In a hearing sprinkled with commentary reminiscent of the 2009 Tea Party rallies, citizens on both sides of the rezoning debate made their case to the Red Hook Town Board on Wednesday night.
The issue at hand was the set of zoning amendments commonly referred to as the Centers and Green Spaces plan – the result of more than seven years of hard work and compromise by volunteers, experts and farmers. The plan, if adopted, would cut the number of homes ever allowed to be built in Red Hook by 60% (compared to the current zoning) and try to ensure that the ones that are built do not break up the remaining farms nor spoil the rural character of the town.
“In 2003, the Town Board asked the people in a survey what their top priority was for our town,” said Christopher Klose. “They said they wanted the rural character protected.” He believes that this plan will accomplish that goal.
“This plan is un-American,” stated landowner Jim Greig who drove five hours to register his complaint with the board. He suggested that if we wanted to raise more property taxes that having a 100 acre farm split up for 10 mansions on 10 acres and sold to buyers from New York City would be a more tax-friendly way to use the land.
Jim Greig, his relatives and some other large landowners are unhappy with the zoning changes which they feel will reduce the value of their large farm parcels but insisted in comments that they had no plans to sell or develop their land.
In later comments, fellow farmer Robert McKeon countered assertions that the law would reduce land values by pointing out that a study by professional, certified land appraisers – the very people who would be responsible for determining the value of these lands in Red Hook – had provided data showing there would be no difference in value before and after passage.
“Is my opinion any more valid than that of these others? No. But these are the professionals who will determine the land and development rights values if there is a sale,” stated McKeon.
Another resident asserted that the plan “smacked of socialism”.
Under the new zoning, farmers would need to sell off their development rights to receive their full value and would no longer be able to turn their farms into large-scale housing developments as has happened in the past. Farmers that insist on building on their land instead of selling those rights would be allowed fewer lots clustered away from prime soils on the property. The stated goal is to preserve as much farmland for farming as possible and to protect the rural character of Red Hook.
A number of speakers grappled with the 300 homes projected to be built near Hannaford’s at the south end of town. Resident Linda Keeling who opposes the rezoning plan suggested that such construction would decentralize an already struggling village business district and expressed concerns about potential traffic impacts.
In later remarks, Kristofer Munn replied, “This is a long-term plan, not a construction plan. When this passes, fleets of bulldozers and construction crews do not descend on Red Hook and build hundreds of homes. We are talking about what might happen over the course of 25, 50 years or more.”
Among other changes in the zoning law are new opportunities for farmers to use their land for types of agricultural production and tourism not allowed under current zoning such as bed and breakfasts, hosting meetings and opening farm restaurants.
“I think, for the most part, we continue to hear from the same vocal few at each one of these public hearings and I think we are hearing a lot of the same issues over and over again,” responded Councilwoman Micki Strawinski when asked about the concerns raised. “Issues that have been answered at the last two public hearings especially by our planner. Not that we shouldn’t hear people’s comments again but I think we’ll go back to the answers we’ve gotten in the past.”
At the end of the meeting, the public hearing was closed but written comments will be accepted until July 7th. No vote was taken on the rezoning amendments. The next town board meeting will be July 12th, at which time a vote may occur.