“No one wants drilling in Lumberland,” Catskill Farms developer Charles Petersheim told a standing-room-only crowd at the Lumberland Town Hall on December 12. Judging by the multitude of comments delivered at the Town of Lumberland’s public hearing on its proposed zoning re-write, opposition to natural gas extraction and the industrialization that accompanies it is undeniably strong.
But other sections of the proposed zoning have raised concern among some who feel that new rules related to lot development size and landscaping are too restrictive.
Resident Chad Martell, who objected to a proposed change from two- to five-acre lot development, said, “The less homes we allow, the less tax base we’re going to have, which will increase the tax burden on the people of the town.” Others agreed and cited additional objections to specific restrictions related to tree removal and replacement.
Several commentors asked for more flexibility in the proposed regulations. Debra Conway, a resident of Barryville, pointed out that the re-write includes flexibility in the form of waivers, which can be applied for. “These are reasonable people who have set up reasonable recourses for reasonable argument,” she said. “They’re setting a standard and if it imposes a burden, you have the right to appeal.”
On the topic of natural gas, many applauded the inclusion of Article 10 pertaining to limits on industrial uses within the town. Peter Comstock, head of the Homestead School, presented a letter to the town board from a Manhattan attorney with 35 years of litigation experience who has offered to defend the town pro bono in the event that the zoning is legally challenged. “The zoning you have proposed strikes the right balance and provides the growth that is sensible and mindful of our rural integrity,” he said.
Comstock’s son, Jack, made an eloquent plea for preservation of the town’s rural heritage, which he defined as the beauty and health of the natural environment. “Our rivers, streams, forests and farm fields are our lifeblood,” he said. “They nourish our souls and provide us with the diminishingly rare gifts of clean air to breathe, pure water to drink and responsibly raised farm products to eat. I commend the town board for their efforts to protect this heritage. Is it not our responsibility to stand up to exploitation and to protect the health and prosperity of this town’s people?”
Carol Roig, a resident of the neighboring Town of Highland, thanked the board for the privilege of addressing the matter. “I’m emboldened to speak on the issue of Article 10 because no town can contain the damage that will be done if this industry is welcomed into any of our towns,” she said. “We’re all affected by each other’s decisions.”
Roig noted that although maps may show that Marcellus Shale is not under the town of Lumberland, the Utica Shale stretches to the Hudson River and is being touted to investors. “I think you’ve been very diligent; you’ve allowed plenty of time for input and you’re doing everything in your power to protect the health, welfare and safety of your citizens. You’ve secured expert legal advice and you’re not allowing yourself to be intimidated by the threat of lawsuits.”
Some commentors asked for delaying a final vote on the proposed law for more discussion, while others pleaded for swift approval. Resident and attorney David Wallace urged the town to stay ahead of the potential impacts. “Whether or not people are being truthful about whether fracking is coming to this area is probably an open question, because just about everything that this industry has had to say to local people has had a nasty twist with a fatal barb at the end of it,” he said. “This issue of home rule is going to come up repeatedly, whether it’s agriculture, water rights or fracking.”
“All comments will be carefully considered for inclusion in or alteration of the code,” concluded Supervisor Nadia Rasjz.
Even those with objections made a point of thanking the committee for its long and diligent work. Efforts will continue when the committee meets on December 16 to review and address the comments with written responses that will eventually be posted to the town website. If substantial changes are determined to be necessary, the town will hold an additional public hearing. A final vote may be possible at the town’s year-end meeting on December 29. Visit www.townoflumberland.org  for more information, or call 845/856-4777, extension 227.