July 17, 2005

Comprehensive Plan debated at public hearing

Thursday night's public hearing on the proposed Town Comprehensive Plan demonstrated residents' concerns and hopes for these guidelines for future development in the Town of Dryden.

The first speaker, after Supervisor Steve Trumbull had opened the hearing, noting that this process had been in the works for at least seven years, was Ken Miller, a farmer who has spoken at several Planning Board meetings:

Ken Miller expresses his concerns to the board
Ken Miller expresses his concerns about the Comprehensive Plan to the board.

I was part of the ag committee and my biggests concerns are that this plan may take away a lot of property rights of people that they don't even realize. They don't even know this plan is taking place.

If you've read it, you look at the first 30 pages, it gives some justification for making the plan. If you really read it, most of those 30 pages give you good reasons for not changing the plan.

Dryden has moved along very well. We're only growing at a rate of about 2%, according to this plan. I don't think we need to change things in this town. Things are going just fine as far as I'm concerned and that's why I bring some of these concerns.

One of the things about the ag committee, which I was on, we got started, we had several meetings, and all of a sudden one of the Planning Board members showed up, I feel they dominated the conversation, and all of a sudden it was like, "okay, everything's great." I don't believe the committee focused. I thought they needed more time to work out some things and see what kind of positive things this town could do in order to help the farmers in this town out.

I would like to know whether or not the comprehensive plan, if the Town Board here is going to send the comprehensive plan to Ag & Markets or the Tompkins County Farmland Protection Board for any of their input that might concern the farmers of the area, and there would be things in there that could be very negative to the farmers of the area, that we might want to change before we go ahead and pass this thing.

I was given the impression that it would pass tonight, and that it would immediately start making changes. I don't know why - first of all, I don't believe we need changes. Second of all, I don't know - I'm not quite sure - whether this plan, once it's passed, all of a sudden becomes a law, or just a plan, and then we have to make laws. If we have to make laws, it would seem like it's going to cost us a lot of money to enforce them and what not, and make these changes.

The plan that we have in effect right now does us very well. Also, like I said in the beginning, I'm concerned about our freedoms. I've been in the service, and we fought for the freedoms in this county, and more and more, I'm not sure who owns more of my property: the bank or the government. I keep paying taxes and paying taxes and paying taxes, and I don't believe that we have much freedom anymore. I don't want to see any more of it eroded by someone in a plan saying "Okay, now you can't put your house where you want to. You can only sell so many acres. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera."

That's my concerns, and I would ask the Town Board not to pass this plan at this time.

Supervisor Trumbull reassured Miller that Thursday's hearing was just for collecting public comment, not for passing the plan, but did say they hadn't heard back from the county except for the county planning department's comments. Next, Planning Board member Joe Laquatra spoke:

I'm Joe Laquatra, a member of the Planning Board, and I want to thank Mr. Miller for attending many of our meetings and helping us through the process.

I would like to correct one misconception you have. This doesn't - this is not a law. It's a guideline for the town. What it does is provide a road map for zoning ordinances, which would be modified or updated. We were also recommending to the town that we have the authority to allow for cluster development, which we don't [have now].

What this plan does, in my view, mostly is protects us from sprawl that a number of counties across the state are experiencing. Once it starts, it's hard to stop.

What we found from the survey was that the majority of town residents want to maintain the rural character of the town, and that's what we tried to do. You helped us and alerted us to the concerns of farmers, and they're very legitimate concerns. But if we leave things the way they are, without protecting this town from what's happening around the state, we could end up like those other counties, those other towns.

And once it's done, then we have to live with it.

County Legislator Martha Robertson reported that she had attended an Agriculture and Farmland Protection committee meeting last year which discussed the plan with George Frantz, the planning consultant, but didn't know what had happened more recently, as she's no longer on that board.

Next to speak was Zorika Henderson, who asked:

How many parking lots will be necessary for the really massive trail system?

Environmental Planner Debbie Gross replied that she couldn't provide an estimate for all of the trails, which were just ideas, not formally proposed trails, but that the currently proposed Freeville-Dryden trail involves expanding a lot in Freeville, a new lot on Spring House Road, and a possible lot on municipal land on Elm Street in Dryden. She concluded by saying that "we certainly don't intend to pave any more space than is necessary to provide access to the trails."

After Martha Robertson mentioned the letter from the county planning department, Councilman Marty Christofferson read a distilled version of the letter into the record. After his distillation, Christofferson noted:

So those are really the four issues, which, you know, out of a big plan for a big town, that's really not a lot.... It's some good points to think about and talk about, but that's pretty good.

Marty Christofferson reads the county's concerns into the minutes
Marty Christofferson reads the county's concerns into the minutes.

Tom Hatfield, a Planning Board member, was next to speak:

It might bear pointing out that in addressing the one issue about the Route 13 overlay - I've lived here most of my life and one of my earliest memories is the three routes they were going to use to bypass the Route 13 corridor, when I was five years old or six years old, so the subject's been around a long time.

It's unfortunate that those that were responsible for making those plans then didn't have the wherewithal, the means, or the ability to carry them through.

One of the issues that came out loud and clear is that, as we addressed the community in this process, was traffic in the neighborhoods. Everybody would like to see especially the truck traffic reduced, the traffic taken out of it.

I happened to come upon an accident today on Route 13. While the state has managed to limit and control some of the access points, and some of the accients that used to be almost, sort of like a pandemic on 13 has come down some now, it's still a highly traveled route.

It means a lot of issues are going to have to be looked at, somehow to incorporate that corridor, and if the state and the county are about to come back to us, certainly to take a month, and take a look at what they're going to propose, would be a wise step to take. But it's an issue we have to keep an eye on on an ongoing basis.

Ken Miller spoke again briefly:

I need to get back to work. I thank Joe for his comments. I understand what he's talking about with this sprawl, but a 2% increase in population doesn't look like it's going to happen.

And I'd ask the board to re-read those first thirty pages, and look at it in a different light, and I think if it's read correctly, it'll show you that there are many reasons, right in that report, why you don't need that, and I thank you for your time.

Joe Lalley, also a member of the Planning Board, spoke next:

It's been a long effort, but through this effort - to me the meat of this plan is really on page 33, where you talk about the goals and objectives. I firmly believe the preservation of the agricultural nature of this community is important. I understand how you might feel that way, but certainly the right to farm and preservation of the agricultural character of this town has been very important.

One of the difficult things in going through a plan like this is you have the interests of the county, that want to focus on an area, like the Route 366 area, from Route 13 into the Town of Ithaca. At the same time you have a small community, the hamlet of Varna, that wants to maintain its identity and wants the exact opposite to happen. You have to try to balance those things.

Again, these are goals and objectives. The work that the Planning Board and the Town Board have done around this over the years doesn't stop if this plan is adopted in the next few weeks, but rather just begins, because it's then that we're going to have to start working on recommendations for things like perhaps changes to zoning ordinances that will allow us to really take some concrete steps toward preserving open space in this county.

The Town of Dryden has been very fortunate - there's been lots of development in the Town of Ithaca, there's been lots of development in the Town of Lansing. I've been here since 1974, I've seen the changes, and it's going to come here sooner or later. This is our opportunity to guide how that's going to happen. Because it will happen, and I think this is going to be really important for us to preserve the rural quality of Dryden, the thing that makes the Town of Dryden a really nice place to live.

Jim Myers of Caswell Road then brought up his concerns about traffic in the West Dryden area, connecting his concerns about local traffic and speeding with the sprawl and traffic issues included in the plan. Joyce and Ross Gerbasi agreed with the traffic problem, and there was also some discussion of asking the county to ask the state to do a traffic survey of the area, with lowered speed limits one possible key option.

During the traffic conversation, Legislator Robertson noted that a lot of those drivers were commuters from outside of the county commuting in to work. She wanted to be sure that the plan didn't restrict housing construction and drive prices further up, increasing the number of commuters. Planning Board member David Weinstein said that while the plan did limit some housing options, it also included room for five times as many housing units as the most optimistic projections suggested they'd need.

The hearing was closed about half an hour into the meeting, but there will no doubt be further discussion of the plan at future meetings.

Posted by simon at July 17, 2005 10:35 PM in , , , , , ,
Note on photos