The Hamlets 3 project is an effort to help local communities in the Adirondack Park find ways to revitalize their economies while preserving their natural resources. Pictured above are cluster models projecting possible expansion zones in Elizabethtown.
ELIZABETHTOWN — Two public hearings remain before Elizabethtown will formally decide if they will implement a comprehensive plan, a toolbox for the town’s future that sketches out everything from cementing a community identity to an overhaul of land use and zoning laws.
Nan Stolzenburg, the consultant who co-drafted the plan alongside members of the town’s planning board and input from the public, spoke for nearly an hour on Wednesday, July 9 at what was billed as a casual Q&A session at the town hall designed to explain the plan to the community.
“This is a chance to get informed,” planning board member Elena Borstein told the audience before Stolzenburg’s presentation. “So when you come back, you can be informed. We can still make changes.”
‘WE CAN GO TO THE SEVENTH’
Stolzenburg said the plan, which is now in its sixth draft, can go to the seventh depending on the scope of public feedback.
If the public has no major concerns, a separate draft will not be necessary.
Two hearings are required before the town board will vote to adopt the plan. The first, called by the planning board, is the last chance for the public to request major surgery.
That meeting is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the town hall.
After that, the town board will hold a similar meeting to hammer out any outstanding questions. The date for that hearing remains unclear.
There are only two other mandates, Stolzenburg said.
The first is that the town board is required to submit the plan to the county for review. Essex County officials then have 30 days to chime in with any comments.
After that — and the county can simply opt to decline to comment, which counts as tacit approval — the state must sign off on a SEQRA review to determine if adverse environmental impacts will occur as a result of the plan’s implementation.
“After all of these other steps, the board can adopt the plan as a resolution of the board,” Stolzenburg said. “There’s no other way to adopt a comprehensive plan — that’s how it’s laid out in state law.”
HAMLETS 3 NIXED?
In an interview on Monday, July 14, Elizabethtown Supervisor Noel Merrihew said that after consulting with skeptics on the town and planning boards, Hamlets 3, a land use plan designed to focus growth around designated hamlet areas, may be removed alongside Appendix E, the section of the plan that explains its use.
“Perhaps the removal will come up at our hearing. We shall see,” said planning board member Bruce Pushee.
“Hamlet 3 is not a zoning tool,” emphasized Stolzenburg at last week’s meeting. “It was done to identify locations within the hamlet where you can grow and expand hamlet boundaries if you wanted to do it. ‘Do you have any locations suitable for denser growth?’ That’s what it is at the most basic level.”
‘VISION, GOALS, IDEAS’
Last week’s meeting was a sedate affair. Fewer than 20 residents attended, none of whom exhibited the whispered derision that has accompanied discussion of the plan since it’s conceptualization four years ago.
Questions were limited to when future meetings would be scheduled.
Stolzenburg said the plan was a democratic process.
“The state does not dictate, the APA doesn’t dictate and the county doesn’t dictate,” she said. “This is a document that should fit you guys like a glove, a toolbox how to get to ‘A’ to ‘Z,’ with ‘Z’ being the grand, long-term vision of the town.”
Stolzenburg, an Albany-based planner who was hired by the town in 2012 to help draft the plan, again highlighted some of the concrete aspects of the document, including the grant application process for capital projects, updating the town’s floodplain maps and ideas to aggressively court investors and other potential drivers of the economy.
“It all boils down to three things: the vision, the goals, the ideas,” she said. “What’s going on now? Where you want to be in the future? How are you going to get there?”
‘ON THE STREET’
The consultant said the town board becomes the owner of the plan once they pass a resolution.
“But the real power and strength comes when you use it.”
“A lot of our board members receive input on the street, and that’s how we gauge their thoughts,” Merrihew said. “I would still encourage everyone to relay their concerns, support and differences they have to us.”
At the meeting, Merrihew cited a report in the Valley News in which Fred Monroe, head of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, an agency tasked as an Adirondack Park Agency watchdog, said comprehensive plans typically award towns more home rule than previously afforded by the APA.
Monroe, who is also the supervisor of Chester in Warren County, said the plan was a useful asset to his community, namely when it came to Class B projects and applying for state grant funding.
“He’s very scrutinizing,” Merrihew said. “I don’t think we could have a better neutral representative to see how comfortable he seems to be.”
Merrihew said the town has scheduled a public hearing, the exact date of which will be designated at next the town board meeting on Tuesday, July 15.
“This is great the town offered this informal opportunity,” Stolzenburg said. “But the public hearing is really important. Please don’t ignore the last step in the process.”
Ken Fenimore, a retired contractor and former town board member who has been openly critical of the plan from the beginning, was not present at the meeting.