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Public Outcry Stops Town Board From Taking Over Certain Planning Approvals

The planning board has had the approval authority since 1994.

A proposal by Yorktown town board members to take over planning duties in the OB (office business) districts has sparked some controversy and disapproval from residents. 

Following a public hearing last week when board members heard from a number of residents – all opposed to the possibility of switching over duties of the planning board to the town board – Yorktown board members have decided not to go that route. 

"We'll take that out because there is not a lot of enthusiasm," Yorktown supervisor Michael Grace said. 

Instead, he said, he wanted to reach a compromise and suggested the board adopts a resolution that would mandate the planning board to refer certain applications to the town board. Whether the public's comments had an impact on that decision, Grace said there were well thought out arguments at the public hearing.

"We want to be part of the application process as early as possible," he said, reffering to why he wanted to make a resolution mandating the town board to be involved with certain projects. 

The misunderstanding at the public hearing, he said, was that the town board had no intention of taking over all planning board duties. It was rather a desire to be involved with the "critical" pieces of land that could have a major impact on the town.

Back in 1994, the town board changed its law to remove all of its planning authority and give it to the planning board. Prior to that, the town had approval authority over certain zoning designation developments. 

"The idea was the accountability for the approval process would be with elected officials," Grace said.

He said he wanted the "critical development," such as shopping centers, to be coming back to town board members, but it did not mean the planning board would be out of the process. 

Former supervisor Aaron Bock, who voted in favor of the last change, said at the public hearing his board at the time believed it should be the "experts" who are dealing with site plans and development proposals. 

"We didn't do it to escape accountability, we didn't do it to escape public attention, we didn't do it to avoid our responsibilities, but we did it to better exercise those responsibilities," he said. 

Paul Moskowitz, a Yorktown resident who has been attending town board meetings for years, reminded town board members how long the meetings would go on when they had that approval authority.

"This [town] board does not know what they're getting into by even proposing that they take back the authority for commercial development," he said. 

Grace said the reason behind the town board having approval authority is to "bargain for public infrastructure improvements," something he said was difficult for the planning board to do. 

Councilman Nick Bianco disagreed and said the town never got "bargains."

"People think they can bargain but usually [the taxpayers] suffer," he said. 

Patricia Peckham, of Green Yorktown and Yorktown Smart Growth, said no matter how smart or well intentioned the town board members might be, they can't take away the years of experience and knowledge in zoning and site plans the volunteers on the planning board have.

A simultaneous issue discussed last week was a zoning change to allow for helistops,  on its campus. 

Yorktown resident Michael Byrnes, who lives near the research center, said he was concerned about the safety of his neighbors and referenced the  

"This is about safety," he said. "That's all it is."

Following the public hearing, town attorney Jeannette Koster has made textual revisions to indicate IBM is proposing a helistop, as opposed to a helipad. The changes include reducing the distance the helistop can be from a residence – from 500 to 250 feet.

Because of the changes, a new public hearing on the helistop will be held before the board can vote on those changes. 

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