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Board seeks guidance on quirk in zoning law

The Marilla Town Board met with Town Attorney Joel Kurtzhalts in a work session this week for his input on a quirk in the town's zoning law.

The board recently realized that the 1984 law allowed the rezoning to revert to the original zoning if the owner had not built on the parcel for one year. The board was surprised to realize that the zoning automatically reverted without further board action.

That prompted the board to seek legal direction from Kurtzhalts, who said the state law does allow this but doesn't require it.

Supervisor George Gertz said he will ask Code Enforcement Officer Scott Rider to look up town records to find which parcels are affected since 1984 and notify property owners that their parcels have automatically reverted back to the previous zoning. Gertz said the owners could, if they wish, reapply for the rezoning.

He said if the board wishes to eliminate this clause from the code it would require work by the Planning Board as well as public hearings, which could take several months.

Jason Engel of Cardinal Design, who is an expert on farmland protection, was invited to speak with the board about flag lots and ways for the town to create a vision statement as its first step in farmland protection. The board wanted the code book portion regarding flag lots clarified and updated, and Engel suggested they include a drawing of what a flag lot looks like.

A flag lot has a long driveway from the road leading to a building lot. They are used when there is insufficient frontage to build a home on, but there is room behind a current house.

Only two flag lots are permitted on one parcel, and no shared driveways are allowed. Engel suggested wider driveways could be required. Currently they are 30 feet, but Gertz, also a firefighter, wants them to be 40 feet wide to better accommodate emergency vehicles and allow room for drainage ditches if necessary.

Councilwoman Beth Ackerman asked if it was possible to have berms or trees to afford some privacy to nearby houses. Engel pointed out that they can create a drainage problem.

Engel said he hesitates to create more flag lots and recommends keeping the limit at two a parcel. Flag-lot driveways must be five feet from property lines and 200 feet from the next flag-lot driveway.

The Conservation Advisory Board, Planning Board and Town Board would have input on any decision on flag lots, with the Town Board having the final say, Gertz said.

Engel went on to discuss farmland protection and what the town wants the agricultural landscape in Marilla to look like in 20 to 30 years.

He asked the board to consider what level of commitment the town is willing to make and how much money it wants to spend. He posed several questions for the board to consider, such as how does agriculture in Marilla contribute to agricultural business in and outside the town and county.

Engel suggested a tax incentive for farmers to keep their land in production and reactivate old farmland, educate schoolchildren and encourage visits to farms. He said the town should expect some farmers to want to sell their farms for their retirement.