We have a code-enforcement problem that looks like a playbook

To the Editor:

The town board meeting of Jan. 3, 2023 again had fellow town residents leaving their homes on a winter evening to give public comment about their experience with town runaround and where did their letters to the town disappear to and why did the town have cease-and-desist orders ignored in the destruction of trees for a permit not fully approved [“Cease-and-desist orders did not stop tree-cutting for proposed development,” The Altamont Enterprise, Dec. 31, 2021].

Where was the town’s zoning-board attorney; that is our zoning prosecutor. The moment the first resident contacted the town about the tree-cutting, was the after-hours code-enforcement officer (I was told there was an after-hours code enforcer) or [Chief Building and Zoning Inspector] Jacqueline Coons accessible?

Why was [town attorney] James Melita discussed? To the best of my knowledge, he is not the zoning board attorney, according to statements made to me by James Melita.

Did Ms. Coons contact the zoning board attorney? What happened to our town that cease-and-desist orders were ignored? We have a code-enforcement problem that looks like a playbook.

Watching Peter Barber, our town supervisor, vacillate between who is the lead — the town ot the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation — was a disservice to all of us.

Worse, to hear town residents citing ignored town codes, describing pleading to multiple people at Town Hall, hearing town staff question the whereabouts of resident letters submitted, no meeting minutes posted on the town website should have all of us asking how a supervisor sending out almost daily newsletters didn’t know what was going on among his staff?

The decorum of the residents was appreciated. 

I would have and did see it like a naked emperor when the name of the zoning attorney was not mentioned to any speaker by Peter Barber nor the town board members. Former zoning board members Mr. Barber and Mr. [Jacob] Crawford’s silence and not offering up the zoning board attorney’s name, particularly knowing both participated on the zoning board was noticeably — you fill it in what I am thinking, the paper can’t print it.

In comparison, Clarkstown, a town that closely resembles the town of Guilderland, had a similar tree destruction.  Reporter Steve Liberman, for the Rockland/Westchester Journal News, wrote on Aug. 26, 2021, a story headlined “Clarkstown judge orders penalty in West Hook Mountain devastation of trees, town parkland.”

The story says, “In the settlement, [property owner Edward] Teitel agrees to replant 150 trees costing more than $130,000, paying the town $3,900 for a land-tree survey, and bearing the costs of storm drainage plan and restoring disturbed soil and land encroaching on parkland to satisfy town violations. Teitel also must provide a $25,000 credit toward replacing any of the replanted trees that don't survive ….

“Kahn ...the town's zoning prosecutor ... the town acted promptly when told about the down trees on West Hook Mountain and other violations...criminal charges would come from the Clarkstown police and Rockland District Attorney's Office.”

Unlike Guilderland, Clarkstown did not join alongside Pyramid to litigate against neighbors.  Clarkstown has litigated against the Pyramid Corporation. Unlike Guilderland, Clarkstown put land use to voter referendums.

For example, in the same article, Lieberman writes, “Clarkstown bought West Hook Mountain and other lands in 2003 as part of a $22 million open space bond approved by voters in 2000.”

We need to improve the permit process and include language of penalties … We need a town code with penalties to address “do it then say nothing unless caught with egregious conduct in our town.”

Christine Duffy


Editor’s note: On Jan. 3, the Guilderland Town Board authorized the town attorney, James Melita, to “seek injunctive relief,” issuing a restraining order, and to have the planning board suspend review of the proposed subdivision. See related story.

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