Rare planning board denial has New Scotland resident pondering options

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

 Greylock Lane resident Milt Orietas claims the New Scotland Planning Board is preventing him from building on his own property.

NEW SCOTLAND — The New Scotland Planning Board’s extremely thoughtful and thorough project review process is often to the bane of its applicants, but its outcome is nearly universal — project approval. 

But now one resident is claiming the planning board is preventing him from building on his own property. Milt Orietas told The Enterprise legal recourse is not completely out of the realm of possibility to achieve his goals: Building a home at the front of his lot rather than the back, as was originally approved by the planning board.

The planning board had already approved Orietas’s proposal to put a home on the property, yet in the eyes of his neighbors, Oreitas’s new placement is not where the house should be built.

The planning board chairman, Charles Voss, agrees. “The reason we laid it out in the back was to conform with the nature and character of that neighborhood,” he said, adding that Orietas’s moving the house to the front of his lot deviates from that goal.

The planning board was unanimous last month that the modification should be denied and adopted a resolution at its June 1 meeting that said as much.

The main issue is this, Orietas told The Enterprise: His latest proposal meets all the zoning setback requirements; the town engineer signed off on the proposal; and the planning board still denied him.

In 2018, Orietas bought the three-acre parcel at 5 Greylock Lane adjacent to his 7-acre Greylock Lane property.

Greylock Lane is a private road off of Youmans Road not maintained by the town of New Scotland. Four property owners currently use the private road to access their homes, but only two are contractually obligated to maintain it. 

Orietas said he kicks in to help maintain the road. Aaron Minnick, the other homeowner on Greylock Lane, did not return a call before press time. 

When the Greylock Lane subdivision was approved, in 2011, the plan showed all the houses were going to be built in a line toward the back of each property on the private roadway, except Orietas’s personal residence, which is further back than the others, Building Inspector Jeremy Cramer previously told The Enterprise. 

Orietas’s initial plan was to build a new house in the back of the lot as he had done with a similar adjacent three-acre parcel he purchased in 2017, which he developed and sold to Minnick.

But when Orietas came in for a special-use permit on his second three-acre parcel, Cramer, in the course of his review, found that, according to New York State Building Code, a driveway that supplies more than four houses requires a fire-apparatus access road.

Orietas was proposing the fifth house to be placed on Greylock Lane, where he is also a resident. 

The current controversy turned on the placement of that house. Orietas wants it to be located close to Youmans Road, not in line with the other houses on Greylock Lane, which are set back from the road. Also, with the original placement, the homeowner would have to chip in on road maintenance.

 

Public hearing

The public hearing on Orietas’s modification had been kept open since December of last year, and was recently on the agenda at a special May 19 planning board meeting.

Between December and May, the lot size had shrunk from 3 acres to 1.33 acres.

Minnick, Orietas’s neighbor who bought his home from Orietas, said at the hearing, “Tell me how it fits the neighborhood … You’re talking about putting in a small house in front of a bunch of half-a-million-dollar homes; that will decrease our property value.”

He went one, “Cindy Elliott,” Orietas’s surveyor and a member of the planning board when Greylock Lane was subdivided, “did state that in one of the meetings before that, if he built the house back there, it would decrease [Orietas’s] property value.”

“It’s pretty clear at this point,” Minnick said, “he’s trying to avoid upgrading Greylock Lane, which you guys know because he overstepped your toes and went to the state to try to get the approval after you denied it due to the fire code.”

Every property owner but two on Youmans Road signed a petition against the request for a modification, Minnick said. 

Milt Orietas’s brother, Thalis, stood up for his family. 

“So you guys are talking about the character of the neighborhood, right?” he said. “So the neighborhood’s pretty mixed; there’s some barns, there’s some commercial.”

He also said that the house his brother planned to build on the site was comparable in size to the other homes in the neighborhood.

Colin Davis said the houses on Greylock Lane were bought under the assumption they would all be built to the same subdivision specifications.

Davis said the Greylock subdivision was “kind of approved and built in a crescent shape, where all the houses … are all set back hundreds of feet from the road. And now, there’s a potential that we could have this, for lack of a better term, just an eyesore that we all have to look at.”

Davis said Orietas was going to build in the approved area until he realized he might have to kick in and help for the upkeep of the Greylock Lane, the private road. “And then the reasoning was, ‘Well, you know, the well has issues, I can’t meet my flow tests with where I drilled the existing wells. So if I build the house out front, I can put the well up front,’” he said.

But with Orietas’s latest submission, the well was once again located at the back of the property — the original location of the non-yielding well — “on the other side of the wetland,” Davis said.

“This just seems to me as a scheme to get around having to improve the roadway as the state code requires,” he said. 

Beth Peters said she had to drill twice before finding a viable well, adding, “A lot of houses have had to drill at least twice to try to get a viable well.”

“So to make this sort of change just because you got a bad well, it seems very extreme when all of the rest of us just kind of moved the well truck back, you know, 20 [or] 50 feet or something like that,” she said.

 

Orietas’s view

Orietas told The Enterprise he bought the third parcel with the intention of eventually developing the site, “so I could kind of control what was in front of me.” 

But when he had a well drilled, it didn’t prove to have good water, he said.

When Orietas was deciding what to do next, he said that his well driller recommended locating the well at the front of the property. Orietas’s surveyor agreed, he said.  

But without that approved modification to his special-use permit, he said, “Why would I spend $12,000 to drill a well?”

Orietas was asked why he can’t just keep his existing special-use permit and put the house where it belongs and drill the well elsewhere on the property?

He said he’d be pumping the water upstream.

Orietas said he’s already “paid quite a bit of money” to install septic sand. He was asked if he placed the septic sand based on his approved special-use permit, and he said he put the sand where he wanted the house to go. 

Orietas said he was made to jump through hoops paying for surveyors and wetland specialists to accumulate facts, which is what the board is supposed to base its decision on. But in the end, the decision on his property was made based on character issues, he said. 

With his permit denied, Orietas is not out of options. 

He said he has the means to retain an attorney, and he thinks the “facts are pretty clear,” adding,  “I feel like I’ve been taken advantage of.”

Orietas said he feels like the town was just making him pay for specialists and engineers whose work was never addressed, but he declined to disclose how much he had to place in escrow. 

“They had no substantial facts to deny me, it was just on the character of the neighborhood,” he said.

The neighborhood is located in a commercially-zoned district, he said, so, really, all the homes are out of character and all needed special-use permits to be built. 

“I feel like my rights have been violated,” he said. “I really do.”

 

Board views

“I am not comfortable with this proposed modification; I think it deviates from the original goal,” Chairman Voss said last month. “And I think it also creates additional conflicts, not to mention some potential environmental issues.”

Board member Christine Galvin made the point that the houses on Youmans Road across the street from Orietas’s proposed site actually weren’t all that different architecturally. However, she wasn’t comfortable with disturbing the stream that ran through the property in the way that was being suggested, with well pipes being run underneath it.

She also noted that the other landowners bought their homes based on the original subdivision layout, and that Orietas did agree to the original approval and location of the house site.

Galvin ultimately said she felt the application should be denied. 

A copy of the resolution obtained by The Enterprise showed, among other things:

— The planning board was not provided with Orietas’s December 2019 report that showed his well would not meet Albany County requirements the first time he requested an extension to his special-use permit;

— All but two Youmans Road parcels are over two acres. Orietas’ proposal has gone from three acres down to 1.33 acres; 

— Homes on the east side of Youmans Road have been built 300 to 500 feet back from the road. Orietas’s proposal is for 55 feet off the road in places; 

— The town’s zoning law requires the planning board to to consider specific standards when granting a special-use permit — for example if the “proposed use, design and layout will be of such a location, size, and character that it will be in harmony with the appropriate and orderly development of the surrounding area,” which board members said Orietas’s proposal was; and 

— Orietas’s “proposed modifications further do not conform to the layout of the residential structures along the east side of Youmans Road.” 

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