Oxford Comprehensive Planning

 

         THE JOINT OXFORD VILLAGE-OXFORD TOWN

                             COMPREHENSIVE PLAN

Introduction: The Oxford Village-Town Comprehensive Planning process underlies all of the major issues that preoccupy both the Village and the Town boards and the Village and Town planning boards.  Although the theme running through many current topics of interest and concern revolves around high volume hydrofracked gas drilling (fracking),  the comprehensive plan must not be so narrowly focused on one topic, even one so complex and far-reaching as fracking.  By definition, a comprehensive plan must embrace a wide range of community interests and concerns, especially a vision of the future of Oxford Village and the Town of Oxford and its current and future residents.

Comprehensive Redesign Necessary: The Oxford Visionaries Comprehensive Plan Committee has begun to address the complex, fundamental issue that has arisen in negotiations with the Chenango County Planning Board (CCPB) about the community-wide priority of revising the joint Village-Town comprehensive plan of 1970 — over forty years ago.   Naturally, that plan could not have anticipated the numerous challenges arising from the potential advent of high volume hydrofracked gas drilling throughout the Marcellus Shale.  Accommodating this new technology within the Plan is not a simple matter of editing phrases and adding information that was unavailable in 1970.  The joint Village-Town Comprehensive Plan must instead be fundamentally redesigned.

Village Board 2/5/13 Decision Creating No Frack Zone Forced the Issue:  The historic February 5 decision of the Oxford Village Board to prohibit industry — unmistakably referring to fracking — within the village boundaries has forced the entire village-town community to address the task of crafting a totally fresh Comprehensive Plan — a Plan suited to the challenges of the 21st Century.  [To understand the background and details of the decision See Page How Oxford Village Created its No-Frack Zone]

The issues around fracking lie at the very center of the process because the views and postures of the Village and the Town are at odds.  The Village has declared its opposition to fracking; the Town Board and the Town planning board have indicated their support of drilling.  Therefore a joint Village-Town collaborative planning effort must resolve the contradiction within a new Comprehensive Plan.

The following documents define the nature of the problems to be resolved.

The first document consists of the detailed minutes of the meeting in which  the Chenango County Planning Board(CCPB)  spelled out the rationale for its decision to reject the action of the Village Board, which had voted 4 to 1 (a super-majority) to ban industrial operations in the village.

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SUMMARY OF MINUTES
Meeting of the 239-Review Committee
Chenango County Planning & Development Board
January 24, 2013

Members Present Ted Guinn Sup. George Seneck Paul ThomsenPerry Owen Staff Present Donna M. Jones Rena M. Doing Shane H. Butler

Guest(s) Present

 

The meeting was called to order at approximately 8:34 a.m.

New Business:

The 239-Review Committee had one (1) 239-Review proposals to consider. Action was taken as follows:

13-01 (Village of Oxford) Village of Oxford Zoning Amendment

Mr. Butler stated an application for 239-Review was received from the Village of Oxford relating to their zoning ordinance.

Ms. Jones stated their zoning must be in accordance with their Comprehensive Plan. The Village of Oxford is doing it backwards. The Master Plan does not mention natural gas within it. Chairman Guinn asked when the Village of Oxford Comprehensive Plan was last updated. Ms. Jones stated it was in the 1970’s. Ms. Jones also mentioned the zoning enabling act of 1922.

Sup. Seneck suggested they update and/or finish their comprehensive plan first. The comprehensive plan needs to be reviewed.

Mr. Butler asked if the language was vague where it states “Any Use Not Specifically Permitted is Prohibited”. How can you think of every use you would like to be allowed?

Mr. Thomsen asked if Attorney Slottje wrote the amendments. Mr. Butler stated he is working Pro-Bono for the Village of Oxford.

Ms. Jones stated they will have to get public input from all sides which is the point of a public hearing. Public input is very important. Sup. Seneck asked how many came to the public hearing. Ms. Jones stated it won’t be held until Tuesday.

Mr. Thomsen stated the Village of Oxford seems to want to keep the village exactly as it is. Sup. Seneck asked what the Village would do if a company such as Em Key wanted to put a pipeline into the Village. The Committee stated it would not be allowed.

Ms. Jones stated Delaware County denied the Village of Sidney moratorium because they felt it was premature. It could have negative impacts on the entire county and is a regional concern. Mr. Owen asked if it would affect the public hearing if we denied the application. Ms. Jones stated they could still vote in favor with a super majority. Chairman Guinn stated we could use similar or the same language as Delaware County.

Mr. Owen asked if our decision letter would be read at the public hearing. Mr. Butler stated Mayor Stark read the last letter and was sure he would read this one as well.

Chairman Guinn stated the NYSDEC is still in the process of finishing the SGEIS.

Ms. Jones asked if there was a dire necessity to update the zoning where the existing regulations could not handle it.

Mr. Owen recommended sending the letter return receipt to make sure it was received. Mr. Butler stated it would be emailed as well.

 

Mr. Owen motioned to deny the application, seconded by Sup. Seneck with the following recommendations or concerns;

  • The amendment to Article III of the Village of Oxford Zoning Law states:

DISTRICTS AND BOUNDARIES:

Any Use Not Specifically Permitted Is Prohibited.

There is concern that the language in this amendment is too vague, unintentionally restricting certain land uses the community may deem to be allowable.

  • Page three (3) of “Zoning and the Comprehensive Plan” of the James A. Coon Local Government Technical Series, and made available by the NYS Department of State includes the following statement:

In New York, the zoning enabling acts continue to require that zoning be undertaken “in accordance with a well considered plan or, in accordance with a comprehensive plan”.

According to our records, the Village of Oxford Comprehensive Plan has not been updated since February 1970. The document is entitled “The Summary Master Plan, Town and Village of Oxford, N.Y”.

It is recommended that the Village of Oxford updates its Comprehensive Plan prior to adopting amendments to

the Village of Oxford Zoning Law in order to assure both documents are in conformance to each other.

  • Furthermore, the action of changing the Village of Oxford Local Zoning Law is not timely because New York State has not yet completed their studies, which would provide guidance for permitting any requirements to be adhered to at the local level. Until these rules and guidance are adopted by the state the executive order prohibiting issuance of permits for gas extraction remains in effect. As such, any local law which would contradict State rules would be superseded by State regulations and therefore become moot. It is recommended by the Chenango Planning & Development Board that any municipality does not take any action prior to the State issuing their rules and recommendations; and will ensure that local actions are taken in compliance with the State rules and guidelines.
  • Additionally, amendment to the Village of Oxford Local Zoning law has the potential to have economic impacts throughout the region.

Members voted all ayes, motion carried.

With no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 9:05 a.m. until our next meeting on February 12th, 2013.

The second document is CCPB’s response to a  letter from Oxford Village Mayor Terry Stark requesting those minutes in order to understand more clearly the rationale underlying the CCPB’s decision.

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February 12, 2013Mayor Terry Stark PO Box 866Oxford, NY 13830Mayor Stark,Please accept this as our response to your FOIL Request, dated February 1, 2013 and addressed to the Chenango County Planning & Development Board and M239 Review Committee.FOIL Request #1: “List of Chenango County municipalities during the past five years who have been denied M-239 Review approval until an updated Comprehensive Master Plan was completed.”Response: The Chenango County M-239 Review Committee has not received any comparable applications within the past five (5) years where such a response would be warranted.FOIL Request #2: “List of Chenango County municipalities during the past five

years who have been denied M-239 Review approval due to the potential to have economic impacts throughout the region.”

Response: The Chenango County M-239 Review Committee has not received any comparable applications within the past five (5) years where such a response would be warranted.

FOIL Request #3: “Date, time and Minutes of the M-239 Review Committee Meeting at which the committee disapproved the Oxford Amendment. We also request the names of the individual members of the M-239 Review Committee who made the decision to disapprove the proposed Oxford Zoning amendment and the roll call vote. This subject was referred to as 13-02 (Village of Oxford — Village of Oxford Zoning Amendment) in the letter from Mr. Guinn to the Village dated January 24, 2013.”

Response: All requested information can be found in the enclosed copy of the January 24, 2013 minutes of the M-239 Review Committee.

In the FOIL Request dated February 1, 2013, in an attached letter, you requested clarification to our decision dated January 24, 2013.

Clarification to Reason #1: We feel the statement “Any Use Not Specifically Permitted Is Prohibited” to be an open ended statement.
For example, in the Village of Oxford Zoning Amendments, the amendments to Section 293-8 part (x) state, in part: “prevent or prohibit right to use roadways in commerce or otherwise for travel”, but does not explicitly refer to railways or railroads. In the amendments as a whole, there appears to be no mention as to whether or not activities relating to natural gas extraction undertaken by the NYS&W railroad, should it again begin operations, would be allowable by the Village of Oxford amendments. Since any use not specifically permitted is prohibited, as stated in the Village amendments, the railroad would not be able to transport any materials or fluids which may be used in the natural gas drilling process, hindering the economic viability and operability of the NYS&W railroad. An operational NYS&W railroad is of inter-community and county wide importance.
Based on the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995, it is the jurisdiction of the Surface Transportation Board to decide what is allowed to be transported along a railroad. Therefore the Village of Oxford would not have the authority to restrict what was transported along the railroad.
Clarification to Reason #2: It is our understanding “The Summary Master Plan, Town and Village of Oxford, NY”, was written and published jointly by the Town and Village of Oxford. Although the Village of Oxford has passed the zoning amendments, the Town of Oxford may or may not share the same views on limiting exploration and/or extraction of natural gas within their community. We recommended updating the Master Plan to expressly show the stance of the Village of Oxford so that the Master Plan is in accordance with the Zoning Amendments.
We feel this would make The Master Plan and Village of Oxford Zoning Ordinance be in accordance with each other more succinctly and also prevent any inter-community disagreements which may occur.
Clarification to Reason #3: In the FOIL request, you stated you felt the amendment is timely because “Chenango County, New York State via Governor Cuomo, and the New York State Supreme Court have all issued recent guidance regarding Gas Exploration.”
The “guidance” from Chenango County you are referring to is the Natural Gas Advisory Committee minutes from July 31, 2012. The Natural Gas Advisory Committee made no official motion or resolution stating a board, such as the M-239 Review Committee, should not advise a municipality relating to natural gas decisions whether approvingly or disapprovingly. General Municipal Law 239 allows our board to make those decisions in which we acted. Therefore this guidance does not pertain

 

The “guidance” from New York State via Governor Cuomo appears to be an article published on June 141h, 2012 in the Times Tribune, written by Danny Hakim. Whether or not this is official guidance from Governor Cuomo is subject to the interpretation of the writer, Mr. Hakim, and/or the reader of the article.
We find no official press releases issued by Governor Cuomo on June 14th, 2012 which represent any guidance relating to natural gas drilling decisions. Therefore this guidance does not pertain.
As of now, it is still unknown whether or not the SGEIS Regulations will supersede local regulations due to the Dryden and Middlefield court cases. Until those two court cases have been decided, we feel it is untimely to adopt the Village of Oxford Zoning Amendments until further clarification is finalized.
Clarification to Reason #4: As stated in the Clarification to Reason #1 above, we feel the Oxford Zoning Amendments would hinder the economic viability of the railroad to operate which has county-wide economic impacts.
Also, Environmental Conservation Law Article 23 Section 301 (23-0301) Declaration of Policy states: “It is herby declared to be in the public interest to regulate the development, production and utilization of natural resources of oil and gas in this state in such a manner as will prevent waste; to authorize and to provide for the operation and development of oil and gas properties in such a manner that a greater ultimate recovery of oil and gas may be had, and that the correlative rights of all owners and the rights of all persons including landowners and the general public may be fully protected, and to provide in similar fashion for the underground storage of gas, the solution mining of salt and geothermal, stratigraphic and brine disposal wells.”
By not allowing for the development and production of natural gas within the Village of Oxford, the extraction of natural gas throughout the region would not be conducted without waste so that a greater ultimate recovery of the gas may be had for the county-wide interest of the public. Also, the rights of those landowners who wish to exercise their right to recover the natural resource under their property within the boundaries of the Village of Oxford would therefore be taken away.
I hope this information adequately responds to your FOIL request and request for clarifications.
If you request any further information or clarification, please feel free to contact us.

 

The third document is a statement by Susan Granata, member of the Oxford Visionaries committee on the joint comprehensive plan, regarding questions and issues surrounding the Town Board’s decisions about road use if fracking operations commence in the area.

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Susan Granata
Comprehensive Plan Committee
Oxford Visionaries
P. O. Box 777
Oxford NY 13830
info@OxfordVisionaries.org
February 13, 2013

Mr. Lawrence Wilcox
Town of Oxford Supervisor
Members of the Town Board
c/o Jim Hemstrought, Oxford Town Clerk
P. O. Box 271
Oxford NY 13830
townofoxford@stny.rr.com

Copies: Members Town Board, Town Planning Board, Village Board, Village Planning Board

Subject: Town Road Use Agreement

Dear Mr. Wilcox,
We address you on behalf of a thousand Oxford residents who have expressed their concerns about the issues raised by the road use agreement that your Town Board passed at the last meeting. We urge the Board to reconsider this agreement at the March meeting. We ask that this discussion include the entire Oxford community in dialog with the Town Planning Board and two Oxford Village boards.
This collaboration was the clear intent of the Chenango County Planning Board in yesterday’s Letter of Clarification to Mayor Terry Stark that we hereby submit with this letter as part of the minutes of this meeting.
Here are a few questions that require answers.
1) Given the position of the Chenango County Planning Board, what was your logic in considering a road use agreement explicitly based on full-scale gas drilling industrialization before revising the Town Zoning Laws and Town and Village Comprehensive Plan?
2) Why was this agreement a) not on the agenda; b) not announced in advance to the public; c) not subject to public comment or hearing; d) not preceded by any economic, safety, health or environmental study and e) passed quickly with no substantive discussion?
3) Why was the agreement referred to the Town Planning Board but passed without the planning board’s notification much less recommendation?
4) Why was the town attorney’s legal opinion not sought on an amendment that raises profound legal questions, could cost the town astronomical sums of money, will requires extensive legal work, absolves the elected Town Board members of their legal obligations and grants wide non-administrative authority, political power and legal responsibilities to one man: the unelected Highway Superintendent?
5) Why were the many serious financial issues raised by many citizens before this board during the November 1 budget hearings totally ignored? Why was not one penny allocated for the huge legal, monitoring, enforcement, emergency, medical and administrative expenses this board assumed for our town when you passed this agreement?
6) How could any individual board member have exercised due diligence and fully considered the consequences of a vote held under these unusual circumstances?
Tonight we are providing each board member with the first of several tools to prepare for an informed reexamination of the ill-considered road use agreement. The map of the Town of Oxford shows the local roads and properties leased and non-leased for gas drilling according to the most reliable information. Superimposed on the map are rectangles that suggest likely 640 acre, mile-square spacing units for hydraulic fracturing well-pads when permits are issued by the DEC.
This will enable each of you to imagine the fate of your property under intensive industrial exploitation by financially troubled Norse Energy, Chesapeake Energy, or another transnational foreign or domestic corporation that obtains their assets in bankruptcy liquidation.
These maps will help you intelligently judge the effects of your current road use agreement on the roads that your family, your neighbors and those who serve you now depend upon every day.
Between now and the March meeting we will supply each of you with additional information through the Town Clerk’s office including applicable DEC draft regulations, photographs and reports of road use experiences in other communities where gas drilling is taking place.
Sincerely,
Susan Granata
Comprehensive Plan Committee
Oxford Visionaries
OxfordVisionaries.org

 

The fourth document is a statement by Paul Brennan, member of the Oxford Visionaries Research Committee, regarding issues surrounding zoning laws and regulations in the Town, especially those pertaining to hydrofracking.

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 Paul Brennan

Research Committee

Oxford Visionaries

P. O. Box 777

Oxford NY 13830

info@OxfordVisionaries.org

February 13, 2013

 

Mr. Lawrence Wilcox

Town of Oxford Supervisor and Chair of the Chenango CountyBoard of Supervisors

c/o Jim Hemstrought, Oxford Town Clerk

P. O. Box 271

OxfordNY13830

townofoxford@stny.rr.com

 

Copies: MembersTown Board, Town Planning Board, Village Board, Village Planning Board

 

Dear Mr. Wilcox,

As you know two local events have captured the attention of many observers outside Oxford.  The first was the Village of Oxford’s recent zoning amendment prohibiting hydraulic fracturing.  The second was the ChenangoCounty Planning Board’s earlier denial of the Village’s zoning amendment of clarification.  Last Monday the New York City Gotham Gazette wrote a long article on these events.  The author interviewed you both in your County and Town capacities.

Our research committee is planning a series of articles on Oxford’s government for the local on-line and print media and would appreciate your cooperation.

For the first installment we are eager to interview you and other members of the Oxford Town Board about the town’s current revision of its Zoning Laws and approach to the 1970 Oxford Comprehensive Plan in the aftermath of the Village and Chenango County Planning Board actions.

As you know, the ChenangoCounty Planning Board (CCPB) initially denied the Village’s amendment under the 239M procedure and was then overruled by a Village 4-1 super-majority.  Our initial six questions focus on the second of four reasons the ChenangoCounty Planning Board gave for its denial.  In summary this reason was:

In New York, the zoning enabling acts continue to require that zoning be undertaken “in accordance with a well considered plan or, in accordance with a comprehensive plan”. 

          According to our records, the Village of Oxford Comprehensive Plan has not been updated since February 1970. The document is entitled “The Summary Master Plan, Town and Village of Oxford, N.Y.”.

          It is recommended that the Village of Oxford updates its Comprehensive Plan prior to adopting amendments to the Village of Oxford Zoning Law in order to assure both documents are in conformance to each other.

Here are six questions we ask you to address at the next Town Board meeting and in an interview scheduled at your convenience:

1) Last year the Town Board tasked the Town Planning Board with revising the Town’s Zoning Laws.  As Supervisor will you recommend that the Town Board follow or reject the CCPB’s recommendation to update the 1970 Town and Village of Oxford Master Plan in the rezoning process, and will you task the planning board with that additional assignment?

2)  As the title makes clear, the 1970 Town and Village of Oxford Master Plan jointly covered both Town and Village.  As Town Supervisor how will you recommend the Town and Village planning boards work together on this project?

3) Last year the Town allocated $5000 to the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York in Syracuse to produce the Vision Planning Project Report as a first step in updating the 1970 Town and Village of Oxford Master Plan. The final report was presented to the Town Board at its last meeting.  How are you going to use this report in upgrading the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Laws?

4) The Village just amended its Zoning Laws to prohibit gas drilling.  The Chenango County Planning Board rejected the amendment under the 239M procedureThe Town modified its Zoning Laws in 2007 to permit gas drilling.  What was the CCPB’s 239M ruling on the Town’s changes?  Please provide us the 239M procedure exchange between the county and town so we can compare the experiences of the Village and Town.

5) Earlier this month New YorkState’s SullivanCounty returned a draft Comprehensive Plan to the Town of Callicoon because the draft’s pro-fracking language was at odds with the expressed views of the residents.

In the Gotham Gazette article you were quoted:

“The positive things that safe gas exploration could bring to upstate New York are phenomenal,” Wilcox said. But, he said he was still awaiting the results of the state review. “I don’t want to have it unless it can be done safely. That’s the feeling of most of the community. They don’t want to see the land ruined.”

Through both letters and petitions, more than 1000 Oxford Village and Town residents have opposed gas drilling.  As Chair of the Chenango County Board of Supervisors and Town of Oxford Supervisor, how will you insure that public opinion pro- and con-gas drilling is taken into consideration by both county and town government in Oxford’s current work on zoning and planning revision?

6) Given the complexity of the Town Planning Board’s tasks, the amount of time required, and the possibility that the Department of Environmental Conservation could issue drilling permits shortly, we remind you of the five permit process questions we submitted to you on October 19.  We ask you to address these at the next Town Board meeting or during our press interview.  (See Appendix below)

Sincerely,

Paul Brennan

Research Committee

Oxford Visionaries

 

Appendix

October 19 Town Board Questions 1-5

1) Will the Town receive a notice that a local gas drilling permit is under consideration by the DEC before it is issued? 

          2) How much time will the Town have to prepare for each permit?

3) How will the public be notified?

          4) What procedure does the Town follow once it receives the permit?

5) What are the state regulations for a municipality to accept, reject or modify a permit based on the application of its zoning laws?

 

 

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