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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 26, 2009

Neighbors object to noise, traffic
Wranken applies for permit to run home business

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — Neighbors object to a large garage behind Gary and Sue Warnken’s house at 107 Van Patten Lane and suspect that it is being used for business — something the Warnkens deny.

Gary Warnken is now applying for a special-use permit, to run his Capital Concrete business from his home, but neighbors want no part of that, citing concerns with traffic, noise, and disturbing the environment.

The zoning board last week postponed his application in the wake of the protests. The public hearing will be continued on April 1.

Permits for a home-occupation business are issued only when the business is conducted within a residential dwelling, Peter Barber, chairman of the zoning board, told The Enterprise; the business cannot be conducted in an accessory building, he said.

 The dominant use of the house must not be business-related. The company must have only one outside employee, excluding husband and wife, and the business should have no impacts that wouldn’t be reasonably expected in a residential neighborhood, said Barber.

Permits for home businesses in town became an issue last year when Councilman Mark Grimm was operating a consulting business from his home without a permit. He has since gotten a permit, but says many businesses in town operate without them, and the system needs to be revamped.

One of the reasons neighborhood residents have objected to the Warnkens’ garage is because of its size. Built in 2006, it stands two feet higher than a standard residential garage, and, said Liesse Mohr, “looms above the house on the property.”

The Warnkens received a height variance from the zoning board in 2006 to build the garage two feet higher than zoning allows. The Warnkens asked for the variance in order to store a large recreational vehicle that had an air conditioner on top of it, which wouldn’t fit in a standard garage. “But I’ve never seen an RV go in or out of there,” said Mohr.

Mohr lives at 56 Gipp Road, and, since Van Patten Lane runs behind her property, and the garage was built up on a hill, she has a clear view of the structure. Along with more than a dozen neighbors, Mohr suspects that business for Capital Concrete may be partially conducted out of the garage.

Mohr expressed concern about the vehicles driving up to the garage and parking every morning, and the volume of traffic that follows during the day. At a March 11 meeting of the planning board, Sue Warnken said that the company’s employees come to the house in the morning in order to carpool to a job site.

Mrs. Warnken also stated that the garage was a home-use garage and contained three commercial pickup trucks that the family uses as their primary vehicles. Mr. Warnken does have a utility van that he uses to store business equipment, which is also parked in the garage, she said. Mrs. Warnken said that no business is, or ever was, conducted in the garage.

The Warnkens declined to comment this week, and their lawyer did not return two calls.

Mohr told the board that her main complaints were the employee vehicles being driven in and parked in front of the garage, staying there all day and casting glaring light into her garden. The noise level was also a concern; Mohr said that, when the employees gather in the morning and evening, their loud conversations could be heard echoing down into her yard.  “I wish the employees would meet off-site,” she said.

John McCloskey, of 31 Willey St., submitted a petition to the planning board to oppose the special-use permit; the petition was signed by a dozen residents of Willey Street. In addition to the traffic and noise issues, McCloskey was worried about the environmental change caused by the garage’s presence. “Mr. Warnken cleared a huge swath of trees and put up this monstrosity of a garage,” said McCloskey.

One of the conditions of the 2006 permit for the garage was that it be enclosed by a fence, or surrounded by landscaping; zoning board members confirmed this at the March 18 meeting. McCloskey said that a stockade fence has been built, but it is only six feet tall, and, since the garage is up on a hill, the fence hides nothing.

“I can hear the employees talking, hear the trucks, and see the activity going on,” said McCloskey, whose house is located on a lot behind the garage. “I’m afraid my property value might go down.”

Several other residents of Willey Street and Van Patten Lane spoke at both the planning and zoning board meetings, expressing concern over the volume of traffic, which they say has increased since the Warnkens’ garage was built.

At the zoning board meeting, the Warnkens’ attorney, Kevin Lang, addressed the traffic concern, stating that not all of the vehicles arriving at 107 Van Patten Lane in the morning were business-related. “The Warnkens have other friends who work in the construction business,” Lang said. “Sometimes they stop at the house for a morning cup of coffee.”

In response to Mohr’s question about the ostensible RV, Lang said that the Warnkens decided not to purchase one when the price of fuel went up, and now store a boat in the garage instead.

Barber said the reason the board didn’t come to a decision was the conflicting information presented at the meeting. “The attorney indicated that there was more than one employee arriving on the property in the morning, and the rules state there cannot be more than one outside employee,” he said.

Barber also re-stated the fact that all business must be conducted inside the home, and said there is some indication from the neighbors that business might be conducted surrounding the garage, an accessory structure. “The Warnkens have invited any member of the zoning board to come and check out the garage,” he said, adding that some members would take them up on the offer before April 1.

Donald Cropsey and Rodger Stone, zoning officials, will also be studying the site for compliance to the regulations before the next meeting.

“I hope to leave it with the town that this type of thing doesn’t happen again,” said Mohr. “They shouldn’t have the attitude of, ‘If we build it, they will learn to accept it.’”

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