St. Armand considers zoning, land-use laws

BLOOMINGDALE – The town of St. Armand is looking into the possibility of enacting zoning and land-use regulations.

Officials in the small town, which currently has no zoning and hasn’t for decades, describe it as a way to be proactive in dealing with some of the property complaints and neighbor-vs.-neighbor conflicts that have come up in recent years.

The subject was raised at Tuesday night’s town board meeting, when town Code Enforcement Officer Robert Drosdowich suggested the board consider adopting zoning ordinances or local laws to deal with certain things, like homeowners not properly disposing of household rubbish.

“I can write violations, but after a while you can only write so many violations and the garbage is still there,” Drosdowich said. “I know in some towns, they have a local law that says if it’s not picked up, the town will pick it up and put the cost on the owners’ tax bill.”

Requiring permits for putting up fencing and sheds, increasing building setbacks or only allowing farm animals like horses or chickens on certain size lots were other possible local laws the town could consider, Drosdowich said.

“I think there’s a need for some of it,” he said. “It would make my job a little easier. These are the ones I get complaints about, and there’s not too much I can do if we don’t have a local law.”

Drosdowich said he didn’t think it would be “a struggle” to do, as the town could get copies of similar land-use regulations and zoning laws from other towns and just tweak them to fit St. Armand. He said he wasn’t suggesting creating 20 local laws all at once, maybe just one or two a year.

Supervisor Charles Whitson Jr. said it wouldn’t be as hard to enact zoning as it would be to inform the public on why such laws could be necessary.

“Every time there is some little thing out there they don’t like, they think, ‘Well, we’re going to put it onto this new law and get it outlawed,’ and you’ll have neighbor against neighbor,” he said. “But, yes, I agree we do need some kind of regulation.”

Whitson suggested appointing board members and local residents to a committee to draft possible zoning ordinances. He also said he’d reach out to Essex County Attorney Dan Manning for some legal advice.

Councilman Sam Grimone said the town is now in a “reactionary” position when property owner conflicts come up.

“Whenever someone decides to build a garage 3 feet from his property line, you have neighbor against neighbor, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Grimone said. “I think we ought to be proactive and decide some of the things the residents of the town want and don’t want, and do our zoning and laws to fit those things. Zoning doesn’t create problems. Zoning can prevent problems.”

Grimone said the town will likely get flak from people opposed to new land-use and zoning ordinances. He cited what happened several years ago when the town of Franklin enacted a controversial subdivision law and established a town planning board. The law was subsequently repealed and the planning board abolished after three new board members who had campaigned against both measures were elected.

“The last time this started to come of fruition, our neighbors had a big problem and it was very vocal, and quite honestly, it scared some people away,” Grimone said. “I saw what happened in the nearby town. People paid the price.”

Bloomingdale developer and real estate agent Sandy Hayes said St. Armand also tried to create a zoning plan that met state Adirondack Park Agency guidelines in the mid 1970s, but the plan was soundly rejected by the public and the town board. He said it would be worth looking into again.

“If you start out with the basics in a zoning law, put enough in there to get it started and make it palatable; then you can add to that over time,” Hayes said. “But if you come down real heavy like they did in Franklin, there will be a rope hanging out front and you’ll be swinging from it. That was serious stuff there in Franklin.”

Public hearings would be held before any new laws or ordinances are enacted, town officials said.

“I think it’s something to bring up to the community, and if they don’t want it, at least they have the option,” Drosdowich said.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or