VERMONTVILLE - A referendum may be held on a proposed law regulating subdivisions in the town of Franklin.
The law would create a town planning board to approve subdivisions of five lots or more done within a 10-year period.
At a public hearing on the law Monday evening, members of the public presented town Clerk Sandra Oliver with a petition, signed by 150 people, requesting a referendum.
Dick Jarvis, left, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Subdivision Regulation, talks with Jack Drury, who facilitated the public hearing Monday evening on a proposed law regulating subdivisions in the town of Franklin. The sign at left has the rules for public comment.
(Enterprise photo — Nathan Brown)
The petition needs to be reviewed by the town attorney, who also needs to check town law to see if a referendum can be held on this proposed law. Don Hamm, of Vermontville, one of the petition's organizers, said town law says a referendum can be held on "any special or general law."
Hamm said he believes town code and ordinances should be enough and that adding an extra level of bureaucracy will discourage development.
"The work is very scarce right now," Hamm said. "It seems the town wants to stifle any business or industry coming into this town."
Most of the people who spoke against the proposal said they thought it was an unnecessary extra level of regulation that both overlaps with existing state regulatory agencies and could discourage development by making the permit process longer.
"The (state Adirondack Park Agency) is extremely diligent and stringent in protecting land," said Eleanor Engel, of Loon Lake. "With an agency like that in place, this law is overkill."
Most of those who spoke in favor said they thought it would be better to have the opportunity for local input on development with a planning board rather than relying on the APA and other state agencies.
"It gives all of us, as local people, a say in what happens in our community," said Barbara Rottier, a town resident who is also an APA lawyer. "I don't think subdivision of land should be at the complete discretion of the landowner."
"This is not a question of someone else taking control of our lives, but us taking control of our lives," said town resident Shir Filler.
A petition signed by about 300 people, requesting a referendum on the law, was presented to the town board in September 2008. However, there was no draft of the law at that time, and the town attorney said at the time that the town couldn't hold an advisory referendum.
A straw poll of members of the public present Monday showed 19 opposed to the law and 15 in favor. Three others said they opposed the current law but might support a revised one, one person was undecided, and one abstained.
The town took a survey in March and received 255 back out of 1,008 mailed out. Sixty-two percent of respondents favored subdivision regulations, 31 percent were opposed, and 7 percent were undecided. The returned survey forms are available to the public; however, Hamm said, he and Ed Martin asked to be present when the surveys were opened and were told they could not be.
The law's stated purposes are listed on the first of the proposal's 37 pages and include making sure there is adequate provision for sewage, water, drainage and utilities in developments; making sure growth avoids or minimizes destruction of the environment and the land's scenic character; and making sure growth reflects the town's capacity to provide infrastructure and services.
There would be a public hearing on any affected subdivision.
"It's every member of the public's right to ask a question of the developer," said town Councilman Clifford Smalley.
The law also says developers must make financial guarantees that they can do what they propose. This will ensure the town is not stuck with unfinished developments, Smalley said.
The expenses of the law have not been calculated. Some of the expenses would be covered by application fees. A number of town residents said they worried the law could lead to lawsuits against the town, if the town rejects a project but the APA approves it, which could be a burden on a town with as small a tax base as Franklin.
Planning board members would be appointed by the town board and receive yearly training. The law would be enforced by the town code enforcement officer.
Dick Jarvis, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Subdivision Regulations which drafted the law, said that although the APA does have jurisdiction over many developments, its jurisdiction in hamlets and limited-use areas is restricted. For example, the APA only has jurisdiction over subdivisions of 100 lots or more in hamlets and 10 lots or more in limited-use areas unless wetlands are involved, Jarvis said.
However, Brad Merrill of Vermontville said about 70 percent of the town's land is either state-owned or subject to conservation easements, and there are only three designated hamlets: Vermontville, Onchiota and Loon Lake. Merrill said the APA does have jurisdiction over some projects in hamlets and that there is much less land left to develop than it might appear on a map, due to various restrictions, making the law unnecessary.
"It's going to cost the town of Franklin disproportionately to what you're going to gain," Merrill said.
The town appointed the advisory committee to study the issue in 2007, after the APA approved the Stickney Point subdivision in Union Falls. The APA received about 100 letters opposing that development, including from town Supervisor Mary Ellen Keith; however, the town had no superceding land-use regulations to block the subdivision.
"We were unable to stop something that everyone who lived around here opposed and one man wanted to do to make some money," said Harrison Ewing of Union Falls, who supports the subdivision law.