Frustration roils over mixed zones
NEW SCOTLAND — For more than a year and a half, Michael Cecunjanin has sought a permit to build a house on his six acres in an industrial zone.
Neighbors have protested because they don’t like the animals and “junk” they’ve complained of on his property.
Ardi Cecunjanin, who has spoken at meetings for his father, remains unperturbed. He said of the town, “I think we’ve been treated fairly.”
He went on, “It’s just a small hobby farm,” with lambs, goats, chickens, and ducks, he said.
“I’m not opening up a huge 700-animal farm,” Cecunjanin said yesterday. “I have a right to farm just like anyone else.”
Cecunjanin’s house-less property is situated between two parcels with houses, and the neighbors aren’t fans of the “mess” they claim sits between them.
The lot on Waldenmaier Road is surrounded in part by wire and wood fencing and a black gate facing the street. Cecunjanin has had a proposal in front of the New Scotland Planning Board since Sept. 4, 2012, asking for a special-use permit to build a single-family dwelling on his 6.049-acre parcel. The special-use permit was required because the property is in an industrial zone.
Cecunjanin wasn’t at the Sept. 4 meeting. But he attended the next meeting on Oct. 3, along with three of his neighbors — who also had to obtain special-use permits when they built their homes. They claimed that farm animals such as sheep, geese, and ducks roamed the property, often wandering onto their land.
Additionally, they said there was “junk” on the property, such as air conditioners and commercial refrigerators.
According to minutes from the Oct. 2 meeting, abutting property owner Archy Monroe said, “I think I’ve already taken a hit on the value of my property with the way things are right now.”
Fear of loss in property value was brought up by other neighbors, and the usefulness of the items on Cecunjanin’s lot was questioned. Neighbors and board members assumed that most of the equipment was used for farming, which the board said was allowed on the property because it is more than five acres. For parcels less than five acres, a property has to apply for a special-use permit to farm; over five acres, it is a permitted use.
Soon after this line of inquiry began, the conversation among the neighbors, board members, and Cecunjanin and his son Ardi — who was representing his father at the meeting — quickly spiraled into questions of whether a special-use permit for farming was required on the land, because less than five acres of it is in New Scotland, with the remainder being in the town of Bethlehem.
Questions about farming persisted, even though the proposal in front of the board was for building a single-family dwelling and the two are separate issues.
The board established that, even though a portion of the land was in the town of Bethlehem, since it is assessed by New Scotland and taxes on the property are paid to New Scotland, the property should be wholly considered as a New Scotland parcel.
Confusion and more questions followed, and the topic was ended with the board deciding to keep the public hearing open until the following month to allow Cecunjanin time to bring additional detailed information to the board so it could make a decision.
Interpreting the law
Eighteen months later, the proposal is still in front of the planning board, and neighbors are still complaining. The neighbors enlisted the representation of Cynthia Elliott, a surveyor who was previously on both the zoning and planning boards for the town.
The neighbors’ main complaint about the property’s state of disarray persists in their statements about animals running amuck, poor fencing, and the possibility of manure waste running into a stream that cuts through the back of the property.
At last month’s zoning board meeting, Elliott represented Michael Gough, who lives next to the Cecunjanin property, in his appeal of a specific zoning law that could permanently change whether a parcel of a given size requires a special-use permit for agricultural uses.
They are asking for an appeal of the interpretation of the zoning law given by the town’s building inspector, Jeremy Cramer. The rule in question states that any wetlands or areas at a slope of 17 percent or greater must be subtracted from the total area for a building lot. Elliott argues that this rule should be taken into consideration when determining agricultural uses as a permitted use of a parcel of land.
When asked about this matter yesterday, Elliott said that she conferred with her clients, and they had decided not to comment to The Enterprise.
Essentially, she and her clients want to get Cecunjanin’s property below five acres on paper so a special-use permit for farming would be needed, and conditions could be placed on the permit, such as the number of animals allowed.
However, Cramer’s opinion is that the rule does not have any effect on permitted uses, and he isn’t going to change his interpretation.
“There’s nothing that says deductions for a building lot cross into agricultural use,” he said. The building inspector prior to Cramer, Paul Cantlin, held the same opinion, he added.
Because of this, the parcel on Waldenmaier is unlikely to be squeezed down to less than five acres, and no special-use permit for farming will be needed.
However, the permit for building the house can have conditions put on it, and the planning board is working to make sure both the neighbors and the applicant are happy.
The original list of conditions the neighbors wanted was three pages long, Cramer said. He and the planning board, along with the planning board attorney, narrowed the list to 11 items.
“By no means are the conditions looking to be put on the property completely satisfying to the neighbors,” Cramer added. “Nobody is winning,” he continued, saying that the conditions are meant to make both parties happy, and balance both residential and agricultural uses on the parcel.
Adam Greenberg, chairman of the zoning board, said that issues like this come up when zones are mixed, for example, when residential areas are put in an industrial zone but the zone itself is not changed.
Each zone has different permitted uses, and agricultural use on a parcel of more than five acres is permitted in an industrial zone, he said.
“The neighbors knew that when they moved in,” Greenberg concluded.