BLOOMINGBURG – The availability of parking became a central issue at two public hearings January 9 regarding requests for variances before the village zoning board of appeals.
The variances involve two properties that routinely draw interest at village meetings, in part because of their connection to Shalom Lamm, a developer recently sentenced to federal prison for his participation in a vote-rigging scheme in the village.
The first hearing involved Hickory Court, a three-building apartment complex off of Main Street, originally built in the late 1990s as housing for senior citizens and handicapped persons. The owners want the board to do away with those restrictions, which in turn could help settle a lawsuit brought against the Town of Mamakating, which denied such a request when it had jurisdiction over the matter.
The apartments are now occupied by people of all ages.
During the hearing, some people argued that because younger people live at Hickory Court, there is more traffic in and out of the complex and a need for more parking spaces. The buildings sit on just over an acre of property, while code requires at least an acre and a half.
Village resident Katherine Roemer, who objects to lifting the tenant restrictions, said she was a "great researcher" and had documents that show the complex was limited to seniors in the first place because of the size of the lot.
Village attorney Alex Smith disputed Roemer’s claim, but said he would be happy to look at anything she found. This happened after Roemer accused Smith of not representing villagers, but being beholden to politicians and developers, a charge Smith denied. In any case, Smith said, the complex will need a variance because of the lot size.
Smith said that Robert Rosborough, an attorney representing Hickory Court, has pointed out that there is no definition of "senior citizen" in the village code. It’s a legal point that Rosborough could probably exploit, Smith said. But rather than zero in on the fine points of the code, Smith said, it would be more productive to focus on what the limitation means to the neighborhood. In other words, if you restrict the apartments to seniors, does that solve some other problem, and what is the purpose of the restriction in the first place? In that light, Smith didn’t seem to think that the age of the tenants meant very much.
On the topic of parking and traffic, members of the public brought up the issue of a room at Hickory Court being used for meetings. Al Dodd, the village building inspector, has been trying to get into the building to do a fire inspection, which among other things would impose an occupancy limit. Without a warrant for probable cause, he needs permission from the owners to do the inspection. But after two months of trying, he still hasn’t gotten the OK. He is working with the building manager, Chaim Friedman, who is dealing with the owners. Friedman, who is also chairman of the village planning board, could not be reached for comment.
The public hearing was not closed and will be continued at another ZBA meeting. In a related ruling, the planning board previously accepted an environmental review, which found no negative impact from lifting the tenant restrictions.
A second hearing was held regarding 79 Main St., a vacant hardware store that sits on a corner of the main intersection in the village. Unlike Hickory Court, the hardware store is still owned by one of Lamm’s companies. The owners want to refurbish the building and reopen it as a hardware store. The building is about 100 years old, and was constructed before codes existed. The building takes up almost the entire lot and there is no on-site parking. Because the hardware store has been closed for more than a year, it must get zoning variances before reopening. The building would need setback variances, for example, because it sits so close to the property lines. Parking is also an issue. Parking itself is a planning board decision, Smith said, but the ZBA can weigh in on safety issues and such things as how people will get in and out of the store.
Tom Olley, the civil engineer for the project, proposed putting five parking spaces along Main Street. But complicating the matter is a bus stop in front of the building. Olley also said there is a chance that the project could utilize parking spaces at an office building down the street once home to Jeff Bank.
The public hearing on 79 Main St. will also be continued at a later meeting.