Ogdensburgs volunteer zoning board of appeals is again facing criticism for its allegedly frequent inability to get all its members to attend meetings to vote on requests for variances.
At Mondays city council meeting, there were questions about the seven-member boards reliance on 4-0 votes to approve variance requests and some members exceeding the three-meeting limit on unexcused absences.
You got a responsibility to be there or dont be on the board, said Councilor Wayne L. Ashley.
But board chairman William Flynn would appreciate some patience.
Having only four members present is never ideal, he said. The members present and the city planner try to ask the applicant all of the salient questions so the request is discussed thoroughly before a decision is reached. Often the board and the applicant will develop a compromise or strategy so that the applicant can complete the project request. This many times occurs with input from the city planner and the code enforcement office. With a full board present there is the chance for the full board to ask questions of the applicant and to have all voices heard. But this is not always possible. So those members present try to cover the waterfront in that regard.
Board member Misty Fishel resigned in June. Planning and Development Director Andrea L. Smith said applications for board membership can be found online on the city website or by calling her office at 393-7150.
Like Mr. Flynn, she also would appreciate some patience.
I cant force people to apply to the zoning board, she said. I cant hold their hands to bring them to meetings.
Mayor William D. Nelson understands the dilemma.
Its a thankless job, he said. You get pounded. Its not an easy board to serve on.
Mr. Flynn, a board member since 1983 and chairman since 2009, begs to differ.
I dont think any of the current members think their job is an easy one, but it is certainly not a thankless job, he said. There is a lot of satisfaction in knowing that they are trying their best to enforce the municipal code, while at the same time helping citizens to do what they would like to do to improve their properties. Sometimes its impossible to do both. But, in most cases, if the board can work with the applicant, there will be a solution reached that is at least satisfactory to both parties, if not ideal. I also think we all feel we are doing our civic duty and we take pride in that. We volunteer our time and energy, and go to at least four hours of training per year because we all want the same thing, a city we can be proud of.
The three-meeting limit, Mr. Flynn said, has been given extremely wide latitude lately.
This is not a board that a lot of people are interested in being a part of, he said. No one likes to be put in the position of having to say no to a variance request. So those people who are on this board are given a lot of flexibility because work schedules, illness and appointments are also a part of their lives. We all try not to have things scheduled at the same time as the zoning board meetings, but sometimes its impossible to avoid. We all make every effort to be there or to let the city planner know ahead of time when we cannot. As long as there is a quorum present, we must have the meeting. And we always give the applicant the option of waiting until the following month to have their case heard.