The ZRC will benefit us all

Zoning. It may sound unimportant in your day-to-day life. After all, it’s kind of technical. Boring, even. We get that. Most people hardly think of zoning codes and land-use regulations, until they need them, that is. And then, well, that’s when zoning becomes so very, very important. 

That’s why we’d like to take a moment to recognize the town of North East, its Town Board, and the board’s recent appointment of the volunteer Zoning Review Committee (ZRC). At its June meeting, the Town Board appointed eight members of the nine-member volunteer committee (the ninth member has yet to be confirmed), wisely placing veteran community volunteer and current North East Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) Co-Chair Edie Greenwood as ZRC chairwoman. The Town Board had been forced to delay forming the committee for a number of months due to the coronavirus pandemic, but town Supervisor Chris Kennan said June was finally the right time to man the ZRC.

Well done! Now the town can move forward with the hard work done by volunteers from both North East and the village of Millerton on the joint comprehensive plan that the two municipalities finalized last year after putting in a tremendous amount of work. The comprehensive plan gave this twin community a vision statement for the next five to 10 years — and both the town and village need updated zoning to get them there. 

The town hasn’t updated its zoning code since the 1990s, according to Kennan — and a lot has changed in the past three decades: local laws, definitions, land uses, even the creation of  things like Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations (versus regular gas stations). That’s a lot for a town to consider when deciding what kind of uses to allow in a given zoning district and what not to allow.

There’s already one hot zoning issue on tap for the town to tackle once the ZRC gets to work: the Millerton American Legion Post 178 electronic messaging LED display sign that was illegally installed without a permit last year. It’s currently outside the Legion Post Home on Route 44 in the Boulevard District. The town originally told the Legion to turn off the sign due to its lack of a permit, but since March has allowed it to be turned back on, as the Legion has graciously electrified the sign during the pandemic to post emergency information for the community. That will likely be among the first issues to come up when the committee deals with the Boulevard District, which Kennan said is one of two of his top zoning priorities, the other being the Route 22 business district.

There is much work for the ZRC to do. Zoning, despite what those who haven’t had to deal with it before might think, actually affects everyone who owns property. So many things come into the equation, like property lines; or subdivisions; or how close to a stream one’s property is allowed to be located, for instance; or on what kind of land one can or can’t build (think wetlands, soil types, if there are endangered species living there, etc.); or what kind of uses are allowed in a particular zone (commercial, residential, mixed-use, etc.). The list is so extensive that we couldn’t even begin to delve into it. 

Just trust us when we say that every single resident in the town of North East should be absolutely grateful that these knowledgeable, trustworthy and hardworking volunteers are willing to share their expertise for the good of their community for the next many months — years, probably — in what promises to be a rigorous and likely thankless job. Creating zoning recommendations for the Town Board to consider will not be easy. It will be grueling and detailed — but it will lead to a better North East, and all will benefit in the end. 

We have every confidence from the list of members named to the ZRC (read this week’s article on Page A4 for details) — all of whom have loads of experience, insight and determination — that the committee will be successful in its task. We want to take a moment to commend those new ZRC members for volunteering for the assignment, and to thank them for their commitment to bettering the community.

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