Planners stall work on Phoenicia Library

aBy Jay Braman Jr.
The Shandaken Planning Board needs more information about fire and flood safety before deciding whether or not to allow expansion of the Phoenicia Library.

The delay came March 13 after a public hearing on the project where the son of an adjacent landowner warned that the proposed expansion not only put neighbors at higher risk of fire but also that the expansion, if allowed, would cause higher flooding on Main Street.

Lawsuit underway
Eric Hofmeister is the son of Marietta Hofmeister. His mother, along with Wilfried Nolte, who owns property on the other side of the library, is suing the Town of Shandaken, claiming that its zoning board of appeals improperly issued the library a variance from town zoning laws in order to allow for expansion of the existing building. Hofmeister is also the town’s superintendant of highways, an elected position.

After telling the planning board that they should not take any action on the library association’s site plan until there is a decision in the lawsuit, Hofmeister, appearing intense and agitated with the proposal, also said that the battle could have been avoided had library officials agreed to alter the plans and build the way the neighbors wanted to have it done. “It doesn’t matter what the neighbors think,” he said. “We offered them a way out of this….they just turned it down. They didn’t care.”

More study needed
Hofmeister also said further study is required in order for the planners to find out if the expansion, which would reduce the size of the western alleyway between the library and Nolte’s property, increases the risk of flooding to buildings downstream on Main Street. He said that, at it’s current size, the alley acts as a relief channel that gives high water a way to travel back behind the buildings to where the ground elevation is lower.

But library representatives argued that no such study is needed and noted that the matter had already been debated during the variance process in front of the zoning board of appeals.
Project supporter and Phoenicia resident Mark Lerner defended the plan, saying that expansion of the building was necessary in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He also said the plan complies with flood regulations, calling for special flaps to be built in the structure’s basement to allow water to pass underneath during floods.

Suzanna Gilman, a member of the Phoenicia Library Board, added that the project’s design team looked long and hard at the flood issue and developed what she said was “the best possible drainage plan that could be designed.

Learn from history
As for fire, Hofmeister said that communities have learned from past mistakes that building too close together can cause catastrophe.

“That’s why we have zoning laws, so we don’t build buildings this close together so towns don’t burn down when one building catches on fire and it goes right through a whole line of buildings,” he said. “A long time ago they realized it was stupid to do this.”
Planner Art Christie said he wanted to hear an opinion on the project from the Phoenicia Fire Company.

The plan will come before planners again next month, and so will comments from the public. The hearing has been extended until then.