July 17, 2024

The Woodstock Town Board unanimously passed a new local law allowing libraries in the light industrial district, clearing a regulatory hurdle and bringing the Woodstock Public Library District one step closer to moving to its proposed new home at 10 Dixon Avenue in the Bearsville flats. The new law, in essence, amends the use table in the town’s zoning law. 
The building is the former headquarters of Miller/Howard Investments and sits on the former site of Model Optics, a lens manufacturer. There aren’t many industrial uses in the area anymore, so the Town Board felt there would be no harm in adding libraries to the use table for that zoning. 
Now that its proposed new location doesn’t violate zoning, the change paves the way for the library to obtain a certificate of occupancy, provided it meets other building codes. The library has asserted claims it is exempt from town oversight because it is its own taxing entity, but has agreed to Woodstock Planning Board input and Building Department inspection.
A group led by Hera (no last name), calling itself Library Lovers, has sued the town and the library district, claiming the proper environmental assessment was not done because the library constitutes a significant change of use from commercial offices.
A decision in that lawsuit is expected any day.
Town voters in May approved a $3.65 million bond to purchase the building for $2.579 million, with the remaining funds going toward a renovation to make the former office building compatible for library use and to cover moving expenses. A 2012 environmental report commissioned when Miller/Howard purchased the property showed elevated levels of arsenic and lead from manufacturing processes at Model Optics, a former lens maker.
Test borings and a follow-up report from Colliers Engineering found no lead or arsenic that exceeds state thresholds. All other chemicals found were safely below limits acceptable for household use.
Hera threatened further legal action against the town if it approved the use table change in the local law. “When you consider alternative zoning arbitrarily like this, which is spot zoning, so it’s completely illegal in New York State, you are really becoming criminals,” she told the Town Board in August.
Town approves Critical Environmental Area in Zena
Nearly a year after the first proposal, the town of Woodstock has designated about 3.6 square miles of land east of John Joy Road and including part of the Bluestone Wild Forest in Zena as a Critical Environmental Area (CEA) to protect natural resources.
The Town Board on September 20 approved the CEA by a vote of 3-2, with Supervisor Bill McKenna and Town Council member Reggie Earls opposed. Voting in favor were Maria-Elena Conte, Bennet Ratcliff and Laura Ricci.
The land was identified as having “exceptional unique character covering one or more of the following: benefit or threat to human health; a natural setting, for example fish, wildlife habitat, forest vegetation, open space and areas of important aesthetic or scenic quality; and cultural, social, historical, archaeological, recreational or educational values or an inherent geological, ecological or hydrological sensitive sensitivity to change that may be adversely affected by any change,” according to the resolution authorizing the designation.
The Woodstock CEA Working Group, including members of the Town Board, Planning Board, Environmental Commission and Woodstock Land Conservancy proposed the CEA after working with Hudsonia to identify areas of concern.
The CEA designation does not dictate types of land use, but requires governing bodies including the Planning Board and Zoning Board to consider environmental factors when hearing cases and approving site plans. “At the end of the day, the CEA is really an educational tool. So it’s a tool that alerts someone like the Planning Board to the specific features in the area,” Woodstock Environmental Commission Chair Alex Bolotow said at an information session last March. “It’s not going to stop development. It doesn’t have the legal grounds to do anything like that. It will let people know what specifically is there, why it’s important and give them a heads-up to take it into consideration.”
The CEA is in line with goals set forth in the 2018 Comprehensive Plan to strengthen protections for natural resources, reducing habitat fragmentation and promoting conservation of land and water for climate resilience.
But some who own large parcels, have complained it will only make the housing crisis worse. Jeff DeLisio, who owns 95 acres, said land will go to the highest bidder and people will build one house per lot.
New law for handling police complaints
At its September 20 meeting the town board passed a new law governing police disciplinary procedures, after a legal challenge in the Town of Wallkill resulted in a ruling that such a policy cannot be part of collective bargaining. 
The new town law sets forth a procedure for handling complaints deemed substantiated by the police chief or his designee. Within 14 days of a substantiated complaint, the chief or designee must have a meeting with the subject of the complaint. If the chief/designee determines discipline is required, the subject of the complaint can request a hearing.
The Town Board will then choose a Town Board member or hearing officer to consider the charges and make a determination.
“For many, many years, towns and unions negotiated over the subject of police discipline,” attorney Christopher Langlois of Girvin and Ferlazzo PC explained at a June Town Board meeting. “By default, the process for disciplining police officers and other public employees is in the civil service law…But under the Taylor Law, you can engage in negotiations with the union and come up with variations on that process.
“That was the state of the law for many, many years. And then beginning in 2006, the Court of Appeals, which is state’s highest court, started throwing some questions into that longstanding process. And what the Court of Appeal said is, yes, public employers are required to negotiate with police unions over discipline, unless there is a state law on the books that commits police discipline to the discretion of local officials,” Langlois said. “And where there is such a state law in place, not only are you not required to negotiate regarding police discipline, you’re actually prohibited from negotiating about police discipline.”
Tax assessment lowered
On September 20 the Town Board approved a settlement to reduce a Walton Road property owner’s tax assessment from $875,000 to $380,000 after he filed a lawsuit against the town.
Nigel Koulajian, who owns a 2072-square-foot home on 30.77 acres, claimed an appraisal was performed on the property that determined a market value of $380,000
“He’s claiming that the house is unlivable and he shouldn’t be taxed and is in a lawsuit with the builder at the moment,” Supervisor Bill McKenna said. “Our attorneys and his attorneys, our appraisers, their appraisers went back and forth, and this is the settlement. None of us are happy about it…The recommendation is from our attorney and from the assessor that this is the way to go.”
Nick Henderson was raised in Woodstock starting at the age of three and attended Onteora schools, then SUNY New Paltz after spending a year at SUNY Potsdam under the misguided belief he would become a music teacher. He became the news director at college radio station WFNP, where he caught the journalism bug and the rest is history. He spent four years as City Hall reporter for Foster’s Daily Democrat in Dover, NH, then moved back to Woodstock in 2003 and worked on the Daily Freeman copy desk until 2013. He has covered Woodstock for Ulster Publishing since early 2014.

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© 2022 Ulster Publishing
© 2022 Ulster Publishing


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