Last week’s Times-Journal reported that the Town of Richmondville was claiming that it had difficulty finding people to serve on its Planning Board. That could not be further from the truth. The Town has steadfastly refused to advertise vacant positions on the board, refused to conduct public interviews of people willing to serve (something other towns do) and repeatedly rejected qualified candidates, some of whom have extensive planning and zoning experience. The Town has not had difficulty finding qualified candidates, only difficulty finding individuals willing to pretend that local land use and environmental regulations don’t apply to political cronies and that the role of the Planning Board is to rubber stamp proposals from local developers.
The Town of Richmondville Planning Board has a notorious history that includes taking just a few minutes to issue a slap dash environmental approval of the proposed Maranatha facility, ignoring a voluminous archeological report warning that the proposed facility would have a significant negative impacts and then being forced to withdraw that approval only to reissue a second and then a third approval after each was challenged. The Planning Board ultimately admitted, in a letter signed by their secretary, that the environmental approval was given for the sole purpose of allowing the developer to gain access to tax payer funded grant monies. We all know how that turned out.
The same Planning Board acted with such disregard for standards of behavior that it was issued a letter of admonishment by the Town Board and Town Attorney regarding conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety, which they subsequently ignored.
The Planning Board is led by a chairman who, despite years in the position, often appears to struggle with even a basic understanding of local zoning regulations, requiring the Board secretary to repeatedly remind him of the process that must be followed. That same chairman erroneously advised his board that they could quickly issue a permit for a proposed massive pipeline staging area along Route 7 without a site plan review and environmental assessment. It is unclear if a total lack of understanding of the law or some other factor motivated his misstatements. Certainly the fact that his family later received nearly $70,000 in payments from the pipeline company does not help the public perception. After the Center for Sustainable Rural Communities stepped in, the Planning Board was advised by the Town Attorney to conduct the appropriate reviews before issuing permits for the pipeline staging area.
Observing the actions of the Town of Richmondville Planning Board at any monthly meeting is an eye opening experience. They careen through the approval process basing their decisions on irrelevant anecdotes and preconceived notions instead of facts and reach their conclusions with a shocking lack of thoroughness.
Unfortunately, the Town Planning Board deliberations will likely continue to be some of the most dysfunctional in the region because under Supervisor Lape’s stewardship the Town Board is not willing to do anything about it.
But there is hope for change. The Village Trustees and Mayor Neary can refuse to sink to the Town’s level and insist that a Joint Planning Board reject political cronyism, incompetence and conflicts of interest and conduct itself in a manner that respects the residents of Richmondville as well as the planning and zoning process. If the Village can’t secure those assurances they should stay as far away from the Town Planning Board as possible so as not to be party to the embarrassing spectacle that poses as governance in the Town of Richmondville.
Board of Directors
Center for Sustainable Rural Communities