Mayor, Trustees approve law on car-booting
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
After more than a year of sporadic debate, the Cold Spring Village Board Tuesday (July 12) failed to enact a draft law designed to permit higher fences. The proposal would have allowed installation of a 6-foot-high fence on one side of a residential yard, but prohibited fences higher than four feet on the other sides. While Mayor Seth Gallagher and Trustee J. Ralph Falloon supported the new provision, Trustees Charles Hustis and Bruce Campbell opposed it. Trustee Airinhos Serradas did not attend the meeting, the Village Board’s formal monthly session. At least for now, the inconclusive 2 to 2 vote killed the measure, a proposed revision of village code, leaving intact the existing law, which bans fences or walls more than four feet tall. Homeowners seeking higher fences must request a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which has been reluctant to grant them.
ZBA Chairman Donald MacDonald declined to comment on the Village Board’s vote. A year ago, on July 6, 2010, the Village Board informally endorsed the idea of higher fences. During those discussions, Trustee Falloon said that dozens of higher fences already exist in Cold Spring. In a June 2010 memo, the ZBA’s MacDonald acknowledged the presence on some blocks of “neighbors from hell.” Although sympathetic to the afflicted residents, he said, the ZBA typically declines to grant fence variances for two major reasons: the difficulty of determining who deserves one because of neighbors sufficiently hellish and because variances outlive anyone’s residency, remaining in effect after either the neighbors or the suffering homeowner moves on. Thus, MacDonald and the ZBA proposed changing the village code itself, so that higher fences would be acceptable as a matter of course.
That possibility drew strong criticism on Tuesday at a public hearing, convened before the formal Village Board meeting. “I can’t tell you how vehemently I’m opposed to this,” declared Tom Rolston, owner of the Depot restaurant and a keen follower of village government. He raised the specter of Cold Spring resembling suburban enclaves in other counties. “There’s no need to have this village start looking like a prison. I just think we’re above all that.” He recommended use of hedges and other vegetation as screens between houses. “There are a hundred different kinds of trees that can be planted that give just as much privacy as a 6-foot fence,” Rolston said.
In reply, Mayor Seth Gallagher cited the problems raised by the ZBA. “It was a legitimate concern,” he said. Residents Catharine Square and Donna Steltz wondered whether allowing a higher fence on one side would result in a home being boxed-in by neighbors on three sides, each neighbor putting one higher fence in place. “In most cases you wouldn’t have that,” Gallagher told them.
After the Village Board’s split vote, Stephen Gaba, village attorney, told the mayor and trustees that overall “you’ve heard a lot of public comment. You’ve got a lot to think about. If you want to bring it up again, you certainly can.” He suggested there might be other ways to deal with the issue, perhaps by allowing higher fences through issuance of a special permit case-by-case or by requiring site-plan approval.
The board also conducted brief public hearings on car-booting and upper-story expansions in houses and subsequently unanimously approved laws on both.
The “booting” law allows law enforcement officers to “boot,” or immobilize, vehicles of drivers who repeatedly ignore parking tickets and accrue $200 or more in unpaid charges. Questions arose about the logistics of the booting provision and whether repeated offenders could pay a portion of what they owe to stay beneath the $200 trigger and keep their cars from being immobilized while still owing the village money. “You can pay the one ticket and still be a scofflaw,” resident Karn Dunn said. Gaba said that when the village Justice Court issues formal notice that a car is subject to being booted, it can be immobilized if found on a village street and “once they’re booted, they have to pay everything” to free the vehicle. Until that point, the driver could pay a small amount of the total owed to avoid booting, Gaba conceded. Answering another question from the audience, he said the police generally would not boot vehicles parked in places where indefinitely immobilizing them would create traffic obstacles.
To clarify how extensively someone could adapt an uppermost story on a house, the law on half-stories provides that in an attic with a ceiling height of the requisite seven feet or more, the area renovated as regular usable floor space cannot be more than 50 percent as large as the story below it.