At the Town of Crawford Town Board Meeting on July 17, the topic of zoning law amendments generated a considerable amount of heat as participants wrangled over a set of issues that tend to pit neighbor against neighbor.
Supervisor Charles Carnes spoke in an interview last week in an effort to explain the viewpoint of the town board, and allay concerns among residents of the town.
"Over time," said Carnes, "this 'Not-In-My-Backyard' feeling has become more and more prevalent. And the town board has to try and strike a balance between those with existing property rights and what effect any exercise of those rights might have on neighboring property owners."
If that sounds like a balancing act, welcome to the world of zoning laws.
"No zoning law is perfect; that's the first thing people have to understand," he explained. "Zoning is always a work in progress. At any point in that process, someone can come in and nitpick at the law. There will always be something that upsets someone. Now, the planning board enforces zoning laws, but it's the town board that is charged with writing them and it's the town board that has to make the final decision.
"And, of course, the members of the town board aren't operating in a vacuum. The economy right now is pretty poor in lots of ways, so we have a lot of people who can't afford tax increases. If someone builds a residential complex, well, that's a loser, because in tax terms; that's always going to cost you more — in terms of kids going to the schools, in use of services — than you are going to get back in taxes. On the other hand, if they start a business or build an office building, then that's a winner. They will pay more in taxes to the town than they will receive. Put it down to the cost of doing business. So we need new business to come in to help with the tax burden.
And right there is the problem, said Carnes.
"Say you have a piece of property overlooking a farm," he explained. "You want to keep your view, but the farmer wants to sell his property and retire, and he just wants the best price he can get. Do you have the right to prevent him from doing that? Well, you can buy his farm yourself, of course and preserve your view, but that might cost more than you're able or willing to pay. So there's the conflict. We want to keep the rural nature of the Town of Crawford, but we need taxable properties to pay the bills.
"Right now, off the top of my head I can tell you that about 70% of our parcels are zoned for residential. We only have 20% of our parcels zoned for business in the entire township. That's what everyone needs to keep in mind when thinking about zoning here in the Town of Crawford. As for changes to our zoning laws, we made changes back in 2000 and 2002, but not since, so updates and amendments are certainly due."
And the new law discussed at this week's board meeting?
"The wording of the Introductory Local Law is going to be discussed and refined. There will be changes made," he said.
Carnes chuckled, ruefully. "And, I have no doubt it will still be a contentious issue, no matter what we do."
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