By Katherine Donlevy
The drama concerning the Town of Gardiner’s Environmental Conservation Commission continues — the Town Board decided at its Dec. 1 meeting to hold off on transforming the group into a Conservation Advisory Committee.
“We fast tracked this a bit,” Deputy Supervisor Laura Walls said on the board’s attempts to create and implement a law establishing the new group, as well as schedule a public hearing, by Jan. 12. The new law sought more clearly to designate responsibilities to the ECC and give them more oversight on environmentally-involved land application projects. The CAC law, still in its second draft, came after the board temporarily dissolved the ECC in September, a decision which was shortly reversed after Town Supervisor Marybeth Majestic raised questions on the action’s legality.
The Open Space Commission had been planning to reevaluate the town’s local laws to more clearly establish its own duties. Alternate committee member Linda Geary conducted an analysis of the side by side responsibilities of the GOSC as well as the ECC, though the group’s investigation is not yet completed. Walls suggested waiting for the full analysis by the GOSC before revising the CAC law and moving forward with the law change.
“Some very important questions are arising as a result,” Walls said. The duties of the GOSC, which works to protect undeveloped land and other natural resources, often overlaps with the ECC’s. “I wonder if it isn’t in our best interest to wait until the Open Space Commision does this analysis and we have a conversation about it … Should we remain sort of in limbo until the Open Space Commission does their work?”
The other board members agreed that postponing the project would be a wise decision — Majestic said they had been rushing themselves, while Councilman Franco Carucci felt like they were marching arbitrary toward the Jan. 12 date. Councilman Warren Weigand said the delay would provide the ECC a chance to continue their work, rather than being temporarily suspended as it transforms into another entity.
The person most pleased with the decision to hold off, however, was ECC Chairperson Roberta Clemens.
“I don’t know how the ECC became at odds with the other entities of the town because the ECC is there to support the planning board and the town board and the environment, so it’s a little confusing to me how it got into a relationship … We’re not trying to take control or oversight, but we’re here to support.”
Clements raised concern about the ECC’s inability to work productively over the last few months in the midst of all the confusion. She specifically pointed to the Nov. 24 Planning Board meeting in which Chairperson Paul Colucci allowed an applicant to “disregard” ECC comments — the ECC had not yet had the opportunity to submit comments because its members had not been able to schedule a site visit. Gardiner law does not require an applicant to hear ECC comments, though the commission’s findings can influence the Planning Board’s decision to approve a project or not.
The chairperson also asked that, as the CAC law becomes suspended, the ECC be permitted to interview new commission members. Majestic and Weigand were not in favor of the request because they thought it inappropriate to appoint individuals to a position that’s in “flux.” Carucci countered, noting that the ECC only has three standing members and is entitled to the additional staff since they will be continuing to operate. A motion to interview ECC candidates passed 3 to 2.
“We are functioning. We will continue functioning under whatever rubric it turns out to be,” ECC member Janet Kern assured the Town Board.
In other business, the board unanimously agreed to enact a moratorium on kennels for a six-month period, though it will officially vote on the action at its Dec. 8 meeting. During those months, the board would work to construct a stricter law regarding dog kennels with a focus on the health of the animals and the regard for the property’s neighbors, a proposal that was brought to the board by Planning Board member Josh Verleun after a neighbor applied to built a concerning kennel on his street.
“There was an application in front of the Planning Board and without Josh’s input it might have proceeded,” Majestic said.
The drafted law that would replace the current one incorporates much of the Town of Romulus’ kennel regulations, which sets a considerably higher bar for animal breeding facilities. Though the moratorium will last six months, the board hopes to accomplish the update within three or four.
“We need to make sure that we have some buffer so we have time to discuss the substantive issues and try to get it right,” said board member David Dukler.