Shandaken building activity hits a lull

By Jay Braman Jr.
Every year around this time the sounds of hammers banging nails and power saws cutting wood begin to fill the air. Like pictures of Shamrocks and Easter egg hunts, these are signs that spring has arrived, and with it the building season.
And while there have been hammers thumping, the economy continues to keep them swinging at a minimum, according to Shandaken town records.
According to town building/code enforcement officer Gina Reilly, only 14 building permits have been issued as of March 23. And those are for little things like wood stove installations, interior renovations and small additions.
“No new houses are being built,” she said.
The good news is that things are no worse at this point than at the same time last year. In 2009 only 13 permits had been issued.
That’s in contrast, however, to 2008, which saw 24 permits in the hands of builders by mid March.
Shandaken Zoning Chair-man Rolf Reiss said this week that things have been slow for the zoning board of late. Real slow.
“Actually we haven’t had a meeting since November,” he said.
The zoning board handles cases in which landowners seek relief from land-use law by claiming hardship. Sometimes people want to put an addition on their home, but find the plans require that the new structure be too close to the property line. Or others might want to put up a fence to block unsightly commercial activity but need a fence higher than the law allows for it to be effective.
None of that is happening this year.
Reiss, a builder, did note that recent storms have created lots of short-term work in the town due to tree limbs doing damage to structures, but he doesn’t see much real building happening. Nor does planning board secretary Marie Stutman.
“We’ve only had two cases all year,” she said.
One was for a two-lot subdivision and the other was a simple lot-line adjustment. Both have been completed by the board already. Stutman says this is nothing like the planning board’s agenda a few years back.
“Five years ago they were handling four cases a month,” she said.
So what will the planning board do now?
“We’ll have a meeting without a case,” she said.
This is now policy on the planning board under new chairman Charles Frasier, who was appointed to the post in February by the town board after the rest of the planning board supported the ousting of former chair Beth Waterman, who was not reappointed when her term ended on December 31.
One of the criticisms of Waterman’s tenure by her fellow planners was that she would cancel meetings when there was no caseload.
Planner Joanne Kalb said that she believes there is plenty to work on besides specific cases.