are to be considered by the commission as it works to finalize the document before presenting it to the town board. Town of Greenwich Supervisor Don Wilbur explained to the crowd that the town council would hold its own public hearing before they vote. At that meeting the public will have one more chance to share comments.

Tompkins reminded people that this proposed zoning code is an attempt to put into law some of the objectives for the town of Greenwich as outlined in its 2002 Comprehensive Plan. Tompkins added that he thinks the committee has come close to meeting these objectives.

Tompkins called only on people who had not had an opportunity to speak before. People's views were at times widely divergent. It took almost two and a half hours for first-time speakers to have their say.

The topics discussed, and the arguments on both sides, follow, in no particular order.

Size of the commercial zone and cap on size of a commercial building This subject highlights one of the deepest disagreements between those present. On the one hand, people see commercial development as the engine driving the economic future of Greenwich, providing jobs and tax relief as well as the convenience of shopping for a wider variety of supplies right here.

Others cited studies and figures to indicate commercial development is not an economic panacea. It might be the opposite, putting a greater burden on the infrastructure of the community - schools, water, and so on. This group sees putting a cap on the size of a building and limiting the area of commercial development as a way to keep the rural character of the town intact. Tompkins added that forcing commercial development into a concentrated area might direct businesses to use vacant spaces (unoccupied stores at the K Mart Plaza or downtown). It would also discourage "strip" development seen in so many other communities.

Industrial zone

Resident Tom Simoneau reminded people that attracting light industry, such as the Phantom Lab facility, is an alternative to commercial development in providing taxes and jobs in the area.

Resident Richie Bittner thought that designating the property Hollingsworth and Vose owns across from their plant on Route 29 as industrial would be a mistake. He said there were 2,500 feet of unspoiled Battenkill River frontage on this property, and he thought it should be preserved using the rural/agricultural designation of the zoning law.

Hollingworth and Vose management had been asked their opinion about the zoning on this parcel by the committee. Lynne Bittner thought that asking affected owners what they wanted was a dangerous precedent for the zoning commission.

Land as wealth

Another difficult and deeply divisive issue was the difference between property rights proponents and those who argue for an overall set of regulations for the entire town.

Resident George Polchowski seemed to represent the thoughts of other attendees when he explained that he wants to do as he likes with his land on Route 40. Under the current draft proposal his land would be zoned rural/agricultural. He felt this would be a great constraint for himself and his descendants.

In answer to these concerns, Mesinger rose to read a list of permitted uses in the rural/agricultural category. Tompkins underscored committee members' intention to allow a fairly wide range of use in the rural/agricultural zone.

A recent proposal to the zoning commission under consideration has been the proposal that stricter development regulations be imposed on the Bald Mountain area. The largest farms in Greenwich are located there, and these farms typically have good soils. Wilbur noted that the area designated as Bald Mountain was rather large, asking the committee to look again at that area.

Taxes

Almost everyone in the room was unhappy about their taxes -as illustrated by a show of hands. To some, the zoning laws are a way to grapple with the tax issue. The development of commercial enterprises is one example. On the other hand, there were those who saw tax woes as something beyond the control of local officials. They believed that tax relief needs to come from the state. Simoneau thought people who were concerned about taxes should deal with elected officials rather than looking to zoning as a solution.

Other thoughts

  • hamlet protection.
  • affordable housing.
  • the desire to have young people return to the area to live their adult lives.
  • protection of Battenkill tributaries.
  • width of the riparian buffer zone.
  • no proposed regulations for an airstrip.
It should be mentioned that many people voiced their remarks with appreciation for the work the committee has been doing.

The zoning commission is accepting written comments from those not able to attend this meeting. However, the commission will soon be working on their final draft. Expressions of concern must be submitted very soon.