Apparently, we’ve moved from the Wild West into the dystopian world of the Twilight Zone!

To the Editor:

Following is my written statement, addressed to the Berne Town Board, for the public hearing on Town of Berne Local Law 5 Town of Berne Planning Board, for those interested parties who were not able to attend the hearing on June 22:

I question the need for this local law.

It is my understanding that the search for records of the establishment of the Berne Planning Board in the early 1970s included town of Berne records. The town clerk has stated to town board members many times that older records such as these are difficult or impossible to find.

The Department of State search was conducted during the time of COVID-19 lockdown — it is doubtful therefore a physical search was conducted for records that were indeed submitted physically, given their timeframe. How can anyone be certain that all of those records were properly digitized in the first place and therefore available in a digital search?

It seems such uncertainty makes it unwise to declare a board that has been in existence and doing town of Berne business for almost 50 years to be illegitimate for all that time.

In the meantime, since your declaration of illegitimacy, the planning board and zoning board of appeals have been forced to stall. I have followed the work of these two boards as a resident, a planning board member, a town councilwoman, and again as a resident consistently for the past 11 years.

I do not recall a stretch of time greater than a few months — and at that, usually only in the winter months — when the planning board has not had a building project in the town that required its review.  Yet the planning board has not been allowed to meet for the past five months.

At the June town board meeting, Mr. [Building Inspector Chance] Townsend reported that there were many building projects happening in the town. None of them required planning board action? None?

I will not name names, but I am quite certain that there is a special-use permit that has expired in the town, leading to a business that is operating without it — thus, illegally according to our town code.  Why? Because the zoning board of appeals cannot do its job of review and granting the special-use permit without a functioning planning board.

I was not at the last town board meeting, but I understand that the town board stated that it is functioning as the planning board when discussing this very case. This can happen within the parameters of New York State Law, but not without a legal process that clearly has not been taken.

Nor can the town board usurp the power of the zoning board of appeals — the sole agency in our town that can issue the special-use permit in this case.

Are we now in the Wild West where one board is judge, jury, and executioner in all matters of planning? Or are projects being approved without the code-required planning board or zoning board input and approvals? It’s one or the other, and neither is legal.

I leave you with a few comments on the local law itself. The last sentence in Section 2 reads, “All previous findings, determinations, and decisions rendered by the existing Planning Board of the Town of Berne shall be deemed ratified and stand.”

I repeat, it says, “… the existing Planning Board …”  You are acknowledging the existence of the very planning board you are claiming doesn’t exist, which is your reason for the necessity of this law in the first place. Apparently, we’ve moved from the Wild West into the dystopian world of the Twilight Zone!

As to the statement that all findings, determinations, and decisions of this existing-yet-not-existing planning board will stand — well, you can wish for that and make your case, but that won’t stop or even discourage people from taking you to court and wasting more taxpayer money on defense of planning board and zoning board decisions rendered that displeased an applicant or a neighbor. Fifty years of case decisions means there are an awful lot of chances for that to happen.

In the recent New York State Supreme Court case that ruled you illegally demoted Emily Vincent from the planning board, and illegally replaced her with convicted felon Tom Spargo, there was no mention of that court questioning the validity of our planning board.

Is this the reason you are doing this? To somehow invalidate the Supreme Court’s decision given that it was based on a planning board that you claim to have proven did not really exist at that time?

One has to wonder what your motives really are, because they do not seem to be in service to the good people of our town.

Dawn Jordan


Editor’s note: See related story.

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