HARTWICK — An overflow crowd for a public hearing on a property maintenance ordinance forced the Hartwick Town Board to move part of its monthly meeting to the Hartwick Community Center on Monday, Oct. 14. More than 150 people came out to protest the proposed law. 

About a third of those people spoke Monday, and the crowd was almost uniformly against the law, which was designed to cut down on blight, infestations and “provide for a sanitary and hazard free environment for the citizens of the Town of Hartwick.”

Many people objected to the measures the proposed law would take to produce a cleaner Hartwick.

Section XVI of the proposed law seemed harsh to many speakers. Subtitled “Penalties,” it calls for “every person convicted of violating this Ordinance shall thereof be punished by a fine of not more than $250 or by imprisonment for not more than 60 days or both such fines and imprisonment.”

The 15-day window to take action also seemed short, many speakers said.

Provisions on the height of lawn grass, the removal of old vehicles — including any without license plates — and on composting drew backlash, especially when paired with the proposed 60-day jail term.

Some speakers wondered who would enforce the laws, and asked if their neighbors could have them jailed if their grass was over the 12-inch limit proposed in Section XI.  

Other speakers described Hartwick, a rural town of 2,110 people in the middle of Otsego County, as a place without a need for “Long Island-style” laws.

Some spoke about the need to think of Hartwick in three parts: the commercial zone entering Cooperstown along state Route 28; the historic hamlet at the crossroads of state Route 205 and county Route 11, and a large area of farm land and countryside in between and filling in the boundaries; and they said one set of laws couldn’t fit all three areas.

Early in the meeting, the refrain, “we need neighbors, not new laws,” started getting repeated. A few speakers offered to help if their neighbors were in need, and a few more admitted need. But what no one needed, several people said, was excessive fines and expenses, trying to comply with a law they thought interfered with their rights as property owners,

“We’re country people out here,” said Owen McManus. “We like it. We don’t want anybody on our backs.”  

A few people did speak about the need for some regulations, but even they didn’t appear to endorse the proposal as written. A few minutes into the public hearing — the speakers were given two minutes each to speak — the crowd started applauding every speaker. Even the speakers who made a case for some laws — a neighbor burning plastics and an abandoned property with a rodent infestation were two complaints — got applauded. 

Unlike a similar meeting Tuesday, Oct. 8, about eight miles away in the village of Cooperstown dealing with a proposed Dunkin’/Baskin-Robbins, the Hartwick Town Board did not answer questions, and the town board members were mostly expressionless and mute for 90 minutes as residents detailed objections to the ordinance.

However, early in the public hearing, town Supervisor Robert O’Brien said the town board would not vote on the proposed law Monday night. Speakers urged him and his board members to call a second public hearing on the issue, and to revise or withdraw the law. 

The next Hartwick Town Board meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11 at 103 Town Drive. 

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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