Westerlo’s ‘new’ zoning law changes little but offers more clarity

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

The Westerlo Town Board — from left, Councilman Richard Filkins, Councilwoman Amie Burnside, Councilman Joseph Boone, and Town Clerk Kathleen Spinnato — shown here last March, adopted zoning changes this February. 

WESTERLO — Westerlo’s newly adopted zoning law, although vastly similar to its old law, includes a new breakdown of the responsibilities and authorities of the town’s code-enforcement officer, Jeff Pine, as well as clarity and consolidations in other areas of the document.

The document, adopted at the Westerlo Town Board’s Feb. 18 regular meeting, is meant to keep the town up to date with New York State’s Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code.

The state’s Uniform codes were adopted in 1981 to ensure that all municipalities, except for those which opt out, meet the designated standards for fire and building safety.

“It was brought to our attention by New York State that our law didn’t have the latest changes,” Supervisor William Bichteman told The Enterprise. “Ours hadn’t been updated in quite some time.”

Westerlo’s zoning law was first adopted in 1989 and changed incrementally since.

The document’s fundamental change can be found in the “Purposes of the local law” section, which is identical to the old zoning law document, except for the addition of the following: “To provide for the administration and enforcement of the New York State Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code (the Uniform Code) and the State Energy Conservation Construction Code (the Energy Code) within the Town of Westerlo.”

A byproduct of the change is a far more expansive overview of the code-enforcement officer’s responsibilities than was seen in the old law.

Section 7.30 of the prior zoning law, adopted in 1989 and changed incrementally, read that, “The Enforcement officer shall be responsible for the issuance of certifications that any activity or use complies with the provisions of this Local Law, including the terms and conditions of any special authorization.”

It goes on to explain the procedure for appealing determinations made by the code enforcement officer as well as to authorize the code-enforcement officer to enter premises “during reasonable hours” when inspections are necessary. 

The new zoning law expands on those original three sentences by presenting a comprehensive list of duties held by the code-enforcement officer, now located in section 7.10, from the maintenance of records to the approval or disapproval of building plans. In addition, it lays out the contingency plan for the absence of a code enforcement officer, in which case the board has the authority to appoint an acting code enforcement officer. 

These are mostly procedures that were carried out before the law’s adoption on Feb. 18 — with the addition of commercial fire inspections, Bichteman told The Enterprise – but it offers greater clarity for townsfolk and whoever else is interested in reviewing the town’s inner workings.

Pine, who is also the code-enforcement officer for the town of New Scotland, could not be reached for comment on the impact the new responsibility has on his job.

The story is the same with the sections dealing with building permits, which have been variously expanded and consolidated in order to stay modern.

But rather than make numerous changes to the old document, the town board adopted a new zoning law wholesale.

“It’s kind of complicated,” Bichteman told The Enterprise regarding the process of updating the sections.

Because the section numbers changed in the new document, any pre-existing reference to a section had to be double-checked for accuracy and changed if needed. But the victory is in ensuring that the town is in line with state-level regulations and that the code enforcement officer is authorized to perform all tasks necessary.

“There’s a little more teeth as far as enforcement goes,” Bichteman said.

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