About 55 people turned out on Wednesday night, April 25, as the Village Council, sitting as the zoning board of appeals (ZBA), attempted to hold a public hearing on the land-use permit denial issued by zoning administrator Carl Noffsinger for Loy Putney. Putney has purchased the former Bay Valley Inn property with the intention of creating housing for his farm labor force. The meeting was disbanded after 30 minutes and postponed because the ZBA was not properly constituted.
The Alert reached one council member who declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation. Putney is suing two members of the Village Council, our zoning administrator, and our Village clerk, as well as the Village Council as a whole, citing improper procedure and civil rights violations. Attorney Gretchen Olsen is representing the Village and those individuals in that case.
The Alert reached Edgar Roy, the attorney retained by the council to guide them during the appeal process, today. At the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, council member Ken Holmes recused himself from the proceedings on the advice of Mr. Roy because of conflict of interest, because he is one of the parties being sued by Putney. Mr. Roy said that he had earlier advised in a letter to Gretchen Olsen that it would be problematic for any members of the ZBA to also be a party to the lawsuit. Roy said he was not aware that Ken Holmes was the only member of the council who was also a member of the Planning Commission. When Holmes stepped down as a member of the ZBA, he rendered the panel improperly constituted, as at least one member of the ZBA must be on the Planning Commission.
The meeting began with a review of documented communications between zoning administrator Carl Noffsinger and Loy Putney, including various applications, the March 14 land-use permit denial, and Putney’s application for appeal, dated March 27. Putney filed suit against the Village leadership on March 28.
It was then time for Brad Putney to make his presentation. He began by raising a “housekeeping matter,” reading from section 6.02 of our ordinance regarding the legal constitution of the ZBA: “The Council shall act as the Board of Appeals; provided, however, that one of the regular members of the Council is a member of the Planning Commission.” He said he was aware that Ken Holmes (now out of the picture) is a member of the Planning Commission; “I simply don’t know if that’s the case with the remaining members here today.”
“So what’s your pleasure, Mr. Putney?” said Mr. Roy.
“I believe we should have a constitutional board to proceed,” said Brad Putney.
“So you would like to have the matter adjourned?”
“Or, if there’s a member of the planning commission available…”
“I think it takes a regularly scheduled Village Council meeting with notice to appoint a new planning commission member,” said Mr. Roy.
“I would have brought up the matter earlier,” said Putney, “but since a complete copy of the zoning ordinance was not provided to me until [the previous] Thursday, I was not able to read it…” [inaudible]
“My recommendation is that Mr. Putney decide whether he wants to proceed or to adjourn,” said Mr. Roy.
“I believe we should follow procedure as set forth in the ordinance,” said Putney.
“One other observation, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, Mr. Putney. When you called me today, you wanted to know who was going to constitute the board. We had a discussion, and I suggested to you that it was my recommendation for Mr. Holmes to step down…. I would have hoped that you would have raised the issue with me at that time and we would have been able to address it in a different fashion,” said Roy.
“The issue, Mr. Roy, is that you didn’t know who the individual members were and their affiliations. So, it is what it is, Mr. Roy,” Putney said.
This reporter attended the April 3 Planning Commission meeting, which Brad Putney also attended. Only one member of the commission was absent from that meeting, Marcia Stobie. Brad Putney could have surmised on the basis of his attendance at that meeting and prior council meetings that Ken Holmes was the only member of the board who was also a planning commission member—but that’s just speculation on this reporter’s part.
Mr. Roy then addressed the board, recommending that it was unwise to proceed until the council could meet and appoint a new member to the Planning Commission. “It’s the applicant’s request as opposed to ours. It’d be ill-advised to spend the time here tonight and risk having the decision be thrown out by a judge.”
The meeting was adjourned. Afterward, Village Clerk Sharyn Bower approached this reporter, brandishing a black and white photocopy that said something about Mexican drug cartels. “Do you know who this came from? Did you see anyone put this on the table?” she asked. She was quite agitated. The Alert later spoke with a member of the public who had attended the meeting and said he saw copies of the flier in question on the table and in the possession of several members of the audience, but he hadn’t seen who distributed it. The nature of the flier was quite inflammatory and intended to arouse fear of violence related to the supposed proliferation of Mexican drug rings in the United States, he said.
A new person from the council will be appointed to the planning commission at the next meeting, on May 17. The soonest the public hearing can take place after that would be 15 days after it is noticed in the Record-Patriot, the local newspaper of record.—Emily Votruba