Planning Board: We're underutilized

NORWICH – The outgoing chair of the Chenango County Planning and Development Board said last week the organization has been underused and is not complying with New York Sate General Municipal Law.

“We want to be asked to study things for the Board of Supervisors. They should, ideally, be pitching more to us,” said Kenneth Ryan, chairman since 2003 and a board member representing Oxford since 1999.

Specifically, Ryan said state law requires the Chenango County Planning and Development Board to review and comment on highway construction projects, such as the 32B Halfway House bridge project.

“By state law, we have to review all new highways being built. We don’t want to be bullheaded about it. It may be not natural for them, but, tactfully, we should tell them,” Ryan said.

Supervisor Linda E. Natoli, who, as chair of the county’s Planning & Economic Development Committee sits on the all-volunteer board, suggested it “would save time” if supervisors used the group “as a resource.” However, she suggested approaching standing committees first.

“I agree. The Planning Board is being wasted,” Natoli said, adding later that she wasn’t sure whether or not supervisors “really want us to do our job.”

“I’ve been very encouraged and impressed with your commitment to making Chenango County a better place to live, and how you all drag out here at 8 a.m. for this meeting every month,” she said.

Natoli also suggested that the group present an annual report before the board of supervisors meeting in March.

David C. Law, R-Town of Norwich, the only other county supervisor on the planning board, suggested two projects the board should take up: making Cook Park in Greene profitable and opening Upper Ravine Road in Norwich to support residential development.

“Both would be good projects for the board to look at,” Law said.

The Chenango County Planning and Development Board’s mission statement says it is to assist in county development “by leading and facilitating a planning process that informs and guides municipalities and the public.” Consistent with Chenango County’s 2020 Vision Commission findings, it is guided by the desire “to improve the quality of life by keeping vital economic growth in harmony with the rural character of the county and the environment.”

Municipal law charges the organization to review certain planning and zoning actions in local municipalities. The reviews, called 239s, may result in one of several outcomes: approval, approval with recommendations, approval with conditions, disapproval or no action. In 2007, the board reviewed 36 projects throughout the county, approving all but one. Comments, conditions or concerns were attached to all of the applications.

The board is also responsible for adopting a comprehensive plan.

Longtime local realtor Bruce Beadle, who has represented South New Berlin on the board for 11 years, said he hasn’t witnessed the board “being able to sink our teeth into anything.”

“We started eight years ago to write the comprehensive plan and it’s still not finished,” he said. “Somebody has to figure out what they want this committee to do.”

Chenango County’s Planning and Development Department Director Donna M. Jones has been given the responsibility to complete the comprehensive plan in 2008.

Jones pointed to an increased number of municipalities with land use regulations and the recent addition of five more that have adopted comprehensive plans over the last two years. The 2020 plan, developed in 1992, called for regulations in 25 jurisdictions by 2005. “The majority of jurisdictions have complied,” she said.

Municipalities with comp plans are: The towns of Bainbridge, Columbus, New Berlin, Sherburne and Smyrna; the town and villages of Greene and Oxford and the Village of Earlville.

The most regulated for land use is all of New Berlin and the Village of Greene followed by the towns of Bainbridge, Greene, North Norwich, Oxford and Sherburne.

The only towns lacking subdivision regulations in the county are McDonough, Pharsalia and Preston.

The least regulated for land us are: The Village of Earlville and Town of McDonough followed closely by the towns of German, Pharsalia and Pitcher.

Chenango County Weights and Measures Director Ted Guinn, representing the Town of Norwich, was voted in as chairman. Ryan was elected vice chairman, and Commerce Chenango President Maureen Carpenter, secretary.

The organization, which meets monthly, consists of Natoli, Law, Carpenter and representatives from North Norwich, South New Berlin, Oxford and Guilford. It is facilitated by the county’s three-member planning and development department.

In other board news, members discussed the benefits of industrial hemp production; renewable resources for energy; solar and wind power; and the impact of pending legislation regarding siting power plants in the state. Last year’s topics included opposing the New York Regional Interconnet power line proposal and finding alternative uses for the New York Susquehanna & Western railroad tracks.

In a discussion of ethanol, Ryan said wheat production is at a 60-year low in the U.S. because more farmers are growing corn and soybeans for the alternative fuel. However, he said the concern is “an intermediary step” in the transition from oil.

“You watch, the American farmer is going to step up to produce corn, wheat and all we need for energy and food, combined,” he said.

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