Planning board alternate steps in, looking to listen and learn.

— Photo courtesy of Robert Davies
Robert Davies

NEW SCOTLAND -- Robert Davies was appointed as an alternate member of to the New Scotland Town Planning Board this past May. And when board member JoAnne Davies left the board in August, Robert Davies — while maintaining alternate status, but having full-voting rights — stepped in to assume her responsibilities.

The two are not related to each other.

JoAnne Davies had served on the board since 2006. She stepped down mid-term, and declined further comment.

The town expects to place an ad seeking applicants for the board this month, Town Supervisor Doug LaGrange said.

Robert Davies, who is the director of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Lands and Forests, says, “I’m a beginner, the rookie on the board. What I’m doing is a lot of listening and trying to learn.”

Davies says he wanted to join the board because, after 16 years of living in town, he began seeing a lot changes, and he had questions about how decisions were being made. He says,“I felt, if I have these questions and concerns, then I ought to be willing to participate,”

Like so many who have chosen to make New Scotland their home, Davies says it was the town’s bucolic character and proximity to the Capital Region’s metro areas that made it so appealing.

But it’s that proximity that is now placing a lot of development pressure on the town. Davies is not anti-development, he says, explaining, “I think we want to see appropriate development that fits in within the rural charm of the town.” He says that he wants to make sure the things that attracted so many people to New Scotland are not lost.

So when new technologies that businesses in town want to use, like animated LED signs, are beyond what the planning board is used to dealing with, Davies says the board can only operate with the tools it has been given, the rules and regulations that are already in place.

But sometimes, those tools are antiquated and the issues are just unclear. He says the board strives to be fair and consistent, but that sometimes that requires clarification from others in government, which takes time.

In the recent past, there has been some difficulty finding candidates to serve on the planning and zoning boards, even after a 2010 amendment to the town code that pared the planning board from seven members to five. That’s why, last year, after six years of having term limits -- two full five-year terms -- the town board made adjustments.

The town board voted, 4 to 1, to allow itself to the ability to extend a planning or zoning board member’s term. But only if that member is approved by a supermajority vote of the town board, meaning four of the five board members.

At the time, Councilwoman Patricia Snyder cast the sole dissenting vote. She said,“I think 10 years is a long time,” adding, “I am really troubled by this. I think term limits offer an opportunity for refreshment to ensure a wider range of perspective.”

Councilman Adam Greenberg pointed out to Snyder, “We had a zoning board opening and no one applied for it.”

For his part, Davies said that, if he were asked to join the planning board, he would.

Town Supervisor Douglas LaGrange says, as an alternate, Davies has a bit of a leg up because he’s got some time in, and the town board has seen how he operates. But he may have competition, because, like Davies, more New Scotland residents are interested in the direction the town is going.

LaGrange pointed to an earlier catalyst that woke up a lot of people — the 2008 big-box store controversy. In a Sept. 20 interview with The Enterprise, he said that was what made many residents want to get involved.  

LaGrange said, people are already reaching out, saying they are interested in the serving on the board. It’s not unheard of for an alternate to be passed over in favor of a new appointee, he said, adding, “We’ve had times where somebody came in in the application process and just blew us away with their abilities and their background.”

State law says, “if a vacancy shall occur otherwise than by expiration of term, the town board shall appoint the new member for the unexpired term.” But the law imposes no time limit on when the town board can act to fill the vacancy. If a time limit exists, it would be found in a local law. Town attorney, Michael Naughton, says New Scotland has no law.


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