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The dangers of tweaking laws for a few

It’s tough for a town to justify special treatment of any of its constituents. All taxpayers should be treated fairly and equally under the law. But there are times when exceptions arise. The question, of course, is whether it’s a good idea to make exceptions, and whether they can be made fairly. 

Case in point? The request by the Antlers Club in Pine Plains to allow the construction of three new homes on its 10.5-acre grounds — despite that doing so would contradict town zoning. 

The Antlers Club wants the approval based on the fact that when it organized in the early 1900s, its members were told they could build and own homes along the western shores of Stissing Lake to enjoy its many recreational opportunities. So far, 12 of its 15 members have such homes. They were built long before the town adopted zoning.

Fast forward several generations to when Pine Plains did adopt zoning, in 2009. It did so based on an updated version of its comprehensive plan, which gives an outlook of how the town would like to develop for the next 10 to 15 years. 

As the comprehensive plan was being refreshed, it was widely known the end goal was to create zoning. It was, therefore, no surprise to the Antlers Club membership that zoning was on its way. Knowing that, one question to ask is this: Why didn’t the club encourage its members to build their remaining three homes before zoning was enacted? It might not have been best for the surrounding community, but it would have been a clean and simple legal act — and avoided the present conundrum.

It’s tough, because the comprehensive plan made it clear that the area around Stissing Lake, a critical resource for the town, was to be subject to low-density, five-acre zoning. Being that the Antlers Club already had 12 homes on its 10.5-acre lot, it was clear any additional homes wouldn’t meet the new code. The Antlers Club had the opportunity to build then and there. It chose not to. Now, eight years later, it’s requesting three new homes be grandfathered in, which just doesn’t seem right.

Stissing Lake must be protected. The homes built around the lake have private septic systems. The effluent runs downhill, directly into lake waters. Not only is that a bad idea — it could prove too much for an overdeveloped lake area already overburdened with a weed infestation unable to handle additional nutrients. We’re sure homeowners on the lake would agree.

So, too, most likely, would the Department of Health, which would have to approve any new septic systems. The original 12 homes got by without many of those approvals. Today, that won’t be so easy.

Now the town is considering changing its zoning to allow for the Antlers Club’s request. Is that prudent? Shouldn’t the town enforce the zoning it so painstakingly created? 

To circumvent laws at the request of any one individual, or individuals, is troubling — everybody could demand special treatment. The laws would become moot.

But otherwise, Antlers Club members could lose their right to build the homes they were promised all those years ago. That, too, is troubling.

However, it’s important to support the town in its adherence to the zoning laws so carefully crafted in 2009. It took the town many, many years to enact zoning (in fact, it was the last town in Dutchess County to do so). We feel the then-Zoning Commission’s hard work should be protected by today’s Town Board. 

We don’t have the answer. We do hope some fix can be found to protect the Antler Club’s members’ rights and the town’s zoning laws — but it won’t be easy. We’re just not sure that tweaking the law — essentially spot zoning — is the best solution.