Residents and board trustees crowded the Montgomery Senior Center on November 21 and engaged in the village’s latest public hearing for a proposed three-month building moratorium, a local law that’s been discussed since October.
Village Attorney William Frank explained that the moratorium would suspend land development and related application processes within the village, giving the board time to address its current water situation.
“As the legislative findings of the section note, the village’s water supply is at a critical point,” Frank said. “The purpose of the moratorium, long and short, is to place a halt on the approval of certain applications until the village gets a better handle on water sourcing and how they’re going to deal with the various projects that are before the planning board, contemplated projects, and things of that nature.”
After Frank spoke, the board opened the floor to public comments. Don Berger, a resident, supported the moratorium but argued that three months is too short. He recommended that the law should last six months to a year, providing more time and the flexibility to either extend or cancel the moratorium.
“I agree with the moratorium, I think we desperately need it, but I do believe it should be extended,” Berger said. I suggested it should be a year, and whether it be a year or six months, I certainly think three months is not adequate at all. I don’t think three months does anything for the problems we’re having with water at this time.”
“It gives you guys the ability to, during that period, to decide whether we need to continue with the moratorium. You can make that decision as a board, and if you need to cancel the moratorium, you can cancel the moratorium at any time,” he continued.
Karina Tipton, another resident, questioned how the board will conduct its hydrologic studies, who will pay for these studies, and agreed with Berger that the moratorium should be longer.
“To get anything done under a short notice costs money. And as a taxpayer, I would rather that you took longer to do it the right way, to build out a strategy, to put together a real plan to understand what the results are going to be and to understand how we’re going to fund this federal issue. It would require a year to do this in a really thoughtful way,” she continued.
Mayor Steve Brescia clarified that he will request for a six-month moratorium, with the possibility of extending it further if needed.
“I’m going to request to the board that we make this a six-month moratorium. I did ask for a two-year moratorium,” Brescia said. “I did get a letter from the planning department suggesting that we not make the moratorium too long, but the board can decide to extend it after six months.”
Daniel Byam speculated that a three-month moratorium could lead to applicants piling projects and requests onto the planning board the moment its duration ends.
“I agree with Mr. Berger that three months encourages people that have proposed plans to ‘okay, three months left, I’ll submit it.’ Then you get into a hole,” Byam stated. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s up in the air, and I don’t understand, but it should be a year, maybe 2 years, that a moratorium should get a handle on it. Otherwise, you encourage people to make submissions.”
John Cappello, attorney of J&G Law representing the KHS project, agreed with the moratorium but warned the board that the law could hurt applicants seeking to open or expand their businesses in the village. He asked that the village continue to review applications during the moratorium, even if final approvals could not be granted.
“I agree, you need to have water, and that water needs to be safe. So having a moratorium to say ‘no building permits will be issued until we solve the problem or even no final approval,” Capello said. “But to say ‘we’re not going to take or review any applications,’ especially if you have a moratorium for six months or a year, now you’re putting people who want to improve their businesses or apply to the board behind the eight ball. They have to wait that whole time to start the process, which could take another year or more.”
Frank suggested that the planning board could still review projects without approving them, a sentiment supported by Brescia.
“The moratorium can prevent issuing the final approvals and building permits, but if the board wishes, the applications can continue through the review process,” Frank said.
“I certainly hope so, that would be intended,” Brescia added.
Al Baty, another resident, strongly urged the board to extend the moratorium and enlist help from the Orange County Department of Health and the New York State DEC to ensure a thorough and accurate water investigation.
“The wells can definitely be investigated moving forward, but with the Department of Health in Orange County and New York State DEC on board. Otherwise, you, as a board taking the comprehensive review of its water supply and assess whether current measures being taken by the village are sufficient, to meet anticipated demands, don’t cut it,” Baty said. “I feel a minimum of a year moratorium because once you got the Department of Health involved and the DEC, a year is going to look like child’s play.”
Berger spoke up once more and requested that the trustees read the aquifer studies for the KSH project, stressing that the project’s construction would further damage the village’s water supply. Trustee Mike Hembury asserted that he already researched the subject.
“I asked you guys twice to read the aquifer report. All of you have to understand, the KSH project is on top of our aquifer, there’s going to be contamination to our water supply during the construction phase of this building, maybe even further,” Berger said.
“I’ve done my homework; like I’ve said, I was against this from the beginning,” Hembury replied.
Following public comments, the board voted to close this public hearing. Attorney Frank will make some changes to the proposed local law, including extending the moratorium from three to six months, and recirculate it to the board. He said another public hearing would not be necessary.
The village board is expected to take action at its next meeting, which was rescheduled from December 5 because of the annual Orange County Partnership Dinner. It will take place on Wednesday, December 6.