The proposed ordinance to change several parts of the town’s code governing the Marlborough ridgeline dominated the most recent meeting of the Marlborough Town Board, which took place on Monday, January 22.
The public hearing on the proposed changes remains open through February 5, the date of the next Town Board meeting. The public hearing portion of the meeting was well attended and about a dozen people voiced both opposition to and support for the proposed rule changes.
The changes to the ridgeline regulations would eliminate a current requirement, which restricts any structure from being closer than 50 feet in elevation to the ridgeline. The proposed change would also remove a section stating that “there shall be no disturbance within this 50-foot area.”
Melissa Quimby of Mount Zion Road noted that she had written to the board asking if any changes had been made yet to the code. “You indicated that you may add wording to say that the [proposed] roof line must be under the ridgeline – to make sure people understand structures cannot be put on the ridge,” she said.
“We haven’t made any changes, until we get all public comments,” said Town Supervisor Scott Corcoran. “Then the board will have a discussion based on all the public comment and our comments, and we will talk to our attorney to figure out how we should change the wording.”
Old Indian Road resident Gary Lazaroff noted that the house he occupies was built on the ridgeline by his great-aunt in 1939. “I don’t make a habit of speaking or even attending board meetings as we see enough of each other,” said Lazaroff, who is the town’s deputy highway supervisor. “We have the fifth generation of my family living on our ridgeline compound, but as of now all the residual land we have is unbuildable.”
Lazaroff said a property’s topography should be a determining factor. Some parcels at or near the top are level in comparison to the sides, he pointed out. Still, this factor alone would result in very few houses along the ridgeline.
Lazaroff also dismissed the notion that ridgeline houses are an eyesore, particularly for Hudson River cruise visitors who disembark at Milton Landing. “The first thing they see when they get off the boat is our sewer plant followed by Brooklyn Bottling,” he said. “I don’t think they mind seeing my house or maybe one or two more on the ridge.”
Another resident who voiced support for the changes was Kerry Santini of Mount Zion Road. “The law does not take the property owners and their rights into consideration,” she said. “As a person who regularly explores the ridge there are very few buildable areas that would be buildable on top of the ridge – and those would cause less disturbance than clearing and prepping a site on the side of the ridge.”
In Santini’s view, the town should compensate owners for taking away their right to build on their land. She also said she represented the views of “the middle generation” between ages 25 and 50.
“People of my generation would like to grow and expand our community – and allowing people to build on the ridge would help in doing so,” she said. “Houses on top of hills with views have higher values and therefore, a higher tax base.”
Mici Simonofsky, chair of the town’s Conservation Advisory Committee, noted that her organization recently held two meetings during which this topic was similarly aired.
“The CAC is working on a final report but in the meantime, it is our recommendation that the board continue to investigate wording that will enhance and strengthen our code,” she said. “The [Town of Marlborough] Comprehensive Master Plan clearly refers to the ridgel line as one of the town’s strongest assets – both visually and economically – as its Integrity to the continued success of our farmlands the town’s biggest economic driver.”
Simonofsky added that the code needs revision, to make rules simpler and more concise, and to provide guidelines for proper development. One way to accomplish that is through improved overlay maps, which show elevations, along with instructions on their use.
Mountain Road resident Doug Glorie described a recent trip to Athens, Greece, which has few tall buildings. “The heights are capped by code so as not to block the view of the 2,460-year-old Acropolis – a UNESCO world heritage site,” he said. “The code was enacted for the greater good of the people of Athens. I feel in essence this is no different than our ridgeline issue. Our 10,000-year-old ridgeline should be worth protecting.”
Glorie also said that he isn’t opposed to all development along the ridgeline, but both the wording and guidance needs to be clearer. Currently, the town’s building inspector must select a reference point to determine how the 50-foot guideline can be met. He suggested using a phone app that relies on latitude, longitude, and altitude coordinates from the U.S. Geological Survey, noting that his own house sits at 818 feet in elevation and the nearest ridgeline is 102 feet higher, 920.
“The law shouldn’t be chopped up or weakened,” added Maryellen Glorie. “If the law is as vague as has been suggested then it should be a relatively simple fix to inject clarity into the language – and once completed, the law will be even better than it was before.”
Planning Board member Cindy Lanzetta noted that the ridgeline rules were adopted in conformance with the town’s Comprehensive Master Plan, adopted in 2005. This in turn was made necessary by a state law adopted in the 1980s to promote orderly development in towns statewide.
“More time needs to be taken to examine the ridgeline protection law, how it came to be crafted – and how it can be crafted going forward,” she said.
“I would suggest you keep [the public hearing] open longer rather than putting something in place that doesn’t work,” noted Mountain Road resident Dan Heavens.
Down to Business
In the business portion of the meeting the board approved the town’s payment of $1,983,000 in bills, a large portion of which were for payments to the town’s employee pension fund and insurance providers. These amounts are usually high in January, noted Town Supervisor Scott Corcoran.
Among other news, Corcoran noted that the walkway to the Milton Train Station washed out during a recent downpour. The town’s insurer will be assessing the damage in the upcoming weeks.
Corcoran’s office is also working with New York Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson and Senator Michelle Hinchey on ways to create more turning lanes along the town’s stretch of Route 9W – which is a state highway. He especially intends to focus on the intersection with Young’s Park, which was the site of a recent fatal traffic accident.