Town meeting yeilds new zoning ordinance - Town Hall Talk

Report on the Special Town Meeting

Over 125 residents and taxpayers as well people from outside of Bethany attended a lively Special Town Meeting on Nov. 3. The majority of the discussion involved the proposal to increase the permit fee for Peddling and Soliciting from $2 per year adopted in 1971 to $50 per month.

The proposal was based on a request to increase the $2 fee made by Nancy McCarthy, the Bethany Town Clerk, to the Board of Selectmen. After canvassing other towns it was noted that peddling permit fees ranged from a high of $50 per day to a low of $25 per year.

Many out-of-town Peddlers/Solicitors are in direct competition with established tax paying Bethany businesses. The Board of Selectmen recommended the $50/month fee reasoning that one hotdog or one ice cream/day would pay for the fee which is much less than the personal property taxes paid by many Bethany businesses.

This issue brought to our Town Meeting numerous non-residents and non-taxpayers. Their attendance required me, during the meeting, to find the complete voters’ list and the grand list to verify who was eligible to cast a vote. After a great deal of debate, the permit fee was set at $10 per month by nearly unanimous vote.

Our Town Meeting form of government allows for open debate and in the end, the result was an improved version of the ordinance. A referendum does not allow this open style of discussion.

A group of Boy Scouts attended the Town Meeting witnessing democracy and freedom of speech first hand as their fellow Bethany citizens shaped Town Policy.

The evening’s last item was the proposed ordinances establishing fines and a hearing process for ongoing zoning and inland wetlands violations. Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Sharon Huxley and Inland Wetlands Commission Chair Pat McGregor presented the proposal explaining that this would provide a method to resolve such violations in town rather than having to go to the expense of a court action.

As they explained, most violations are not intentional; for example, a homeowner is unaware that a permit is required to build a shed. The majority of residents work with the Zoning Enforcement Officer to come into compliance with our Regulations.

For the few cases where the town has gone through the lengthy process of an inquiry; followed in 30 days by a first notice of violation; followed in another 30 days by a second notice of violation; followed in another 30 days by a cease and desist letter; a possible appeal within 30 days to the Zoning Board of Appeals which establishes still another timeline, with the last recourse for the town being to take the case to court, yet another time-consuming process.

Throughout, the neighbors of the offender are suffering the consequences of one property owner’s recalcitrance.

This proposed ordinance passed by written ballot of 70 yes, 55 no. The town now has a tool to bring properties in violation into compliance through a citation that carries the weight of a fine and an opportunity to be heard as to the validity of the fine. It is hoped that this new ordinance will spur the most serious.

Items from Parks and Recreation

With cold weather approaching please remember that the only town-sanctioned location for ice-skating is on Pole Hill Rd. Hockanum Lake at Veterans Park is a spring-fed lake with water constantly flowing under the ice.

Please respect the “No Ice Skating” signs posted at the lake.

The tennis courts at Veterans Park will be closed for the winter season after the Thanksgiving weekend.

The 4th Annual Bethany Winter Festival will be held at the Bethany Town Hall on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 5:30 p.m. In addition to the Gingerbread House Contest, entertainment will include performances by the Bethany Community School Band and Choir, the Parks and Recreation Cheerleaders, the Bethany Amity Middle School Choir, and our very own Bethany Band. Special guests will arrive in a horse- drawn wagon (sponsored by Kriz Farm) for the lighting of our holiday display, which will be illuminated through Dec. 31.

Derrylyn Gorski is Bethany first selectwoman.