Marlborough’s Conservation Committee weighs in on town proposal

By Rob Sample
Posted 1/24/24

The Town of Marlborough Conservation Advisory Committee (CAC) is weighing in on a proposed change to the town code that some people fear will bring overdevelopment to the town’s storied …

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Marlborough’s Conservation Committee weighs in on town proposal


The Town of Marlborough Conservation Advisory Committee (CAC) is weighing in on a proposed change to the town code that some people fear will bring overdevelopment to the town’s storied ridgeline – and could negatively impact nearby homeowners and farmers alike. This measure dominated the commission’s Thursday, Jan. 11 meeting.

The changes to the ridgeline regulations would eliminate a current requirement, which restricts any structure from being closer than 50 feet from the ridgeline. The proposed change would also remove a section stating that “there shall be no disturbance within this 50-foot area.”

An exception exists for access driveways that cannot be located outside the 50-foot area. The code changes would leave in place an existing requirement that any proposed buildings or structures not extend above the predominant tree line.

Most attendees agreed that the ridgeline – and there is approximately seven miles of it within the Town of Marlborough – is an important resource and requires protection. However, the language in the current regulation is unclear and thus makes compliance by property owners rather difficult.

CAC Chair Mici Simonofsky noted that the town’s Comprehensive Master Plan, adopted in 2005, clearly states that the ridgeline is to be protected, and that the current restrictions were enacted to help achieve that goal. “The Comprehensive Master Plan clearly states that our landscape is our primary resource, and that agricultural lands are what keep our economy thriving,” Simonofsky said.

Manny Cauchi, a member of the Town Board, noted that the board’s reasoning in removing the 50-foot limit was because of its ambiguity. As it’s currently written, it’s unclear whether the top of the ridgeline would be the treetops – because much of it is forested – or the base of those trees. Similarly, the rule doesn’t specify if measurements apply to a proposed dwelling’s base or its rooftop.

“The original law was seen to allow construction of a two-story home [near but not atop the ridgeline],” Cauci said. “A two-story house is 35 feet tall. The rule allowed an additional 15 feet as a buffer. But the rule refers to both the ridgeline and the treeline in the same sentence.”

The move to alter the ridgeline rule came about after a property owner proposed subdividing a parcel into three lots, two of which already had houses on them. The third lot was the one that raised the issue, as it was both steep and encompassed parts of the ridgeline. There was some question of whether it could ever become a usable building lot under current restrictions.

Cindy Lanzetta, a member of the town’s Planning Board, noted that the proposed changes would be inconsistent with the Comprehensive Master Plan because they would reduce, rather than enhance, ridgeline protection.

“Our Planning Board would not like to see a buffer taken out totally [when] there was no additional mitigation proposed,” said Lanzetta. As a compromise, the Planning Board has proposed a 40-foot limit.

Lanzetta noted that the Town of Phillipstown – which encompasses both Cold Spring and Garrison in Putnam County – has a similar 50-foot rule but clarifies it by noting that a proposed building must be 50 feet “downslope” from the ridgeline.

Douglas Glorie of Mountain Road noted that runoff can increase from building too close to the ridgeline, which can in turn have negative impacts on the houses and farms at lower elevations. His own property has been subject to runoff and flooding during heavy rains, he said.

While Lanzetta and Simonofsky maintained that the rules change would open the entire ridgeline to residential development, others disagreed. Cauchi noted that the regulation still requires all development to take place below the ridgeline.

Town Board Member Sherida Sessa – who with Cauchi is a liaison to the CAC – pointed to other requirements limiting development to be “behind or below the ridgeline.” This would mean such development would have to be hidden by trees.

“It says, ‘the height and location of development should not alter the views of or from the natural ridgeline’,” Sessa said. “But I do agree with you that there needs to be clarity [in the regulations].”

Board Member Dave Zambito asked why a property owner, paying taxes on a ridgeline parcel, could not develop his or her land if it met Board of Health approval. “Why can’t I put it where I can see east and west, north and south?” Zambito said. “If we want to preserve the ridgeline maybe we need to do the same thing Scenic Hudson does – buy the land and not develop it.”

Mountain Road resident Dan Heavens, who owns Quartz Rock Vineyard (formerly Glorie Winery), likened the ridgeline restriction to a setback requirement. People who build homes must not do so within a certain distance from a neighbor’s house, he said, or a street.

“These laws are put in place to protect the community, aesthetics, the environment, and agriculture,” said Heavens. He noted that beneath the ridgeline are hundreds of underground streams. Development can disrupt them, causing flooding.

“What would happen if a portion of Mount Zion Road collapsed?” he asked, noting the recent collapse of a small portion of Old Indian Trail. “That’s the only way up to some of these homes for an ambulance or fire truck. We need to slow this down because we don’t understand the complete impact.”