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Liberty camps may expand without public input; public hearing scheduled for local law

October 17, 2012

Several years ago, the Town of Thompson passed a law prohibiting any expansion of nonconforming uses, including summer camps in residential neighborhoods. The Town of Liberty appears to be headed in the opposite direction with a new law that will allow the planning board to waive a site plan review on some projects, and that includes waiving the public hearing that accompanies a site plan review for a nonconforming use.

In its current version, the law, which has been kicking around for a couple of years, would allow the planning board to waive the review “in the event that any such requirements are found not to be essential for the public health, safety or general welfare, or are found to be inappropriate to a particular site plan.”

Town supervisor Charlie Barbuti pointed out that the law applies only to additions on existing structures on properties that have had previous site plan review and “would be limited to an addition not exceeding the lesser of 750 square feet in size or 25% of the floor area of an existing structure, or of existing structures.” He said he supports the law.

There is nothing in the law that limits the number of structures that may receive additions, nor is there anything in the law to prevent additions being added year after year.

For the past two years, a number of town residents have been asking the board to follow the lead of Thompson and ban the expansion of nonconforming uses. This law, however, would make it easier for nonconforming uses to expand, and, in some cases, it would also make it easier for special uses to expand.

The planning board rarely denies an application for the expansion of a nonconforming use, and critics, including this reporter, say the planning board’s behavior harms property values and thereby erodes the town’s tax base.

The four other board members were asked if they supported the law, but did not respond.

A public hearing has been scheduled for November 19 at 6:55 p.m.