Shandaken reverses course; plans public zoning hearing

By Jay Braman Jr.
In a reversal from last month, the Shandaken Zoning Board of Appeals has decided to hold a public hearing on its plan to interpret a murky portion of town law, an interpretation that could either pave the way for an unpopular water harvest project or stop it in its tracks.
At their December 17 meeting, the zoners were quick to note that their interpretation will be about the law in general terms and not related to the decade-long effort by Andrew Poncic to build a water harvest system in Phoenicia.
However, it is apparent that the issue is only before the zoners because of that project. Poncic got an approval from the planning board to do the project last year but that decision was thrown out in court, with a judge saying that the zoners, not the planners, are the only entity with the authority to decide whether water harvesting is similar to a clause in the law that allows water bottling.
Poncic himself sent a letter to board chairman Keith Johnson requesting that board member Rolf Reiss, who has publicly opposed the Poncic project, recuse himself from the interpretation process. Reiss has refused, saying that he would only need to recuse himself if he had some financial benefit from the decision.
Johnson, who last month voted to avoid a public hearing, changed his tune, he said, after he spoke with at least two attorneys about the matter. Because the matter was in a gray area of the law it was best to err on the side of caution. Board member Steve Stettine, who also voted against holding a hearing last month, agreed.
The decision to hold the hearing was unanimous.
The hearing is set for January 21.