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March 27, 2014

Trustees enact one law, reject two others

By Bera Dunau Staff Writer
Cooperstown Crier

---- — The Village of Cooperstown Board of Trustees held a public hearing on three proposed local laws at its March 24 meeting, after which the trustees chose to pass one of the laws, while voting down the other two.

Proposed Local Law No. 4 sought to amend Village of Cooperstown Zoning Law to allow the extension of a nonconforming use of a building to any part of the building where it is located. The triggering case for this law is the effort by New York Pizzeria to place three tables upstairs.

Proposed Local Law No. 5 sought to authorize a real property tax levy in excess of the cap of a 2 percent increase established in General Municipal Law Section 3-c.

Proposed Local Law No. 6 sought to revise the village’s sign bylaw, most significantly by altering the application process.

In his presentation before the board before the hearing, Charlie Hill, chairman of the Village of Cooperstown Planning Board, gave the planning board’s report on Proposed Local Law No. 6.

While being generally supportive of the changes to the sign law in Proposed Local Law No. 6, Hill conveyed the board’s suggestions, which included a more-precise application form and cutting down the amount of time it would take the zoning enforcement officer to arrive at an application and make a decision from the five weeks proposed.

“We feel that that can be compressed to a much shorter amount of time,” said Hill, who said that the proposed length was greater than what was in the current law, and questioned whether it was a misprint.

On Proposed Local Law No. 4, Hill was more critical, with many of his concerns revolving around the exact definition of a property’s footprint.

“The planning board doesn’t get into your house if you want to remove a closet and install a bathroom,” said Mayor Jeff Katz, in explaining how the law had come to be proposed. “In a sense that was the guiding principal.”

“Make sure that everybody understands what this would do to the property,” said Hill.

In the public hearing, husband and wife Bill and Janet Rigby, who live near New York Pizzeria, expressed their concern with the expansion of the restaurant that, at the time, it seemed Proposed Local Law No. 4 would allow.

“Nowhere in there does it talk about limiting (the) amount of business,” said Janet Rigby. “The things that are problematic about its location are only going to get worse.”

In terms of problematic elements, Rigby cited the lack of parking, the frequency of garbage pickup, (which she said was loud enough to wake someone up from a sound sleep), and the litter she said the restaurant’s patrons leave in the neighborhood. She also said that the village had not been responsive to her and her husband’s complaints about the business and asked that, if the expansion takes place, that the town check back with New York Pizzeria to make sure it stays within the parameters of the three additional tables on the second floor that are being proposed.

Nevertheless, Rigby did say that she enjoyed living in a mixed neighborhood and that, “I really love having really great pizza a hundred yards from my door.”

For his part, Bill Rigby urged the board to also look at the consequences of changing the law.

“I can tell how good his  (the owner of New York Pizzeria) business is each week by how many times the garbage truck comes,” said Rigby, who did say that he hoped the business would stay. “I would ask the board to take a better look at nonconforming use law and get it right.”

The only other member of the public to speak at the hearing was Daniel Martin, who asked about Proposed Local Law No. 5, and its potential to raise taxes.

Katz said that the measure was a precautionary one, to give the board the ability to raise property taxes above the cap if the need arose. He also said that this measure had been done twice before.

“In both instances where we have overridden the tax cap, we have not gone over 2 percent,” said Katz.

Katz also said that the projected budget for this year had a 0 percent increase in property taxes.

Martin looked to be satisfied by this explanation, and thanked Katz for it.

After the close of the public hearing, the board of trustees chose to tackle the proposed laws in the order that Katz characterized as most difficult to least: Proposed Local Law No. 5, Proposed Local Law No. 6 and Proposed Local Law No. 4.

Proposed Local Law No. 5 was passed unanimously without any debate. Proposed Local Laws No. 4 and No. 6, however, both provoked a significant amount of discussion.

While numerous aspects of the new sign law were discussed, in the end, the board decided to revisit the reforms to the sign law after incorporating some of the suggestions of the planning board. The board then brought Proposed Local Law No. 6 to a vote in order to vote it down unanimously.

Interestingly enough, much of the earlier discussion and input on Proposed Local Law No. 4 was rendered moot.

At the beginning of the debate, it was revealed by Trustee Cynthia Falk that New York Pizzeria is zoned as a mixed commercial and residential property. Thus, according to Falk and Village Attorney Martin Tillapaugh, as long as it maintains some amount of residential space, it can expand its commercial portion and did not need the proposed law to pass in order to begin its expansion.

“What they want to do is completely allowable by law … it just is,” said Katz.

The same situation also applies to The Bank of Cooperstown, which had also been mentioned as a business to which the proposed law would apply. Like New York Pizzeria, the bank is free to expand its commercial portion, so long as it maintains a residential section.

This revelation also brought up a change in village law that was passed last year. Before, a residential section had to measure at least 600 square feet. The village chose to do away with this standard, however, in favor of adhering to the standards for apartments provided by the county and state. These standards, in regard to size, were not known by any attendees of the meeting, which was an object of concern to Trustee James Dean.

“County codes has its own rules for apartments, and we didn’t feel we should be in conflict with state regulations,” said Falk, in explaining last year’s decision.

“We gave up a known 600 for an unknown, who knows?” said Dean, who wondered whether the law should be revisited. “It’s a major change.”

Falk said that she would look into what the exact new standards were.

Still, even with the proposed law not applying to the Bank of Cooperstown and New York Pizzeria, Katz asked the trustees what they thought of it on its own merits.

“Is it beneficial to have nonconformings have more flexibility on the inside?” said Katz.

The prospect of changing the law was not met with much enthusiasm from the trustees. Indeed, trustee Lou Allstadt mentioned that the village’s economic development committee was tackling the issue of zoning, and that the issues brought up by the proposed law fell under this umbrella.

“Maybe it ought to be considered as a whole package,” said Allstadt.

The trustees voted against enacting Proposed Local Law No. 4, with Katz providing the lone dissenting vote.

“I actually still think it’s a good idea,” said Katz.

Among other business tackled at the March 24 meeting , the town approved permits for a number of upcoming summer events. These include the General Clinton Canoe Regatta, the STIHL Timbersports Professional Northeast Qualifier and the HOF Classic.