More Fees, Less Access
By Cindy Goldstein -
An item on the Board of Trustee’s February 27th Agenda was to set a Public Hearing on March 13th to discuss changes to the way fees and costs are charged to land use board applicants. Chapter 176 will be repealed and replaced by new Chapter 23. At first this seems like a perfunctory matter – the kind of action the Board takes all the time. But if you look closer you’ll see there’s something else going on here.
By way of background – the Village’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) has varied legal responsibilities. One important responsibility is to act as an independent, quasi-judicial board hearing applications for interpretations and other appeals including from residents challenging a determination from the Building Inspector.
At the meeting Mayor Tom Murphy explained this was an important and necessary revision of our laws to help protect residents. But this isn’t the full story. This proposed law actually infringes on the rights of Village residents. That’s because an escrow fee of up to $1,000 (for residents living within 400 feet of the property at issue) must be paid before they can ask for relief from the ZBA from what they believe is an unjust and/or inappropriate Building Inspector’s determination. Anyone not residing within 400 feet would be responsible for all Village costs incurred in their appeal. And we know attorneys and consultants aren’t cheap.
By law an aggrieved party must first go to the ZBA to get a ruling before being allowed to bring an action in Court. If you don’t have the money to pay the escrow to go before the ZBA then you have no path to a Court to seek a remedy for what you believe to be a mistake.
Building Inspectors make mistakes. They’re only human. But evidently only very wealthy residents will be able to challenge their determinations if this law is adopted as written.
So why is Mayor Murphy so interested in having this law passed?Many believe it’s to deter specific individuals from seeking review from the ZBA for what they believe to be an incorrect decision by the Building Inspector.Regardless of the reason for the proposed law, it will have a chilling effect on all individuals’ rights to challenge their local government.