September 28, 2011 —
Known for the high-end cottage-style homes built by his company in Sullivan and Ulster counties, Catskill Farms developer Charles Petersheim has lately emerged as a vocal opponent of the Town of Lumberland’s current zoning re-write process, which has been underway for two years.
Petersheim’s concerns have ranged in focus, revolving around the process, which stems from the town’s required update of its comprehensive plan, to various individuals involved, including members of the zoning re-write committee, the town supervisor, Nadia Rajsz and advisory attorneys Helen and David Slottje of the Community Environmental Defense Council.
Petersheim is a resident of the adjacent Town of Highland who owns substantial acreage in the Town of Lumberland and successfully sells to clients seeking the high-quality rural environment afforded by the region. He frequently faces a volley of impassioned responses from town residents who say they want to protect the quality of life that led them to purchase their Upper Delaware region properties.
At the latest town board meeting on September 14, the developer’s pointed questions were directed to the town board and to town attorney Danielle Jose-Decker. Petersheim drew attention to a lawsuit recently filed by Anschutz Exploration Corporation against the Town of Dryden in upstate New York that is pursuing zoning to prohibit heavy industrial use within the town’s borders.
The suit is the first to test the legal implications of such initiatives. Officials in Dryden and more than a dozen other local governments in New York State, who are pursuing similar prohibitions, are moving forward on the premise that while current law prohibits towns from regulating drilling, it does not regulate whether it can take place or where that might occur.
Petersheim asked whether Jose-Decker agrees with the legality of such prohibited uses.
“The courts have upheld prohibitions with respect to mining and adult facilities,” responded Jose-Decker. “The state regulates different industries, and I believe that the town has the power to prohibit and I believe that’s what the proposed zoning code seeks to do. I would also add that there is an area for an aggrieved entity, whether it be a person or a corporation, to seek a variance from the zoning board of appeals, and also the avenue of Article 78, in the event that someone wanted to challenge the decision of the ZBA or the town, so there is redress for someone who feels aggrieved by the zoning code as proposed.
“It seems to me that the process is correct in the way that the town is handling the zoning re-write,” she continued. “The content, from my perspective, appears to be appropriate and legal. I think that the issue with the gas drilling is a new frontier and the issue with respect to prohibition of industry is not a new frontier. I think our code, once finalized, as proposed, should stand the test of time. But it always remains to be seen. People sue each other all the time, with or without merit.”
“What is the process if the town is subject to litigation for their re-zoning?” asked Petersheim.
“Those decisions would be made by the town board if and when it happened,” said Jose-Decker. “If someone was aggrieved, they would file an Article 78, the town would respond, there could potentially be a hearing and the court would decide.”
Another citizen questioned the permanence of the proposed changes. Rajsz responded that such laws can be amended in the future.
Rajsz added that it remains to be seen whether the gas that might be present in the area will be worth harvesting. “When we’re looking at the Marcellus Shale this far south, we have numerous discussions at the Upper Delaware Council and other committee meetings, that in here they’re calling it cooked gas, meaning that it’s really useless. We don’t know where the pockets of gas are. There are many studies out there. Which one is the right one?”
“That’s still speculation,” said Petersheim.
Rajsz reiterated that the efforts of the town boards are meant to take into account the interests of all residents. “We’re protecting the town by attempting to prohibit certain types of heavy industrial use and maintain our current quality of life,” said Rajsz, who urged everyone to form their own opinions. “You can get a copy of our draft zoning laws and make your own assessment and come to our public hearing. It’s online and available in written format. I suggest that everybody get a copy and read through it.”
The public hearing has not yet been set. For more information visit www.townoflumberland.org  or call 845/856-4777, extension 227.