New Scotland shuffles board chairs

— From Adam Leclair

At its January reorganizational meeting, the New Scotland Town Board named Erin Casey chairwoman of the zoning board of appeals. Casey, who was appointed to a five-year term in 2020, will be board chair for 2022. 

NEW SCOTLAND — The New Scotland Town Board at its recent reorganizational meeting named new chairs of the town planning and zoning boards.

Jeffrey Baker, who until December had led the zoning board of appeals, was named head of the planning board after its chairman for a decade-and-a-half, Charles Voss, decided it was time for a change. 

On Jan. 1, Voss, who had a year left on his planning board appointment, was named to fill out the remaining year of Baker’s term on the zoning board.

Baker on Jan. 1 received a five-year planning board post.

Erin Casey, who was appointed to a five-year zoning board term in 2020, was named chairwoman. Casey, who had filled in for Baker on a couple of occasions, said she was willing to take over the position, LaGrange said, “and so we appointed her as chair of this ZBA for the year.”

“We’re certainly not going to miss a beat here, by doing what we did,” Supervisor Douglas LaGrange said of the moves. “And that was another important thing: To keep the consistency through projects and through different things that were before each of the boards.”

New Scotland has a two-term limit for planning and zoning board members; however, the town board can choose to reappoint a board member to another term by a supermajority vote, which it had done with Voss once before.

LaGrange said the town board had thought it should “honor our own reasoning” for placing “term limits on those boards,” while it additionally “felt that [Voss] wasn’t enthused about signing on for another five years.”

For Voss, it was just time to move on. 

He had asked LaGrange a couple months ago about stepping down from the board.

“I had a new job and just felt like the time was right for me to kind of retire, so to speak … to kind of step away and scale back a little bit,” Voss said in a message to The Enterprise. But when LaGrange asked him about potentially joining the zoning board for a year, Voss said he “definitely agreed to do that.”

Voss was appointed to the planning board in 2005. He was named chair five years later when the board was reduced from seven members to five and their terms were shortened from seven years to five, which came after a November 2009 town election tipped the balance on the town board. 

In that election, then-Councilman LaGrange and his running mates ran and won on a platform of controlled retail development after there had been a proposal for a big-box mall in town.

The planning board shepherded “a lot of good projects that had come through the pipeline over the years,” Voss said. “And certainly I joined the planning board right after a pretty tumultuous time in the town, back in” 2008, 2009, and 2010.

After 15 years — 10 of them as chair — Voss said he thinks he’s leaving the planning board in “really good shape.”

“Jeff Baker has always said he’d like to switch to the planning board,” LaGrange said. “We felt, that with his background and understanding, and his ability to chair, we thought it would be good to slide him to the planning board in place of [Voss].”

A land-use and environmental lawyer for 35 years, Baker served as attorney for New Scotland’s planning and zoning boards from 2010 to 2016. He was then  appointed to and made chairman of the zoning board in 2017. Baker was a vocal opponent of the big-box store proposal prior to his appointment as the town’s planning-and-zoning attorney.

“I like that the planning board has broader jurisdiction and [has] policy to address planning issues,” Baker said when asked his reasoning for wanting to make the switch. The planning board approves and then helps oversee the layout of subdivisions, larger projects, or more sensitive proposals that require special-use permits.

There’s less “applying clear black and white standards,” Baker said, and more “looking at the holistic impact of a project and how it fits into the community.”

The zoning board, he said, “has a much narrower focus and jurisdiction in what it can do.” The zoning board reviews interpretations made by the code enforcement officer and hears variance requests, he said, like when someone is seeking relief from the zoning code, perhaps to build a little bigger or in a different place.

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