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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 8, 2011

Altamont couple distressed by zoning that tells them where to park their trailer

By Jo E. Prout

ALTAMONT — The zoning board of appeals here denied a recent request to allow residents to park a trailer beside their home, as they had done for many years before new zoning regulations were enacted.

John “Joe” Floeser and his wife, Barbara, learned of the new zoning after they received a letter earlier this year telling them that parking their trailer in front of their home or alongside their garage did not comply with village regulations. (See related letter to the editor.)

“When we were notified that we were not in compliance with these new zoning regulations, we began driving the trailer over our side yard and parking it behind our fence in order to be in compliance. As a result, our side yard is a mud pit and our stockade fence is damaged,” writes Barbara Floeser.

The couple considered the zoning a hardship, and requested a variance to allow them to park their licensed trailer along their garage, as they had previously.

At its November meeting, the zoning board denied the Floesers’ request. Zoning board Chairman Maurice McCormick declined to address the topic when contacted by The Enterprise this week.

“Why don’t you call the village and see who will be responding?” McCormick said. “I won’t be responding.”

Zoning board member Stewart Linendoll said that the vote to deny the request was unanimous, but he was unsure about speaking further to the public through The Enterprise.

Village Attorney Michael Moore, who attended the November zoning board meeting, would not say why the board decided against granting the variance.

“Their decision was recorded in the minutes,” he said.

Moore said that the Floesers’ was the first application for a parking variance that had come before the board since the zoning regulations were amended last year. He said that the zoning board’s decision was “based on a weighing of the evidence presented. This case, in that regard, is no different” than other cases the board hears, he said.

The board, he said, uses the judgment and discretion of the five members to represent the community. In the Floesers’ case, he said, the zoning board made its decision based on the five factors outlined in state law and village code.  The factors considered are: if the request allows undesirable change; if other feasible methods are available to the applicant; if the request is substantial; if the request will have an adverse effect on the neighborhood; and if the difficulty was created by the applicant.

“It was not a checklist,” Moore said. “Not any of them is controlling. The weight to be assigned to each varies for each case.”

Floeser said that she was unaware of the zoning change until they received the letter.

“If we ever had so much of a hint regarding trailer use…we would have been very vocal,” Floeser said. “It’s not a junkyard; it’s a trailer that’s regularly used and licensed.”

Floeser said that she became emotional during the zoning board meeting when a few of her many neighbors spoke against them. The board’s decision heightened her dismay, she said.

“We felt totally shut down in that zoning board meeting. I’m so discouraged. What’s the point in saying any more about it? What’s really going to change?”

Floeser put in a Freedom of Information Law request to see past minutes of the zoning and village boards. She said that she found information on the creation of a historic overlay district, but no mention of restricted trailer use.

“The trailer zoning [may have been] bundled into the whole history overlay,” she said. “If you didn’t go in and peruse the multiple pages of zoning…We wrongly assumed we would be grandfathered in. I don’t read the legal notices. I’ve learned the hard way.”

Floeser said that they later learned that a neighbor had met with zoning board members individually to complain about the trailer placement. The Floesers decided that they might contact members, also, but the Thanksgiving holiday loomed.

“We work full-time. We have five kids and two grandchildren. We don’t have that kind of time on our hands,” she said.

Floeser has lived in Altamont since 1989 when she moved here to raise her family.

“It’s been wonderful. I don’t have a complaint until now,” she said. She said that her family has now been caught in an uncomfortable situation.

 “Here’s a wake-up call, folks. You have to get involved and have a voice…and not be complacent,” Floeser said, adding that she had learned her lesson. “You should have been at the meetings,” she said.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do at this point,” she said. “We do not want to have any strained relationships with our neighbors. We never have, and don’t want to. We greatly respect our neighbors who spend a lot of time and money to make their properties” look the way they like.

“We don’t want to continue to have neighbors angry with us,” Floeser said. Parking the trailer behind their fence requires the Floesers to drive 70 feet across their side yard, she said. A portion of the fence and gate will need to be removed for winter, she said.

“The yard is a disaster,” she concluded. “It’s not a matter of a convenience. It’s a matter of a hardship.”

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