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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, May 29, 2008

Onderdonk confounds planners

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — As the town works to create its first comprehensive land-use plan, Westerlo’s planning and zoning boards and the town’s building inspector, Ed Lawson, met last week and discussed difficulties with the Westerlo’s current zoning, adopted in 1989.  

Lake Onderdonk was at the top of officials’ list.

 “It was like the lake was overlooked,” Lawson told The Enterprise this week.  Residents and officials have continually questioned whether Lake Onderdonk is a public or private lake.  Both seasonal and full-time residents live at the small lake community in the northwest corner of the town and a road — Lake Road — runs along its west side.  Residents and officials are also uncertain of the road’s status — whether it is a private road or owned by the town.  According to the town’s zoning ordinance, adopted in 1989, the lake is in a rural agricultural district, which has a three-acre minimum requirement. 

The town’s planning board, now chaired by Andrew Brick, is currently working to create Westerlo’s first comprehensive land-use plan, which will be used to draft new zoning laws.  To gather information, the board has discussed meeting with residents of the town’s hamlets and business owners and it has met twice with the town’s farmers.  While the planning board gathers information, the town board, which is a legislative body, adopts laws. 

The planning board has only three members remaining of the original five as the Westerlo Town Board last month removed Leonard Laub, the board’s former chairman, from office.  Laub refused to fill out a Civil Service application and did not want pay or pension for his work; the town board insisted it was necessary.  Jack Milner, a farmer who intends to run for a seat on the town board this fall, resigned from the board in protest last week.  Both Milner and Laub attended last Tuesday’s meeting. 

Lawson outlined conditions at Lake Onderdonk and current zoning.

Nothing, he said, can be done with existing buildings, which are considered “an existing non-conforming condition.”

Many of them were built as summer cottages and are not up to current codes. 

“Anyone that does anything to those buildings requires a variance so when someone wants to put an addition on their house, even if they meet the setback requirements, it’s still a non-conforming use, and, to expand a non-conforming use, you require a variance,” said Lawson.

When changing a seasonal home to a full-time residence, there are issues with Albany County’s health department because no one can meet the setback requirements for potable water and septic systems, said Lawson. 

He outlined some conditions at the lake to guide the town’s planning board and said, “In some instances, you cannot accommodate the change to a full-time residence of a place that doesn’t have a septic or a well so that has to be defined as an existing condition that you cannot change,” Lawson said.  “And then, you have other people that are living there and have a functional system that doesn’t meet today’s standards but when they were put in, they may have.” 

The planning board is holding comprehensive-plan meetings on the third Tuesday of each month; the board invited the Lake Onderdonk Association to its next meeting on June 17 at Town Hall at 7:30 p.m. 

Questions raised
Sewer project moves forward

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — The town’s sewer project is moving forward but this month some who are involved in the project raised questions.  

The town has been working on the project since the state deemed it was necessary.  Some houses built in the hamlet over a century ago had septic systems inadequate for modern use, which were polluting the Fox Creek and local wells. 

Over a quarter of a million dollars has been spent so far. 

In May, Berne was expected to request bids.  Which Berne Councilman Peter Vance this week called “a big forget it.”  He said plans should be “on the street” and that the town should have received bids.  Vance said at the board’s May 14 meeting that there was “significant slippage” with a December schedule. 

Vance and Michael Vincent, a planning-board member who has been active with the sewer project and with a senior-housing project proposed by Jeff Thomas, raised concerns about scheduling.  Thomas has said his project depends on having municipal service.  Vincent said he had met with the state’s departments of conservation and transportation, took pictures, and did everything way ahead of schedule. 

Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier said that the hold-up was with Lamont Engineers. 

“Currently, the plans and specs for the collection and the treatment facility have been sent out to the regulatory agencies and we’re currently waiting for their comments back,” said Crosier.  “We’re hoping that won’t take that long because Lamont had originally reached out to these agencies to see if they had any concerns about the preliminary designs.” 

After plans and estimates come back, said Crosier, the town board will meet and discuss putting the project out to bid. 

“Obviously, the longer we wait, the more it could cost,” he said. 

Crosier told The Enterprise this week that the town has received comments from the state’s Department of Transportation and is awaiting word from the state’s Environmental Facilities Corporation and Department of Environmental Conservation, and Rural Development.

A meeting on the sewer project was held last Thursday.

“I’m concerned about this,” said Vance this week.  “It’s been dragging on.” 

Vance, a former zoning-board chairman who was elected to the Berne Town Board last fall, said he is putting together a schedule and acting as a member of the project team, which consists of Crosier; Milan Jackson of Lamont Engineers; members of the town’s planning board; Dave Smith, who is working on a sewer-use ordinance; and Fred Testa of the state’s Environmental Facilities Corporation.

“There’s been progress made but, any time you’ve got multiple actors, somebody really has to keep track of [scheduling] or else some things slip up,” said Vance this week.

He said estimates are now old and you have to look at them “with a somewhat jaundiced eye.”  Crosier said earlier this month he had talked to Dave Miller with Rural Development about some projects in other parts of the state costing less than estimated and in other areas, “they were way over.” 

Estimated to cost $2.4 million about four years ago, the Berne sewer project would serve homes in the Berne hamlet.  It includes a collection system that gathers waste from residences and a wastewater treatment plant.   Nearly four years ago, the town received a grant from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation for $750,000.  Berne also received $500,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Utility Service. 

The need for wastewater treatment was identified over a decade ago, in 1996, after the county’s health department conducted a sanitation survey, which showed some homes had bad septic systems that were contaminating well water.  And, some wastewater in the hamlet was being discharged into a creek that runs through the hamlet.  

Also earlier this month, resident Susan Hawkes-Teeter, who lives in the hamlet, asked officials how much money has been spent to date and how much residents of the district would have to pay for work already completed should the sewer district not be completed.

Crosier said he couldn’t give “an exact number.”  He estimated $68,000 to $72,000 and the contract with Lamont Engineers at $194,000, plus some other work.  Crosier said those costs are included in the total estimate of the project. 

“All of that is money that’s going to be expended in this project that will be required to be paid back,” he said. 

A resident asked whether grants would cover costs if the project doesn’t go through.  “No,” said Crosier. 

“So, 100 households would owe, like, over $200,000?” she asked.

“That would be correct,” Crosier said. 

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