Village building dispute unresolved after meeting
New supermarket, proposed dollar store at center of debate in Margaretville
By Julia Green
A large turnout of concerned citizens packed the village office Monday night to listen to Village of Margaretville Trustees wrestle with a controversial village zoning law that could impact two proposed business developments.
At night‚Äôs end, attendees left with more questions than answers as board members decided to consult with the village‚Äôs attorney before making any decisions.
The village board was to consider a recommendation from its planning board to deliberate a change to its zoning law that would permit the construction of new retail space in the village. The proposed change to the village‚Äôs zoning law was brought to the forefront by a pending application to build a large retail space next to the post office on lower Main Street which would be occupied by a Family Dollar store. Site work at the scene, including the demolition of a house, has stirred up a hornet‚Äôs nest of opponents who contend that a Family Dollar store is ill suited for the village. Opponents of the proposed zoning law say any change to the law could jeopardize efforts to bring a new food market to town.
Due to the large turnout at Monday‚Äôs meeting, the board opted to re-order the agenda so that the zoning change discussion was the first item of business. As a preface to public discussion, board member Rob Allison, in his last appearance as a board member, began the dialogue by providing background uncovered during the board‚Äôs recent research.
According to the board‚Äôs research, a zoning law was passed in 1989; however, the law was never actually filed and, as a result, was never legally adopted. In 1991, the village again passed a law to establish zoning; however, a year later, then-code enforcement officer Walt Heley communicated to the village board and planning board that he ‚Äúhad a problem‚Äù with the existing zoning law. As a result, the zoning law was altered in 1992 to permit use of retail space in existing buildings and to require that retail use in new buildings be considered ‚Äúspecial use‚Äù and, as such, require a special permit.
Changes not filed
In 2001 the zoning committee reviewed the ordinance and made new changes; however, the changes were once again never filed, and no public hearing was ever held.
Ultimately, the 1992 zoning change, as it was eventually filed, is still in effect, and as such it allows retail in new buildings with a special permit. Such a ‚Äúspecial permit‚Äù would be required to go through the SEQR process and to meet all Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regulations. Approval for such a permit would come from the planning board.
MARK Group Executive Director Joan Lawrence-Bauer, who was in attendance at the meeting, asked repeatedly when that legislation was put into effect, given that developers who have considered opening businesses in the village have been given the same copy of the zoning law, which states that retail is for existing buildings and not newly constructed space. That clarification was the language that gave origin to the debate in the first place.
Allison explained that there are different versions of the zoning law in existence, and that there are ‚Äúdifferent books floating around and they‚Äôre not uniform.‚Äù He added that some were printed with pen additions, which came about following a joint hearing in 1992 with the village board and planning board. Those amendments were then carried over to the reprints.
Allison said that the attorney with whom they consulted advised that they refer back to the 1992 ordinance.
Lawrence-Bauer went on to argue that the village ‚Äúhanded out a [copy of the] zoning law on which a major investor made a decision and now [they‚Äôre] saying that that version isn‚Äôt enforced,‚Äù to which Allison responded that the board compiled a timeline which was sent to the board‚Äôs attorney for guidance.
The investors to whom Lawrence-Bauer refers are Noah and Dan Katz, who have invested roughly $2 million already in purchasng the current A&P plaza and have plans to invest $3 million more in renovations. The A&P would ultimately become a Freshtown food store.
The developers are required to appear before the planning board and had a public hearing scheduled for March 11, which they opted to postpone pending the outcome of the proposed zoning change hearing. According to Lawrence-Bauer, in view of the present ‚Äúmurkiness,‚Äù they have opted to suspend the process pending the village‚Äôs decision.
The next step for the developers of the Family Dollar store would be to submit an application to the code enforcement officer for a special permit.
Nothing to vote on
Ultimately, Allison said, ‚Äúwe‚Äôre not talking about a zoning change anymore.‚Äù He added that the board wasn‚Äôt ‚Äúas thorough as it should have been‚Äù in the research, and that there was nothing to vote on Monday as the zoning is already part of the law. ‚ÄúWe wanted to be honest tonight,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúWe had a public hearing for a zoning change, but the law is already in effect.‚Äù
A few attendees voiced concern that the village was opening itself up to the possibility of litigation, given the liability attached to the fact that a $2 million investment had been made based on what could be viewed as inaccurate information.
A number of those present voiced opinions that, since the same copy of the zoning law was given to the Family Dollar developers and the Foodtown investors, it was incumbent on the village board to file the current operational law as it has been distributed.
Attempts were also made to give clarification to rumors that the A&P would be evicted from its current space as soon as its lease expires at the end of April, and thereby possibly leave the retail space vacant. Such rumors were refuted by statements that, if developers who have made plans to renovate the space and convert it to Freshtown were to pull out of the deal, the A&P‚Äôs lease would renew and the store would remain in existence in its current state.
The board opted to withhold any decision or action pending further discussion with its attorney; a follow-up public hearing will be scheduled following that meeting.