Friday, October 03, 2008

Signal Delayed?

Cairo Planners Block Site Plan

------Members of Cairo’s Planning Board voted recently on a long-running site plan application that may have already been settled. Four of them voted against, and two voted for, permitting Galen Joseph-Hunter and her husband, Tom Roe, to use their rural property to cultivate a novel form of art. The members voted after hearing a claim that their time limit for acting on applications--62 days following end of public hearing-- had been exceeded; after that, site plans become legally valid.

------Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea advised the Board that the tardiness claim is untenable. The applicants would then have recourse to State Supreme Court, where they would contend in an “Article 78” proceeding that they have been subjected by the Board to treatment that is arbitrary and capricious.

------That line of argument has already elicited local support.

------Mr Roe and Ms Joseph-Hunter, as principal organizers of free103point9, propose to use their Wave Farm land to foster “transmission arts” (identified on sites that are accessible on Google and Yahoo). Their site plan envisions a two-story study center housing an apartment for visiting artists, a library, the main studio of a community radio station (connected to other studios in Catskill and Hudson), and a small outdoor stage. Disposed around the grounds would be sculptures (or installations) that blend visual and auditory experiences. Special public events, on a few Summer Saturdays each year, would attract 75-125 visitors.

------Such gatherings took place, duly permitted, in 2005, 2006 and 2007--not long after Ms Joseph-Hunter and Mr Roe moved from Brooklyn. They were held near the unfinished headquarters building whose design resembles the Agroforestry Research Center in nearby Acra. It occupies a corner of the heavily wooded 29-acre property that is near Highway 23 and is screened from neighbors’ sight. Supporting the Wave Farm application when it finally came to a vote on September 3 were Planning Board members Terry McSorley and Allen Veverka. Voting to reject were the chairman, Peter Maassmann, along with Dan Benoit, Edward Forrester (alternate member) and Ray Pacifico.

------Their rejection, as well as their treatment of the Wave Farm applicants in preceding months, have sparked strong local criticism.

-------In the estimation of Mike Coyne, a former county legislator and district school board member who has monitored the case, Mr Roe and Ms Joseph-Hunter “did exactly as they were told to do” by Planning Board members and by town officials, in the course of many months, only to be confronted by costly, “unprecedented” pretexts for obstruction. The members who rejected the Wave Farm application “threw their scruples right out the window.”

-------Similar criticism was voiced to Seeing Greene by Mr McSorley. Planning Board leaders, he said, compelled the applicants “to go through things—jump through hoops—that they’d never required anybody else to do, ever.” They exploited a new Site Plan Review law just to make compliance much harder for Wave Farm than for other permit seekers. Choosing “to please old friends regardless of what’s fair,” they demonstrated that “what you [can] do [in Cairo] depends on who you know more than the desirability, or even the legality, of what you propose.”

------Also indignant over the majority’s action was another Planning Board member, Mike Villela, who missed the decisive vote on account of job obligations but who submitted a letter of endorsement.

-------The applicants, Mr Villela wrote, are “good people” who “have gone to great lengths over the past 10 months to demonstrate their willingness to work through the planning process.” They “have addressed every concern which we have raised.” Using provisions of the town’s new Site Plan law as an excuse for disapproval, he warned, would “speak poorly of our ability to run an effective and unbiased planning process” and would expose the Board, and the Town, to a lawsuit.

-------Chairman Maassmann refused to put Mr Villela’s letter in the record.

-------Mr Veverka declined to comment directly on the majority’s conduct. At the same time he expressed to Seeing Greene “hopes that the people of the Wave Farm will continue to work with the town to bring in new and innovative thoughts and culture…. I commend them on their conduct through the process and even though they were not approved I hope to see them move ahead and enlighten the town with their goals.”

-------In accusing the Board majority of bias against the Wave Farm project, critics particularly cite the activities of another Board member: Frank Pambianchi. Mr Pambianchi recused himself last February from participating formally in Board deliberations, citing a conflict of interest stemming from proximity of his brother Andrew’s acreage property to Wave Farm. He attended public Board hearings, however, and he and other family members mounted an aggressive campaign of opposition. While shunning invitations to deal directly with the applicants, or to take part in mediations, Pambianchis urged Cairo residents and their close Planning Board friends to view Wave Farm as a likely source of unwanted noise, dirt, alien structures, trash and unsavory visitors.

-------Those and other apprehensions are reflected in the Board majority’s resolution of rejection. That decision, unfolded in a 24-page document, is not accessible on Cairo’s official web site, which seems to be moribund. (Its Planning Board sub-section names the members, names September 3 as the anticipated next date of a meeting, and in the “News” link—titled “All the Recent from the Planning Board”--says “There is no news in the Database!” Similarly, in the Town Board section, the title “All the Recent from the Town Board” is followed by the same exclamation).

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