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Residents’ comments on proposed zoning code changes – Part I
By Lee Chowaniec
Jun 4, 2013, 01:27
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Residents’ comments on proposed zoning code changes – Part I

At Monday evening’s Lancaster Town Board meeting, several residents commented on proposed zoning amendments whose intent is to clarify the language of permitted uses in a Light Industrial District (LI).

The writer was the first to address the board.

Chowaniec: Ms. Stempniak, at the May 15th Planning Board meeting you presented information to the Planning Board and suggested they recommend to the town that by resolution they amend Zoning Code laws to clarify permitted use uses in Light Industrial District zones.

The one was to clarify permitted use for the owners of the prospective buyers of the Walden Avenue Colecraft Building; the other refers to the Lancaster airport.

Am I correct in saying that there will a public hearing on both proposed amendments and that separate board determinations will be made?

Council member Donna Stempniak: Yes on the public hearings, but I don’t know about separate board determinations. The date of the public hearings has not been decided.

Chowaniec: The reason I am asking is that I take no issue with the proposed Colecraft Building language change, but I do have concerns on the proposed language change on the airport.

According to the Planning Board minutes of the May 15th meeting, it is stated that the 2nd amendment was requested by the owner of Lancaster Airport Inc. to allow the airport to be eligible for federal reimbursement. Lancaster Airport owner Tom Geles was unsuccessful in the past to get a like resolution before the town board to get $6,000 in promised grant money from the State. The Planning Board communication only refers to federal reimbursement, not state reimbursement. Why the difference?

Stempniak: I think that was an error, I think it is the same thing.

Chowaniec: What I don’t understand is why the airport owner is now coming to the Planning Board to request they recommend a code language change? Did he provide you with documentation that substantiates his need of such code language change to get the grant money owed him?

Stempniak: I think he did.

Councilman Mark Aquino: We just got something tonight from Lancaster Aiport owner Tom Geles. It’s probably contained in this book I have here before me.

Chowaniec: I also am looking for clarification here as to what is implied. It further states in the meeting minutes that private airports are permitted in Light Industrial Districts with a special use permit.

The present Light Industrial District zoning code for permitted uses reads. , “Any commercial recreation activity (special use permit required) Added in 1997.” What this means to a lay person like me is that commercial recreation activity could mean that manufacturing of goods associated with recreational activity is permitted. It does not specifically refer to airport activity. In 1989 it was determined by the town that the airport was a non conformance use and therefore required a special use permit. It was also determined that the airport was limited to less than 25% in size expansion. The airport has violated that agreement and there are now 141 acres where there was once around 30 acres.

The code change suggested is to change the language in Section 50-24(B) (1) (f) to read, “Any commercial recreation activity including, but not limited to, private commercial airports (special use permit required)

What this again says to a lay person like me is that where commercial single or double engine airplane recreation activity was taking place in an operation that was a non conforming use and required a special use permit will now have language that says private commercial airports of any size will now be permitted in Light Industrial Districts, with a special use permit. To me this sounds like the town is opening the door for this airport to not only be considered an acceptable use (now in enlarged size and scope) but would open the door for even more expansion; an operation that already is in violation by multiples in size expansion according to the most recent terms of the special use permit terms, and where no public hearing was ever held to give the community an opportunity to challenge such operation from ever taking place. And that is why I am happy to hear that there will be a public hearing held.

If one does a code search and enters air, port or airport, he will find no reference in any code as to airport.

Stempniak: What code are you referring to, any code?

Chowaniec: Lancaster code.

Stempniak: Lancaster code, oh, okay.

Chowaniec: So please tell me why my assumptions are wrong in what is implied with the vague added words of, “but not limited to” and “private commercial” airports? In any way, shape or form does this open the door to further airport expansion, or will conditions be instated in the code language to prevent a door being opened for further expansion; and/or accepting the expanded airport land purchase and operation that has violated the code established in 1989? What is really the full intent of this language change?

Councilman Aquino: I know what you are talking about. We discussed at a work session several months ago about an agreement where there was an understanding between the residents and the airport reached at the Zoning Board of Appeals. Whenever there was any change the airport would propose a public hearing. So we are honoring that agreement and this is what this is about.

My research is a little different from yours. In 9992, there was reference to airports in code. It was omitted, I believe inadvertently, by whoever was doing the code. I think what the airport is trying to do is clarify exactly what they are allowed to do in that area. At one time, I think it was in 1992, that that was a permitted use in that area. That was taken out, So what they are doing what the people in the Colecraft Building want, clarification from the town board saying they have a use permitted before going out and spending millions of dollars on property and renovate it. So what the airport people are doing is something similar. They want to make sure the use they are doing is authorized. That is the intent of this requested change. I haven’t read this whole thing (book presented that day). That is what I believe they are trying to clarify. That is my understanding. But if you look at the code in 1992, I think it was in there, that the airport was a permitted use in a Light Industrial District. There was something in there that was taken away.

I am not saying that you are right or wrong, but I think they are looking for clarification from this board. It’s the right time for it and the residents will have an opportunity to have a say at the public hearing. I am sure both sides will have their advocates and all we are doing now is taking in information.

Chowaniec: And I am here as well to provide information as I don’t want to see this airport expand any further. There was an agreement reached at the Zoning Board of Appeals, a compromise where the plaintiffs, Safe Aviation Coalition of Lancaster (SACL) agreed to not have the airport surrender anything and go back to square one as long as the airport sought no more permits or activities unless they in turn gave 10 days notice to SACL that that was their intent. I don’t want to even see the airport given authorization to increase the runway length as that would open door for future expansion if the code language is changed to say the airport is a permitted use in a Light Industrial District. There are many other reasons for opposition to this language change in its proposed form that will be aired at the public hearing. But one that needs mentioning is that there are limitations when it comes to instating a code regarding past non conformance use; in this case what the airport owner has in place and what he wants to do with the operation.

BTW - I will be checking into the 1992 code you referred to that had language in it that said an airport was an accepted use in a Light Industrial District. I have never run across such language in my research.

Note as well that that this airport is not only commercial recreation activity, but that some of their aircraft are for business use (e.g. aerial photography and some are used for flight school business’ (which actually are not allowed under their special use permit). And yet the airport has never once been cited by the town for violating special use permit violations or others as well.

And it is equally important to note that an airport greatly affects the surrounding community since their activity is not restricted to the land they sit on. So they need to be considered separately from other activities (e.g. a golf driving range, a shooting range, etc). Therefore, what is implied by the new code language is very worrisome?

The Lancaster Airport is a private-public airport and receives public funding through federal and state grant money; $10 million as of now and it has also received three LIDA’s and where no job creation took place. As the intent of the owner of the airport has always been to expand the airport and bring in commercial jets and/or aircraft with 79 foot wing spans, it behooves the board to use language that conditions that the intent of this code change is for the purpose of receiving State funding that was already promised; and not for the intent of also expanding the current size and scope of the present airport operation.

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