Notes on the Germantown Town Board Workshop Meeting 12/15/2014
A quiet Monday night and less than a handful of residents attended the Town Board Workshop meeting which was called to order at 7:10 PM by Supervisor Joel Craig. Board members Don Westmore, Mike Mortenson and Matthew Phelan were there, Andrea Dunn was absent. In the audience were Ellen Epstein, Jo Hills, Corrine Curry, Rob Medwick and Kay Abraham. There were basically three issues up for discussion: 1. The Junk Law, 2. The establishment of a Conservation Advisory Committee, and 3. How and what to plan for improving the Ball Fields.
The format was informal and took place with a conversational mode. Consequently, I have had to summarize the content of the talk with a few quotes sprinkled throughout to give some sense of the discussion. The three issues have come before the Board at prior meetings, but there was a feeling that more discussion was needed to reach any consensus.
Junk Law Enforcement
There was general concern about how to deal with the complaints about properties that are “full of junk”. The Town has an ordinance that can be brought to bear against recalcitrant property owners, and, along with that a set of steps to be taken to enforce the law. However, it is very difficult to get compliance from property owners, most of whom have their own private feeling about their rights to have their “stuff” right where they have put it on their “own land”. One person’s “Junk” is another’s “Collection”. The Law says that if after proper notice and hearings the Town can go to court and get an order to go in and clean up the yard and to be reimbursed for the costs by the County, and the County can place a lien on the property in order to be compensated for the infraction. This is a costly court process for the Town, even if the County takes some of the burden.
And, it had been said that the County had recently turned down a request for a clean-up payment made by the Town of Austerlitz. This had put a chill on the enthusiasm for marching forward to take Court action.
The ideal would be that a property owner, having been cited by the Code Officer for a junk-filled yard, would take steps to clean it up and over a period of time come into a satisfactory compliance. However, if the property owner refuses to clean up the yard or denies the ability of the Town to force him to do so, the process can go on for months. “There is no law against “general appearance” said Don Westmore, but added that, nevertheless, the town has the ability to take some steps to resolve the problem. not just for the benefit of the complainant but for the overall good of the town. We spend money on other things that enhance the attractiveness of the Town to make it more desirable for businesses and home owners to move here. Surely we could afford to act to enforce the Law where we can. Mike Mortenson said he would like to see the Town be more pro-active on the side of compliance. Joel said that as the Supervisor , he is the recipient of most of the calls with complaints. The remedy of enforcement can ultimately bring court costs that are not really budgeted. Budgetary constraints prohibit an easy decision to move against an offender. Matthew says he’s not sure the taxpayers would be fully supportive of spending for this kind of legal costs. The Board members expressed frustration at seeming to be powerless to respond effectively to complaints. It was agreed that they would consult with the Attorney to see what steps they can do to demonstrate the Town’s commitment to enforcing the Junk Law. FYI: Here is a link to the Town’s Junk Law:
Should the town appoint a Conservation Advisory Council?.
To speak on that issue Ellen Epstein gave the Board an overview of what the CAC could do for the Town and the community. The Council would serve as a research source and an advisory function for the Town and the Planning Board and the Schools. There are several other Towns in Columbia County that have established CACs : Ancram, Hillsdale, Copake, Taghkanic, Other towns that are in the process of doing so are Hudson, Ghent, and Gallatin
In cooperation with the Town, the Planning Board or the School, environmental issues could be identified and research projects can be done to study particular problems. For example, the Town recently cut down some ash trees because they were infected with the Emerald Ash Borer, and invasive insect. This infestation will be an on-going problem and the State has encouraged Towns to identify Ash trees in their community. The CAC could do an inventory of the Ash trees in the town parks, and other property. If the School was involved a student could be appointed to the CAC for a term.
Ellen cited the positive public response to the meeting held last December 7th, sponsored by the NY Department of Conservation’s Estuary Program. The presentation was focused on habitats within Germantown and consisted of an inventory of the natural resources in the area, especially examining the waterways throughout the town. This Report is on file with the Town and holds a tremendous amount of data available for study. The meeting drew a roomful of attendees that demonstrated a high level of interest from the public about conserving the natural resources within the town and the region.
Don Westmore told of lots of activity being seen along the Railroad bed. It is now under new management by AMTRAC . It would be a good thing to have a CAC to interface with the powers that be to find out just what their plans are so the Town might respond appropriately to any changes that affect us.
A town’s CAC is authorized by the NY State under the state law, Article 12-F, Section 239-x of NY Municipal Law. The Columbia County Land Conservancy has sponsored periodic roundtable discussion meetings that representatives of the County County’s Environmental Management Committee and members of Towns’ CACs attend to discuss issues and share their activities and experiences.
Mike Mortenson said he was wary of any entity linked to the DEC because of a bad experience he had had on his property. He was assured by Ellen that a Town’s CAC was strictly an advisory group and any action would be the domain of the Town Board.
Don read a letter from Dorothy Montague, President of the Germantown Neighbors Association, a community environmental organization in the Town. She expressed support for the Town setting up a CAC to “promote the sustainable stewardship for the Town’s natural resource assets”. Joel asked if an outside organization such as the GNA would be a better way to go rather than set up a CAC. But Don Westmore and Kay Abraham, officers in the GNA, said that although the GNA would be fertile ground for finding members for a CAC, it was not in the position now to undertake the scope of endeavor that a CAC could provide.
Jo Hills spoke and endorsed the idea of a CAC: A CAC can learn what other towns have done and share the information on projects that have been successful. Mike expresses his reluctance to establish any legal entity that might have more power than they anticipate. Ellen says a CAC has no powers to take any action—it can only study, research and make recommendations. A CAC serves at the discretion of the Town Board.
Ellen says she will be happy to get the group started up, but would not serve as its chair. She can be a resource, but not the leader. She says there are many residents who seem invested in the quality of life here and who could be drawn into public service by the mission of the CAC. Matthew says he sees the benefits of having a CAC., but that the Town Board members are concerned about the difficulty in finding people who will make the commitment to serve. Having to spend hours seeking volunteers is a burden. Don Westmore and Kay Abraham reassure him that there should be a good response to serving on a CAC since it has a clear mission and a tested structure and could be seen as more productive than “just another committee”.
[ Here is the url to NY State Municipal Law on establishing a Conservation Advisory Council:
This provides the details of the structure of the organization and examples of how the Council could function.– Provided by E. Epstein]
Germantown’s Ball Fields:
Mike Mortenson introduces Rob Medwick, who is the President of the local Little League. He is also the head of the local Soccer League, and has sons who play both sports. Mike has had some long experience with trying to solve the conflicting needs of the two sports clubs. Since the Town has no field set up specifically for soccer they play on the baseball fields but each sport has different conditions required, so there are running complaints seeking solutions from the Town. Sporadic efforts have been made to develop a separate field for soccer. Trees were even been cut down three years ago but there is still no soccer field. Issues of finding level areas, drainage and underground rock ledges have added to the problems. Little progress is made over the years, partly because the sport groups leadership positions change as children age out of the program and those active parents move on to other concerns, and partly because of the difficulty of finding an easy answer. Mr. Medwick, however, has an abiding interest in both sports and will hold his leadership position for the next 5 years. He would like to see a long-range solution. He is looking for a plan from the town that he can present to the sports clubs for comment. The Board has looked to the clubs to tell them what they want or need. Mr. Medwick says he can be a bridge to making progress. Discussion about possibilities goes back and forth.
Right now, Mike says, the fields do not meet the standards required for tournament play, and teams go elsewhere. Mike and Matthew believe that if we invest in making two GOOD fields the town will attract teams who are looking for places to play. Here, again, Matthew points out budget restraints limit what can be done for the fields without a strong plan to finance improvements. At present Mike says that the fields are not totally safe with places that are not level and where rock surfaces up through the grass. It is said that the snack bar, if renovated, could develop a stream of revenue that might help defray the cost of field up-keep. There seems to be a strong desire to solve this issue and members of the Board will meet with Mr. Medwick and with Anthony Cidras to discuss some realistic goals. It will apparently take a real team effort from the Board, the Sport Clubs and interested members of the public to fund the costs of making significant improvements. Also, the teams need to come to an agreement about field usage and maintenance. They all agree to pursue the solution.
Meeting is adjourned at 8:55 PM
Editor’s Note: It was two hours of good, thoughtful conversation as the Board grapples with complex issues. I have tried to catch the gist of it all, but you really should have been there!
[Ellen Epstein.] developed a basic webpage for CAC’s when [she] was at the Columbia Land Conservancy, http://clctrust.org/community-assistance/conservation-advisory-councils/ Scroll to the bottom of the page that you’ll link to. You’ll see some resource documents including the brochure written for town boards (which has been handed out to the G’town board in the past) and gives some basics…..plus some links there to other town CAC’s, which gives a flavor of what they do.
Below some excerpts from the Columbia Land Conservancy’s site:
A CONSERVATION ADVISORY COUNCIL’S ROLE
A Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) is an advisory body that can advise town agencies on the development, management, and protection of natural resources. A CAC plays a valuable role in advising towns on issues related to groundwater, wildlife habitat, open space, scenic views, and more.
New York’s Municipal Law enables town boards to appoint a CAC to advise town agencies, especially “time-strapped” planning boards, on issues related to natural resources.
Is your town talking about groundwater, wildlife, opportunities for hiking and fishing, or even scenic views? A Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) can help.
Following CLC’s introductory CAC workshop in January 2011, four new CACs have been formed in the county and discussions are underway for two more. The CACs keep in touch with each other through CLC’s Roundtable series where they share information on their activities advising local planning boards, mapping habitat, conducting open space inventories, and writing reports on topics ranging from the environmental aspects of cellular towers to road salt issues.
Most recent Conservation Advisory Council Roundtables: October 20, 2014 Jamie Purinton of the Ancram Conservation Advisory Council and Gretchen Stevens of Hudsonia presented the Ancram Natural Resources Conservation Plan. The plan describes the environs of Ancram and details the important water, biological, farmland, and scenic resources found there. Much of the information about the wildlife and natural areas included in the report stems from the work of volunteers trained by Hudsonia and working with the Ancram CAC.
June 3, 2014 Claudia Knab-Vispo, botanist, Anna Duhon, social anthropologist, Conrad Vispo, wildlife ecologist, presented “An Introduction to the Living Land Project: Columbia County Habitats from an Ecological and Cultural Perspective.” …… Following the presentation, local CACs shared information about conservation activities or opportunities in their village or town.
And that’s all have for you from this meeting. If you are interested at all, please check out the sites provided—and you will become an instant expert on the subjects!
Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!
Kay Abraham 537-5404