County Planning Board struggles to get quorum; 44-year old County Comprehensive Plan to get an overhaul

Yates County Planner Dan Long has had his plate full lately, serving as both planner and department secretary in recent months. Add to this is his monthly struggle to ensure enough members of the Yates County Planning Board attend the meetings the fourth Thursday of every month, to attain the required quorum. Long reaches out ahead of time via email and telephone to lock in guaranteed attendance so the business of the meeting can go ahead. In past months, it has been an effort; this month, Long says he didn’t have enough members promising to be there until the day of the meeting. Long says the fact there are currently three vacancies on the 15-seat board doesn’t help; especially since the bylaws require a quorum based on that number rather than the current list of members.

The three empty seats are at-large, Jerusalem and Potter. Anyone wishing to volunteer should contact Long at the Yates County Planning Department.

Some believe that recent changes in how the County Planning Board must respond to the applications it receives may be the explanation for the decline in interest and attendance. In the past, the all volunteer, uncompensated YCPB members debated the various aspects of all the applications sent to them, acting like a second set of eyes on many town and village applicants requests. They asked questions of the applicants based on the zoning codes of that town, and sometimes “denied” applications because the applicant did not come to the meeting to respond to those questions. These “denials’ were sent back to the towns and villages; but these could be overruled by a supermajority vote of the municipalities’ zoning board of appeals.

With Long’s arrival, that practice changed, and based on his interpretation of state law, the YCPB was restricted to just three possible responses:

• No county-wide or intermunicipal impact (approval)

• Negative county-wide or intermunicipal impact (disapproval)

• Positive county-wide or intermunicipal impact (approval)

Questions are still asked, and recommendations are made to the municipalities, but the role of the YCPB’s members is now seen as less influential than before — largely because, under the N.Y. State Constitution, zoning authority is vested in city, town, and village governments rather than with the counties.

Comprehensive Plan

It is perhaps because of its very limited ability to drive local zoning legislation that Yates County’s Comprehensive Plan has rested peacefully on a shelf for over 40 years. Drafted in 1974 following the devastation of Hurricane Agnes, the plan is in serious need of updating to remove irrelevant references — such as the rebuilding of the railroad along the Keuka Lake Outle — and address new concerns, such as the availability of rural internet connections and the water quality of Seneca Lake.

When asked why the county even needs a plan when it has little to no authority to drive any enaction of it, Long responded, “Because New York State says we have to have one.” Long added that often on state funding and grant applications, they ask if the project fits into the county comprehensive plan. One of the board members says the county plan also acts as another voice of support and reference for projects in towns and villages.

Regarding the cost of the revision, Long says the update will be done in house by himself and the board members rather than by hired, outside consultants, thus keeping costs to a minimum. Chairman Bob Schiesser says his own town of Starkey recently updated their plan the same way and for only a few thousand dollars, with the largest single cost being postage for the community survey. With electronic versions of the updated plan to be made available on the county website, the printing of hard copies will be limited, thus reducing costs further. Long expects the update version of the plan to be submitted to the County Legislature for approval by November.

In other business:

• Camp Cory— Town of Milo applicant YMCA of Greater Rochester was approved for both an amendment to the previously approved special use permit and site plan review, as well as a landmark sign application. On Rte. 54 south of Penn Yan, in the center of a driveway loop at the north end of the new day camp barn currently under construction, Camp Cory will permanently install a restored antique 1946 Ford truck with “Camp Cory” on the doors, similar to one used by the camp in the 1940s.

Daggett’s Garage — Town of Torrey applicant Nathan Daggett was approved for an area variance to construct a 45 x 60-foot addition to his existing auto repair shop. The current building does not meet the 50-foot setback, but the addition will not encroach any further. New York Dept. of Transportation has also approved. The rapid growth of the business in recent years necessitates the addition of three new repair bays, plus storage for parts.