Two months have passed since the Dryden Town Council chose not to consider the zoning changes for the Hamlet of Varna proposed by the planning board and instead chose to ponder over the possibility of implementing a six-month moratorium on development in the hamlet.
At a meeting on Oct. 8, the council revisited the topic of a moratorium on development. Councilman Jim Skaley shared his reasons for why placing a moratorium would be the right option, specifically saying it would give the council the time to review other potential solutions.
“There’s different ways of approaching this, and the question is – I think we have addressed already – is the need for more affordable housing and this is one way we could approach that,” Skaley said. “My concern is that there’s a way of doing this in a sustainable way that maintains community character, at the same time rather than having it totally be defined by what the developer chooses to put in place.”
While he thought Skaley presented a valid argument, Councilman Dan Lamb said he and the rest of the council should follow the advice of Town Attorney Khandikile Sokoni in that the town could be exposed to potential lawsuits from developers who currently have applications in the works.
Sokoni said the following at the public hearing held on Aug. 27:
“The things you would have to consider are whether the action of a moratorium was reasonable and whether there was a valid public purpose to enact the moratorium,” she said. “The duration should not be unreasonable. Typically, something like six months is considered reasonable if you can show that you have a public purpose, a viable public purpose, to be served by having a moratorium. Now, of course, the risk is … for people who have pending applications because you get into the issue of whether they have [a vested interest].”
Skaley said Lamb misconstrued Sokoni’s words and that the risk of exposure to a lawsuit is not that high, to which Lamb disagreed.
“I’m not misinterpreting what [Sokoni] told us,” Lamb said. “We all heard it. I’m not trying to play hardball here, but we pay her for a reason to give us advice and if she’s unambiguous and she said she sees exposure, I quote, where if the town – we – put a moratorium in place, how am I misinterpreting that?”
Skaley argued that if the council were to install a moratorium now, there would not be “substantive activity” in terms of development since the moratorium would run through the winter.
“The idea is that this gives developers a fair warning as to planning your projects accordingly and let’s look at it in terms of what we might be thinking about here in the town,” he said. “This gives us time and space, and I think the idea that we’re likely to get sued I think is very [unlikely]. Sure you could always have exposure, but the town is in exposure for lots of different things and that’s why you have legal representation if we need to.”
“I think the question is really one of concept, that lots of people don’t like the idea of a moratorium as opposed to a moratorium can be used as a planning tool.”
Lamb reiterated that the council should adhere to Sokoni’s advice.
“At our meeting in August we resolved as a group that we needed our town attorney to review this and to take her advice,” he said. “I don’t know why we’re paying her if she comes back with her advice and we just say, ‘Nah, we know better.’ She said that based on the case this doesn’t meet the criteria; it’s both the violation of the 14th Amendment and it also puts us in exposure in terms of the vesting issue.”
Projects such as the Trinitas housing complex development still have pending applications with the planning board, though no progress has been made to it for an extended period of time.
At the public hearing in August, Director of Planning Ray Burger said he reached out to the project developers to inform them of the talks surrounding zoning changes and said he did not receive a response from them. At this past Thursday’s meeting, Burger said he still has not heard back from the developers.
Skaley questioned whether or not the developers still have a vested interest in the project.
“This has been going on for two and a half years now, so I think it’s fish or cut bait at some point,” he said.
Town Supervisor Jason Leifer jumped in and said that might not be the case based on where the developers last left off during the application process.
“They were contemplating whether or not to apply for a variance to the green space requirement or just cut the size of their project down so that they don’t have to go for a variance,” Leifer said. “That’s all they were doing. Everything else was set. They can call up now and just say … what we have is a final application and we’ll roll the dice.”
Leifer said he supports Sokoni’s advice and that even though a moratorium may not be the best choice for the town at the moment, it could be down the road.
“If Trinitas walks away … then I think the exposure thing goes away,” Leifer said. “And that’s a different discussion. I do think she’s right because if they pull all this evidence and things from the state or whatever it’s obvious. I don’t think we need to do this right now. It’s always available.”