After 15-year hiatus Westerlo will have a planning board

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WESTERLO— Fifteen years after disbanding Westerlo’s planning board, the town board voted unanimously Tuesday to appoint a new one and to begin interviewing candidates.

The town board will hold a special meeting on March 22 at 7:30 p.m. and appoint its members, with a workshop afterward, where new planning board members will review the town’s zoning law and planning-board procedures.

The town board disbanded the planning board in 1992 after developers complained about the length of time and requirements to get approval for projects; town board members have since also acted as the planning board.

Last year, residents Paul Baitsholts and Helene Goldberger sued the town, alleging that the current planning board is illegally constituted, and state law prohibits members of a town board to also serve on a planning board. They are contesting the planning board’s decision in August to grant approval for a 12-lot residential development located adjacent to their properties.

Roland Tozer, who was chairman of the planning board when it was disbanded, told The Enterprise in December, "I’m surprised they haven’t been sued more often."

The motion to appoint planning board members was made by Councilman R. Gregory Zeh near the end of Tuesday’s meeting.
"We’ve talked in the past about putting an ad in the paper this year—prior to our organizational meeting. I’d like to suggest that the board consider and interview candidates for a planning board appointment this month," said Zeh.
"In the meantime," said Zeh, "I believe the board can meet and interview candidates that we’re interested in. We have a list of candidates"."

Alene Galgay, the town’s attorney, has researched the local law on how the town will appoint planning board members. Galgay said after the meeting that more research needs to be done on whether the local law enacted when the planning board was disbanded gives the town board the authority to reappoint a new planning board.

The planning board, which meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month, will hold its next meeting on March 27. The same day, an eight-hour seminar on planning will be held by Lorman Education Services.

The town board voted to hold a workshop following the special meeting after Galgay said she was concerned about the short time new planning board members would have before their first meeting to become familiarized with planning board processes.
"The only one who’s going to know those procedures is going to be me," said Galgay of the planning board’s meeting on the 27th. "And I’ve already had my fill of being chastised for"directing things so I certainly don’t want to be put in that position again."

Unfortunately, Galgay said, new planning board members will not be familiar with planning issues and procedures, including the application process and the the State Environmental Quality Review Act process.
"The reason we’re moving that along is because I know there’s a SEQRA class coming up on the 27th," said Zeh. "I don’t want to bypass the opportunity of that class," he said.
"And don’t forget, your planning boards and zoning boards," said Galgay, "now have a requirement of four continuing education hours a year."

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