Clarkstown presses for stricter planning and zoning disclosure

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

NEW CITY – Over the past few years, building projects across municipal borders have frustrated Clarkstown residents and leadership, who wish to gather information and submit commentary but often face bureaucratic hurdles.

Owing to these difficulties, Clarkstown officials announced on Wednesday that they were working with state legislators to change municipal law in a fashion that allows for faster, more efficient planning notification and inter-municipal review of such projects.

Supervisor Alexander Gromack joined Town Councilwoman Shirley Lasker to announce their push to amend New York State Municipal Law 239. The proposed changes would fix a procedural gap by requiring municipalities to submit required permits and plans to not only the County Planning Department but to adjacent municipalities.

According to Gromack, the suggested changes would make inter-municipal cooperation and communication easier by placing all affected parties on the same page for the purposes of disclosure. Current municipal law requires a complete packet outlining a proposal for county submission, but only a bare notice to other municipalities. The provision of additional information is technically optional.

The changes, he argued, are far superior to the time-consuming, indirect method of submitting FOIL requests to the county and its municipalities, which can often yield too little too late.

“We shouldn’t have to guess about it,” Gromack said. “We shouldn’t have to find out about it by rumor.”

Gromack’s office is currently working for the state-level change with State Sen. David Carlucci and State Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, whom he assured are both “fully supportive” of the changes.

While the measure is examined on the state level and changes are drafted, the town also proposed immediate recommendations for the county to implement. Among the suggestions are notifications between municipalities of public hearings, plan use deliberations and other meeting notices, submission of state-mandated planning materials to adjacent municipalities preceding a 30 day review period and the inclusion of parcel and zoning data in the county’s Geographic Information System (GIS) for municipal use.

The town also called for regular planning meetings of the Rockland Municipal Planning Federation for the discussion of major projects, environmental and infrastructure issues, inter-municipal cooperation funding and changes to state law. The meetings would include planners from every town and village in the county.

Clarkstown has had to contend with a number of controversial projects outside its borders including the Pascack Ridge housing project in Ramapo, a proposed poultry slaughterhouse in New Square and the Anellotech biofuel facility in Orangetown. The potential impact of these endeavors have led to questions on their spillover into neighboring Clarkstown.

According to Lasker, the mere presence of the proposals in separate towns was no reason to forgo an informed discussion of their impact, a discussion often sought by Clarkstown but inhibited by inefficient disclosure and inopportune scheduling.

“Increased traffic, air pollution, clear cutting of trees, the burden on our water supply, sewers, the impact on our schools and our emergency responders are borne by all our residents,” Lasker stated. “We are a small county and all the towns and villages should be united in their efforts to protect our environment and our natural resources, which are limited.”

Partly in response to over-development in neighboring towns, Clarkstown has tightened its own planning and zoning regulations over the years, acting in a way which Gromack characterized as strict and proactive to protect its own quality of life.

“What happens in one municipality can have a dramatic affect on its neighboring municipality,” Gromack added.