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Letter to the Editor: Zoning and Democracy are Compatible

Written By Timothy Knight on 4/21/15 | 4/21/15

Dear Editor,

The last paragraph of Bob Nied's letter explains the practical necessity and utility of zoning. The Town of Schoharie's 2005 Land Use Law rewrite, struck down by the court only because it was improperly filed at the time it was passed, was designed from a long-range comprehensive plan 8-9 years in the making.  The plan grew from lengthy surveys filled out by town residents on the way they'd like to see their community grow.  

The late John Poorman, the highly respected long-time chair of the Capital District Transportation Commission, shared with me that Scoharie was one of the few locales in the entire country where town and village governments had worked cooperatively to formulate a shared vision for the region's future.  He felt people didn't fully appreciate the rarity and worth of our community's capacity to work toward common goals.

The Town Council thought it wise to revisit and rewrite segments of the Land Use Law, leaving out any public input until they have tweaked it to members' satisfaction.  Only then will they present it at a public hearing.

Richard Sherman is one of the Councilmen contributing to this rewrite.  In response to Bob Nied's debunking of the rhetoric against zoning, he writes, "Every time a zoning regulation is written it infringes on someone's rights to use their property as they see fit …  I believe that any time you restrict a persons ability to use their property as they see fit is a bad thing to do."  Really?

That is an extreme view, one I'd frankly shrug off as inconsequential were Richard not helping revise a Land Use Law built from input from the Schoharie citizens.  Civilization requires us to live alongside others.  The presence of laws is a recognition that pure freedom of the sort Richard advocates often results in societal mayhem.  Schoharie's zoning laws were conceived through a logical, thoughtful progression, not from on high from the wealthy or powerful.  They grew a from a desire to protect the historical richness of our town and village, a contemplation of what positives make our community livable, and from a respect as to why those of us who chose to move here did so. As one who moved here 37 years ago to raise his family, my only agenda is to uphold those qualities.

Plucking away carefully conceived components of that hard-won land use law, or wishing we could do away with zoning altogether in the name of individual rights, is contributing to the collapse of a system that enables us to live sensibly with one another.  I sit on our Village's Planning Board.  It's not a fun job, but we routinely work to help people work to meet local, state, and federal laws related to projects they wish to see through.  Few of us like having rules to follow, or tedious forms to fill out, but these ultimately work to the advantage of our village's progress, and variances are available to accommodate aspects that fall outside the letter but not the logical intent of the law.

Someone -- I'm not sure who, but someone -- owns land adjacent to the Old Stone Fort complex.  I won't speak for Richard, but I'm guessing that he'd agree that the person who owns the property should not be able to erect a high rise apartment complex or a go-kart track on that land just because he owns it and has the money to build either.   

In fairness, this anti-zoning sentiment from Richard surprises and saddens me. Over the past decade, I've heard him argue repeatedly and passionately for upholding the Town's Land Use Law in the face of a company's ongoing attempt to run roughshod over it.  His, and his fellow-councilmen's fatigue in this battle is understandable, but I dearly hope he's not tiring of the righteousness of that fight.  It's a fight far more principled and of credit to him than the one that champions a person's right to do whatever he wants on any land his personal fortune enables him to buy.  

In what universe is that just?

- Tom Smith,
Schoharie, NY
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