Lake George is renowned as one of the most pristine lakes in the nation.
Local planning and zoning reviews of developments aren’t rigorous enough to properly protect the water quality of Lake George, two local citizens warned the town board this week.
At a town meeting held Feb. 13, Chris Navitsky of the Lake George Waterkeeper and Diamond Point resident Melissa Vito both asked the Lake George Town Board to tighten up the municipality’s development regulatory process.
Their pleas were aired during the first public comment period held by the new Lake George Town Board since they’ve required citizens to pre-register in order to speak at meetings.
Vito warned that algae blooms were increasingly apparent off the western shores of the lake, and that if that fertilizer pollution is left unchecked the lake might become too fouled for swimming.
She said that during her decades of living near the lake, she’s seen the water quality decline substantially.
“We are now seeing the clear signs that this lake is headed for ruin,” Vito said.
She said that her repeated complaints to town officials about lakewater quality haven’t evoked response, with officials merely blaming old septic systems or unavoidable highway runoff.
“There has to be better oversight of what the boards are doing and ways they could improve the planning process,” she said, calling for town board to require the planning officials to hold pre-design sessions, tighten up the variance process and listen to Navitsky’s advice.
Following Vito’s plea, Navitsky delivered his presentation, noting that several recent subdivision applications before the town planning board proposed development density at maximum levels allowed, but exceeding reasonable levels.
“Unfortunately, it has been a continued practice of the town planning board to continually allow the maximum number of units for property, based on zoning without consideration of potential negative impacts to the environment or community,” he said, noting that the density proposed often exceeded the capacity of the land to accommodate the development.
He said that the planning board often calculated maximum density levels mathematically, rather than the board appropriately considering unbuildable lands, including steep slopes, wetlands or underwater acreage.
“A planning board must be allowed to make decisions and be flexible with aspects of the code in light of specific site conditions,” he said.
Vito said that the zoning board was granting “huge variances,” including allowing far more housing units to be built on plots, without requiring vegetative buffers.
Vito called for the town board to consider make the planning process more rigorous and tightening up their zoning code.
Vito also offered specific suggestions. She proposed that the boards require adjustments to development plans, including increasing setbacks, requiring plantings of side buffers near waterways, and mandating that drainage swales on developments be left unpaved so runoff could infiltrate the ground.
New town supervisor Dennis Dickinson, a professional engineer who has represented developers in front of the town’s planning and zoning boards, praised the board members’ diligence and expertise.
“We have very qualified planning and zoning boards, and all the members are interested in maintaining the health and well-0being of the town,” he said. “They are doing a yeoman’s job.”
Dickinson suggested that many of the concerns they aired could be answered by examining the planning and zoning regulations and re-drafting them if necessary.
In campaigning for office last fall, Dickinson called for revising the planning and zoning codes to allow new developments with updated features be constructed to boost the prevailing quality of properties surrounding the lake.