New faces on the Planning Board prepare for task ahead

Monday, Jan. 27 was the first Planning Board meeting for the three new appointees.

Present were, Assistant Planning Director Michael Mathis and Dennis DeWolf, Rich Trevathan, Brad Armstrong and new appointees, Helene Siegel and Darren Whatley. Absent were Steve Abranyi and Chris Wilkes – who is the third new member.

Members have had (or have) careers in law, commercial construction, residential construction, architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, real estate brokerage or have been or are owners of businesses in town.

After much back and forth, Dennis DeWolf accepted the mantle of chairman but asked that it be reviewed in six months. He said he really has too much on his plate to take on anything else.

However, retired lawyer Rick Trevathan was persistent saying due to DeWolf’s previous years on the planning board, his institutional memory and knowledge as an architect means he is the best qualified for the job.

Newcomer Darren Whatley who wears two hats as an interior designer and landscape architect was named Vice Chairman but asked for the same six-month review.

Mathis said he didn’t know if six-month stints were allowed but would find out. The business at hand was “old business” from the December meeting. Specifically, the final review of verbiage to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) concerning internally illuminated signs, civil penalty responsibility and subdivision street paving. These were all tweaked at the December meeting and were expected to be OK’d and subsequently passed on to the Town Board for final approval.

However, the five members present, decided to disallow any internally illuminated signs in the future, rather than accept the verbiage decided upon at December’s meeting which would have allowed “Halo Lit Signs” with stipulations.

The illuminated sign at the 465 Restaurant instigated the proposed amendment to the UDO. Though tastefully done, there was nothing in the UDO specifically allowing or disallowing the particular configuration of the sign. Town Attorney JK Coward said since the permit for the sign was submitted prior to potential changes to the UDO, it could stay as a grandfathered allowance.

Assuming the Town Board will accept the Planning Board’s recommendation, internally illuminated signs will not be allowed in the future.

However, the board did keep the verbiage suggested in December to take the job of issuing citations and levying fines out of the hands of the Town Board and putting the job of issuing and collecting penalties solely in the hands of the Planning Director.

Violations can range from junked cars in neighborhoods to buildings in setbacks. If the violation isn’t addressed in 10 days, a $100 per day citation can be issued.

Mathis said he isn’t unreasonable; if someone needs to take down part of a building within a setback he would of course give more time as long as the issue is being addressed.

The last amendment to the UDO that was addressed in December and OK’d in January was the need to pave roads within subdivisions with a grade of 5% or more. The Town Board asked the Planning Board to address this issue because there are several unpaved subdivision streets in town whose grade causes their sand and gravel to wash down onto area streets and adjoining property.

Mathis said Commissioner Amy Patterson asked that this be addressed because after roads wash away in subdivisions, residents ask the town to clean up the mess.

He also said that it was imperative for Planning Board members to attend meetings because since the state has changed many land use regulations, numerous changes will have to be made to the town’s UDO.
In addition, the board must development a Comprehensive Plan. “We have a lot on our plate this year,” he said.

To be ready for their new responsibilities, members asked that extra time be allotted prior to the next few meetings so they can be “schooled” as to the Planning Board’s job as well as taught to navigate the UDO and come to understand the parameters of the several commercial and residential zones in town.

Consequently, the February 24 meeting will unofficially begin at 4:30 p.m. for the purpose of schooling with the regularly scheduled meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m.

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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