Aquatic unrest

Protesters ask town of New Paltz to repeal floodplains law

by Mike Townshend
September 02, 2010 12:32 PM | 1 1 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A crowd of Springtown Road residents and New Paltzians delivered a petition asking the Town Board to repeal its floodplains laws last week.

“You passed a law, many, many laws, that take away our property values,” said Ray Lunati, who lives on Kargill Lane and is a signer of the petition.

For the more than 25 people who did sign, the crux of the issue has to do with how the law has affected the sales price of their houses or the land they own west of the Wallkill River in flood-prone areas.

Opponents of the law, which passed in May, said they worried about how and if a bank would lend to them for a property under so many building prohibitions. They also worry that potential buyers would stay away once they heard they’d be restricted from improving the property or could potentially lose their home if an accident or fire destroyed it.

“You’re going to affect people’s value of their homes,” said town resident Mark Newman. “I think at this point enough is enough.”

The group also said that the town had not done enough to inform neighbors beforehand that the law was being discussed. “There’s a small group of us now, but that’s only because we weren’t aware,” Newman said.

Councilman Jeff Logan denied that the town had not met the requirements to notify people about the meetings. The meetings on the law were all public, they were noticed in the paper and agendas were available online before the meeting.

“You did have the opportunity, but you chose not to attend,” Logan told the Springtown residents.

People who signed the petition didn’t think they should be scolded or have their complaints taken less seriously for missing meetings, being busy or generally having a life.

“The majority of the people probably didn’t know about this meeting from reading about it in the paper,” said Chris Ulrich, another opponent of the law. “My feeling is that the town should buy those properties … the burden should be shared by all.”

Another complaint about the law is its reliance on surveying to prove that a property is above the 100-year flood level. Calling in a professional consultant to take exact measures can be costly for the Average Joe.

Local real estate agent Robert Gabrielli did not mince words about the law, calling it “horribly oppressive,” saying it turned once valuable homes into “toxic assets,” and telling the Town Board they’d created something like the Gulf Coast oil spill in passing the new law. “Your actions pale in light of BP,” he said.

Gabrielli was also a key voice opposing a temporary moratorium building in the floodplains last year, and he owns 53 acres in the newly restricted, flood-prone area.

“This is my property. This is my home,” he said. Because the law blocks people from subdividing land in the flood zone, it will potentially keep families from giving their children a small chunk of land on which to build a home.

Of his own land, Gabrielli added: “I want to put a home there for my daughter. She’s 21 years old … This law destroyed that.”

The actual petition didn’t sit well with the Town Board members, who said they felt like it amounted to a threat.

“We demand repeal of the three recent zoning amendments to the New Paltz zoning laws, known as “Flood Damage Prevention,” or we will commence legal action,” the petition reads.

“That’s not good faith -- that’s a threat,” Supervisor Toni Hokanson said.

Petitioners had hoped to get the town to commit to either repealing the law outright by next month or at least discussing their objections to it.

“We can’t repeal a law in one meeting,” Hokanson said. To repeal a law, the Town Board would need to call for a new public hearing and refer the matter to Ulster County officials -- a process which could take three or more months.

The town supervisor and the other board members didn’t directly agree to reopen talks on the floodplains laws. However, Supervisor Hokanson said she’d review the allegations about the law’s effects with the town lawyer.

Noncommittal answers didn’t sit right with the Springtown petitioners. At least one of them stormed out of the meeting after hearing the Town Board wouldn’t commit to putting it on the September agenda.

Deputy Supervisor Jane Ann Williams said she felt the way the anti-floodplain law crowd had approached the board -- with an upfront threat of a lawsuit -- had changed and colored the entire tone of the conversation, making it adversarial.

During the course of the public comment section where the people made their case, both anti-floodplains law petitioners and the Town Board members interrupted each other numerous times. And because of the long and rather intense nature of the floodplains dialogue, Town Board members took a short break directly afterwards.

The break didn’t stop much, as board members and the opponents of the law spoke to each other with raised voices bordering sometimes on shouting.

People who signed the petition left saying they were committed to moving ahead with that lawsuit -- even though it meant they’d have to round up their own money to do so.

How the law came to be

Work on the new floodplains restrictions started as a response to bad flooding along the Wallkill River in 2007. Because of the damage and potential dangers of someone getting hurt or drowning, another group of neighbors living on or near Springtown Road lobbied the town to create more restrictions on subdivisions and prohibit new houses from being built in 2008. In late 2009 and going into early 2010, the Town Board decided to place a building moratorium on Springtown and Plutarch roads.

The genesis of the current unrest with the new law dates back to January, soon after the town first enacted that building moratorium. Many of the people who’ve signed the petition last week were also active in protesting the ban on floodplain building.

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West Lloyd Tea Party
September 17, 2010
Throughout early United States history, our leaders understood that private property rights were key to the survival of the individual. If you take one's property, you take his livelihood. If you take his property, you attack his spirit. From the day our nation was born, the preservation of private property and the citizen's rights has been considered a priority of law.

"The rights of persons, and the rights of property, are the objects, for the protection of which Government was instituted."

James Madison

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