Milford debates return to separate zoning boards

Shweta Karikehalli | The Daily Star Constituents pack Milford’s village office Monday night for a public hearing on making the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board separate boards again.

MILFORD — Constituents were split on the proposed separation of the village of Milford’s Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board at a Sept. 9 public hearing at the village office.

It was standing room only when the meeting began, and some listened from just outside the office.

Zoning in the village can’t be imposed without the existence of a Zoning Board of Appeals, according to a media release from the village. But over the past few years, the village has struggled to find enough volunteers to cover both the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, Milford Village Clerk Kitty Ruling said to The Daily Star on Aug. 21.

The village is seeking to fill more spots on both of the boards if the Zoning Board of Appeals / Planning Board split is approved. Preferred applicants would be village residents, but seats are open to all Otsego County residents, according to the release. The Planning Board would have seven members and the Zoning Board of Appeals would have five. The combined board has five active members.

In 2012 spots were opened up to anyone living within five miles of the village who was interested, Mayor Brian Pokorny said.

By 2017 there were still issues recruiting volunteers, so the village combined the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board, he said. But the village’s attorney advised that the boards be split up as soon as possible to prevent conflicts of interests that could stem from people sitting on both boards.

If someone presents to the Planning Board and gets denied, they have the option to appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

“So right now, you go to the same people that denied you,” Pokorny said. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Pauline Koren, who served on the original Planning Board, said it was very difficult keeping volunteers. She said she believes board members should remain village residents, but if there’s a lack of volunteer interest in the village she’s not opposed to the village expanding the distance radius of people eligible to serve on the boards, as long as they’re in the Milford area.

“I feel that if somebody really thinks that these boards should remain in the village, people need to speak up, volunteer,” she said.

Marion Mossman served on the Zoning Board of Appeals and said she found it to be a rewarding experience.

“If we have people that are willing to serve new energy and new ideas, I think it’s great,” Mossman said.

Some constituents questioned why the village would want to split up the boards if there hadn’t been any conflicts of interest yet. Others were put off by the potential of people from outside the village making decisions that would affect the village. Milford resident Austin Partridge proposed a compromise of shortening the distance radius of people eligible to volunteer and also cutting down the number of volunteers needed to fill both boards.

David Sonn, Esq., the village’s attorney, said all board decisions have to conform to guidelines set by the Comprehensive Plan, and that decisions weren’t just based on the personal opinions of board members. 

By the meeting’s recess, eight people signed a sheet expressing interest in serving on the Zoning Board of Appeals, and one signed the Planning Board sheet.

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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