Judge upholds Phoenicia Library variance

By Jay Braman Jr.
An attempt by neighbors of the Phoenicia Library to stop expansion of the library building was unsuccessful in State Supreme Court, County of Ulster.

On March 4, Justice Richard Mott said in his motion that the Shandaken Zoning Board of Appeals acted according to law when it gave the library five separate variances last December.
Phoenicia Librarian Liz Potter was pleased upon hearing the news.

“We are very happy that the court agreed with the Shandaken Zoning Board that the library had compelling reasons to expand,” she said Wednesday. “Our proposed expansion is in response to a huge increase in use of Phoenicia Library. The number of books, DVDs, books and music on CD checked out by Shandakenites has increased by over 80 percent in a decade. 
‘We’ve seen similar increases in the number of kids coming to our summer reading program, and adults using our free computers and WIFI.  Our function is to serve and respond to the community.  The next step is the planning board public hearing on April 10th to which we invite the public to come support our proposed re-build plans.”

Suit filed
Following the zoner’s decision, the Main Street property owners on either side of the library, which burned in a March, 2011 fire, filed a lawsuit against the Town of Shandaken over those variances, which would allow the library to be rebuilt on a larger scale.
Marietta Hofmeister, owner of Morne Imports and Wilfried Nolte, who owns the building that houses the Phoenicia Delicatessen, commenced the lawsuit, complaining that the zoning board gave the library the variances without good reason and should therefore be revoked.

Mott described a “balancing test” of five factors that zoners must accomplish: Whether an undesirable change will be created; Whether the benefit sought can be achieved some other way; Whether the requested variance is substantial; Whether the proposed variance will have an adverse impact on physical/environmental conditions in the neighborhood and Whether the reasons for requesting a variance were self created.

Issues addressed
“In the present case the court finds that the ZBA made detailed findings, addressed each of the statutory factors and engaged in the requisite weighing of benefits versus detriments,” Mott wrote. “Accordingly, because the ZBA’s decision has a rational basis and is supported by substantial evidence, the court is constrained to uphold the ZBA’s determination.”
One by one, Mott discredited the claims made by Hofmeister and Nolte.

“In sum, petitioners have alleged nothing that ZBA failed to consider and weigh in making its determination that the requested variance be granted,” Mott added.
Mott also said that the library, “presented ample evidence of hardship,” and noted numerous statements from members of the public about the need for more room in the library.

“It cannot be said of the ZBA’s decision that the board acted illegally or arbitrarily, or abused its discretion, or that it merely succumbed to generalized community pressure,” Mott wrote. “To the contrary, the ZBA decision had a rational basis and was supported by substantial evidence.”
Now the library needs site plan approval from the town planning board to move ahead with the project.

Earlier this month the planning board determined it needed more information about fire and flood safety before deciding whether or not to allow the expansion.
The delay came after a public hearing on the project where the son of an adjacent landowner Hofmeister warned that the proposed expansion not only put neighbors at higher risk of fire but also that the expansion, if allowed, would cause higher flooding on main street.

Planners will hold another public hearing on the project on Wednesday, April 10 at 7 p.m. at town hall in Allaben.