by Larry Austin
Island contractors showed up at Town Hall Monday to criticize a proposed local law that one called "blue collar vs. white collar."
A public hearing at the monthly Town Board meeting was attended by many of Grand Island's contractors, who gave input on Local Law Intro No. 13 of 2014 that would amend chapter 407 of the town code to allow contractor maintenance yards as a special use in certain residential districts, subject to certain conditions.
Just before taking public comments, Town Supervisor Mary Cooke said, "What's currently going on in town right now may not all be legal, and we're trying to figure out a way to allow someone who has a small operation to be able to work in their property that they have without disrupting their entire neighborhood so that we don't get complaints from people who say, 'I live in a residential neighborhood. I didn't sign up for this.' "
"Noise, dust, and stuff laying around" are complaints from residents the council hears about contractor yards, Cooke said.
Details in the law raised the hackles of some of the many contractors in attendance. One, Dan Drexelius of DD Construction, told the board the law "sounds like blue collar vs. white collar," which the town supervisor and town attorney disputed.
"Mary, don't give me that face," he said to Cooke at one point during his comments, later asserting that the proposed law is "very discriminatory."
Town Attorney Peter Godfrey told Drexelius the hearing was to get comments from the public, but there "isn't an agenda focused on you or anyone." The law could broaden existing code and make viable what some contractors are doing now, he said.
"It's not an anti-contractor law," Godfrey said.
Cooke said the board would not vote that night, but rather the purpose of the hearing was to start the discussion on the topic.
The law would:
•Allow as a special use contractor maintenance yards where there will be "only minor impacts to the surrounding neighborhood and where adequate noise and visual separation from adjoining properties is provided."
•Prohibit yards as "stand-alone facilities, but must be on the same parcel as the contractor's residence."
•Prohibit fueling facilities at the site, as well as manufacturing, fabrication or assembly of any kind.
Also, "Any building that will hold motorized vehicles or equipment, equipped with a floor drain system, shall have an oil separator to contain spillage."
•Require a set back of at least 300 feet from any dwelling on an adjoining lot and have a minimum two acres of space if the yard includes outside storage of equipment or materials.
•Forbid another contractor other than the occupant of the residence from using the yard.
Godfrey noted, "Any use which is lawful before the law is enacted is effectively grandfathered."
Contractor Tom D'Angelo called the law "extremely vague" and open to loose interpretation and would impose financial burdens on small operators. The law "really defeats the purpose of allowing someone an opportunity to grow."
"It would be a shame to put that kind of up-front financial burden on somebody trying to get their business off the ground and trying to give themselves an opportunity to move forward," D'Angelo said.
"I guess some of the things that you have in here should be maybe looked at and tweaked a little bit so as not to make it unrealistic for a contractor, a landscaper, or anybody that's in business that want to either have a structure or a yard to operate," said John Tripi Jr. of Whitehaven Road.
Drexelius called the 300 feet for a house away from an adjoining lot an "astronomically long distance," and "an arbitrary number picked out of your hat by the sound of it."
Dan Robillard of Ransom Road, a former town councilman, said he spent thousands of dollars 25 years ago to win in court and overturn the denial he received from the board for his special use permit.
"All I see is an hour meter running here," Robillard said of establishing more town permitting. "Now we're back to jumping through hoops."
"This is all a concept," said Councilman Dick Crawford of the proposed local law. He added, "We need the feedback. We've been talking about it, we've had people come to our meetings that have made some comments, so now we're trying to re-draft a draft that needs input from the community."
No one spoke in favor of the law at the hearing, which remains open.