Teresa Kenny Locks Horns With Rest Of Council Over Zoning Amendment To Allow Rockland Cider Works To Operate Legally

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At Issue Are Setbacks Proposed In Planner’s Proposal Asking For Van Houten Farm Site To Be Rezoned To Allow Cideries

By Tina Traster

Orangetown Supervisor Teresa Kenny has made her position perfectly clear. She does not believe that the Van Houten Farms site should be rezoned for use as a cidery.

“They have the law on their side,” said Kenny, referring to neighboring residents who have been fighting in court for two years with Rockland Cider Works to shut down the operation permanently.

But at least three other councilmen present at last week’s town board meeting agree some kind of compromise should be hashed out in order to save a unique business.

“The answer is not ‘no’, said Orangetown Councilman Paul Valentine, who was joined by Councilmen Jerry Bottari and Brian Donohue in championing for some form of compromise. “We have to come up with something reasonable for the applicant and those who oppose them. This has been going on for a long time. It’s been like a dog chasing its tail.”

Valentine is not wrong there.

The Town of Orangetown is contemplating the adoption of a local law that would amend the zoning code to permit cideries and wineries in some residential districts by special permit. The effort was prompted by Rockland Cider Works, which had been running a cidery at the Van Houten Farm at 68 Sickletown Road in Orangeburg but was forced to shut down following defeats in Rockland County Supreme Court.

While appealing the rulings and with the litigation continuing, the cidery is proposing a change in the zoning code that would clear the path for its legal operation. In April, the Town of Orangetown hired the Laberge Group of Albany, at the cidery’s expense, to prepare a report on the proposal, and make recommendations. In essence, the report outlines proposed changes that would purportedly balance the interests of the cidery and its neighbors, which have been fighting the cidery in court for nearly two years.

The board last week discussed an updated round of revisions for the proposed Agri-Tourism Special Use Amendment to the Town’s Zoning Code. The petition was submitted on behalf of Van Houton Farms to amend the special uses in the R-80 zone.

Kenny forcefully took issue with a provision in the proposed amendment that deals with the way setbacks would be calculated. Throughout the Town Zoning Code, and consistent with other municipal zoning codes, setbacks are calculated from the property line – the location where a property and a neighboring property meet. A setback is the distance from the property line, which creates a buffer where no buildings are permitted. For example, a 30-foot setback would preclude any structures within 30 feet of a property line.

Most codes have different setback requirements for front yards and side yards. The current setback requirements in the R-80 zone is 50 to 100 feet for a front yard and 30 to 100 feet feet for a side yards, depending on the property’s use.

The proposed amendment take a new approach and would permit permanent principal buildings if they are set back at least 175 feet from any “principal buildings” or homes on adjoining residentially developed tax lots. Accessory buildings would have to be set back at least 150 feet, outdoor dining areas, such as decks or patios would have to be set back at least 200 feet, and all temporary facilities, such as tents, dance floors, sound systems, or location of live entertainment, would have to be at least 200 feet from a neighbor’s home.

The setback would be determined from the neighbor’s home instead of the property line separating the adjoining properties.

The proposed amendment also waives setback requirements if the town board found there was adequate screening from the neighbors or if there is no structure on the neighbors’ property.

If adopted, the zone change would allow an applicant for a special permit on any R-80 site seeking to establish a cidery to use the new formula to locate their buildings.

Neighbors fighting the plan continued to make pleas to the town council to reject the proposal.

“We have zoning laws,” said Joyce Taub. “We have zoning laws. We have zoning laws. RCW (Rockland Cider Works) and (the neighbors) cannot co-exist.”

The neighbors say the cidery is violating the town’s zoning and building codes, creating a nuisance with noise and traffic, and degrading neighboring property values.

For Rockland Cider Works, which has suspended its operations, a special permit by way of amended zoning, may be the last hope for the family-run business.

The cidery was founded by Darin and Elisabeth Van Houten, who say diversification of the Van Houten Farm landscaping nursery and garden center is a necessary element for survival.

“The farm was here first,” said Darin Van Houten, at last week’s town hall meeting. “All the development has encroached on the farm. Farms are going away. We are trying to save it, and selling produce doesn’t cut it. We have to diversify. We need new sources of revenue. We are happy to compromise.”

Asked later if RCW would consider eliminating the music – one of the irritants to the neighbors – Van Houten said “absolutely. Whatever it takes. That’s not a deal breaker.”