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Waterfront rule in Cape Vincent zoning law stirs controversy

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CAPE VINCENT — Not all residents are pleased with a proposed update to the town zoning law, which includes stricter setback requirements for waterfront property.

After listening to the concerns of residents, the Town Council decided Thursday to delay approving the revised law during a public hearing. The board, which will consider revising the law, set another public hearing for 6 p.m. Sept. 3 to consider voting on it.

The town established a committee in January to correct mistakes in the current version of the zoning law, approved in 2012. That committee met weekly from January through March to amend the law.

During the public hearing Thursday, town resident Hester M. Chase, who is a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, expressed a litany of concerns with the revised law. On Aug. 14 — only seven days before the public hearing — the committee proposed additional changes to an earlier version of the law that was posted online Aug. 3.

Among the changes was a revision made to setback requirements for waterfront lots, which would increase the minimum amount of water frontage required to be considered a buildable lot from 100 to 150 feet. Though charts in the version of the law published Aug. 3 reflected the change accurately, the text incorrectly said only 100 feet of waterfront is required.

“I think that the community should have a chance to think about what that means,” Ms. Chase told the board Thursday.

She also contended the town is required to give the public 10 days’ advance notice to review proposed laws before public hearings. She spoke for about 10 minutes during the public hearing, covering an array of additional issues she had with the proposed law.

ZBA Chairman R. Dennis Faulknham, co-chairman of the committee that revised the law, defended changes made in the law and urged the board to approve it swiftly. He contended revisions in the law were mostly grammatical, providing clarification where it was lacking. He did not address why the committee decided to change waterfront setback requirements.

“If you find that something is really bothering you, I would rather you address that issue, or pull it out, and pass everything else versus just delaying it,” Mr. Faulknham said. “Because it was my hope that we could achieve what I had promised to the public, that we do things in a way that we get the majority of the population here” before the fall.

Councilwoman Michelle T. Oswald asked Mr. Faulknham to explain why additional changes to the law were made public Aug. 14.

Mr. Faulknham said that in his view, most of the late changes were grammatical and should not prevent the board from voting on the law.

“That is not a significant amount of information,” he said. “It doesn’t affect the way we operate. It just makes it a cleaner document.”

Mrs. Oswald, in response, asked Mr. Faulknham if he and Planning Board Chairman Robert S. Brown, the other co-chairman of the committee, would be willing to meet with the board to discuss issues with the law expressed by Ms. Chase.

Mr. Faulknham told Mrs. Oswald the committee already reviewed concerns made by Ms. Chase and would be unwilling to make significant revisions.

“Most of those issues were presented to us in correspondence from Hester this spring, and we went through it item by item and made some decisions based on her input,” he said. “I don’t want to get into specifics, because there are pages of them she has already mentioned.”

Ms. Chase told the board the revision made to waterfront setbacks needs more time for the public to review.

“To say that things are grammatical when you go from 100 feet on the (water) frontage to 150 feet — that’s a pretty significant change,” she said. “I’ve been on the Zoning Board of Appeals now for about two years, and I’ve seen how the law either stops someone from doing something or permits it. And these little details actually control people’s lives.”

Councilman John L. Byrne III said the board would be ill-advised to approve the law without reviewing concerns expressed during the public hearing.

“We set a precedent back in 2012 when after we had the hearing, we scheduled a work session where we looked at all the changes,” he said. “And I think we should continue with that same process.”

After the board voted to reschedule the public hearing, Mr. Faulknham and Mr. Brown showed their dissatisfaction with the decision by leaving the meeting.

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