Talking zoning in Tupper
Some residents skeptical of draft code
TUPPER LAKE — The town is taking comments on the latest draft of its new zoning code, and at a Thursday town board meeting members of the public voiced their critiques, concerns and conspiracies.
Town Supervisor Patti Littlefield is collecting written comments in a big red folder and urging people to drop off their comments at the town office or send them to her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With a packed house at the town hall, Littlefield reiterated that the town-village joint zoning plan is still in its early phases. She said it has not been formally presented to any of the boards yet.
“This is the very, very, very beginning of reviewing the zoning code,” Littlefield said. “This is in no way becoming effective in the immediate future.”
Town Attorney Kirk Gagnier said both the town and village boards need to pass the final code, and they likely won’t vote on it anytime this year. He said since there is already an existing code, there is no rush.
“By the time it gets here … there’s going to be a lot of input that went into it, and a lot of insight and a lot of changes to it,” Gagnier said.
A committee made up of volunteers representing several groups is helping the hired professionals — urban planning firm Randall and West — with drafting the code.
Town Councilman John Quinn, who sits on that committee, said the current code was adopted in the 1980s.
“Our zoning and planning boards, and the code enforcement officers have for a long time expressed frustrations with a lot of deficiencies with our existing land use code,” Quinn said. “It’s out of date. … It shouldn’t be a static document.”
Larry Reandeau was concerned by Article 3, which states, “In each zone all uses are prohibited unless specifically permitted.”
He said this could possibly be used to restrict anything that’s not specifically mentioned in the code. He said the U.S. Constitution was written to err on the side of freedom and that he was worried how that phrase could be wielded in the future.
“That’s a powerful tool for anyone on the planning board that wants to deny a permit,” Reandeau said.
Gagnier said the same statement is in the current code passed in the 1980s.
“That doesn’t make it right,” Reandeau said, adding that he wants it taken out.
Gagnier said the phrase is not what boards will use to make decisions and that the rest of the code allows for more loose interpretation.
“That phrase, the catch-all if you will, actually ties into the code, but if you look at each individual district, the concept is to create much more flexibility,” Gagnier said.
Tim Jones took issue with the concept of zoning codes altogether, saying the Constitution and Bill of Rights give him “God-given, inalienable rights” that the town and village cannot take away.
“To permit means to let you do something. You people have no business letting me do anything with my property. Zoning, to me, is plunder,” Jones said. “The more you deny the usage of property, you’re devaluing it.”
He said the code was not written in favor of the residents.
“It’s a wish list for the Adirondack Park Agency,” Jones said.
Jones is well known for suing the APA to grant him a permit for his 500-square-foot fishing cabin on River Road along the Raquette River, and winning. After an 18-year battle, pressure from the governor’s office brought the APA to agree to issue the permit. Also, several court orders regarding money and a bridge he built went in his favor.
“The Adirondack Park Agency is probably one of the evilest entities that has ever been introduced into this state,” Jones said.
At that point a man who had wandered into the town hall a minute earlier started shouting about the Democratic Party being even more evil before leaving as soon as he came.
“That’s all we need, the Democratic Party,” he shouted on his way out. “We live in a democratic republic; remember that!”
“Who the hell is that guy?” Councilwoman Tracy Luton asked. No one had an answer.
Seasonal resident Stuart Amell asked that the agendas and meeting minutes for the zoning and planning board meetings be posted online to improve transparency.
“I was shocked when I started a Facebook group on property rights in Tupper Lake, and the number of people who did not know that any of this was going on,” Amell said, adding that there are 330 people in the group.
Littlefield said it was well publicized by the town, on its social media and in its offices, as well as the Tupper Lake Free Press and the Enterprise, that there were meetings going on, and that the papers covered those meetings.
Littlefield said notices could be posted online, but, she added that sometimes, meeting times change.
Some seasonal residents from the Blue Jay Campground attended, saying they were speaking for around 60 families who have been camping there for over 30 years.
Gary Lanthier was concerned, like many other people have been at previous meetings, over the rule that states that recreational trailers and tents cannot be lived in more than 120 days per year.
Quinn said this rule is in the current code and was carried over into the new draft. It has not been enforced in the past. Lanthier was worried about what would happen if it is enforced.
“They’ll move them out of Tupper Lake,” Lanthier said.
“I think it was a mistake,” Quinn said of the code.
“We all do,” Littlefield added.
“I believe that will be changed. I know I won’t advocate for it,” Quinn said. “It think it was just an oversight.”
The meeting, in general, was chaotic and filled with a lot of cross-talk, grumbling and whispering. It was just one of many on the zoning code to come. Littlefield said she has written a letter requesting the town and village boards meet with the committee to review the current draft and discuss its future. Littlefield said she hopes to meet before the end of the month.