Danby Town Board 2021
Zoning and Planning
A work in progress...my words and the Zoning itself.
Open Space: Preserving our quality of life (Rural Character, Taxes)
All of Danby agrees that we love our rural character. But what, exactly, is rural character? It seems we use the same name to mean many things.
One common description involves open space. Room to move, room to see, room to enjoy. Most of Danby's residents—especially those who moved here, like me—want to see our open space preserved. It's why we're here.
Zoning By Owning
It's a fact of life that many property owners do not own the open space that creates the rural character they enjoy. There was so much space in the past, it simply wasn't necessary. We ignored Mark Twain's advice, "Buy land, they're not making it anymore." Today, acres are expensive and most of us depend on our neighbor's generosity to protect our quality of life...that comes from open space.
Our land-rich but often cash-poor neighbors enjoy the rural character, too, but they pay the taxes that provide our pleasure. Few can afford it. Every time a few acres are carved off and sold to help with taxes and living expenses—as is the owner's right—it changes the rural character of the surrounding neighborhood.
Taxes vs. Open Space
Overnight, around 2010, when the County's Assessment Department revised its valuations for open acres, the land value for many properties almost doubled. This radically changed the tax balance between smaller properties (where almost all of the value is the house) and larger ones (where the house, if any, is a smaller portion of the total value). Thousands of owners of smaller properties received a small, almost unnoticed reduction in property taxes, while the few owners of large properties were hit with increases ranging from $100s to $1000s. These are the same large properties that the other thousands of owners rely on for quality of life.
I was aware of that change and began pointing out the contradiction between Danby's official policy (as described in its Comprehensive Plan) and the consequences of rebalancing the tax burden. The "new rules" were, in effect, encouraging owners of larger properties to divide them up and sell. No action was taken.
The situation only became worse as land values skyrocketed during the last few years.
Danby's Planning Group was created in early 2020. One of the hot-button topics was the preservation of open space and rural character. During its very first meeting, the negative effects of high taxes on large properties was pointed out and a Tax Committee was formed to propose a corrective action. I joined that committee and its members asked me to act as chair.
The tax committee researched options and found an infrequently-used provision of New York State Tax Law that allows certain Towns to grant property tax exemptions to Conservation Easements, pretty much as tax exemptions are granted to properties in active agricultural use. To determine its effect on preserving large properties and open space, I contacted the Towns already authorized to use this provision. The committee put together a proposal package for Danby's Town Board, which voted to forward the request to the State Legislature.
While no resolution has been reached (the Legislature is not speedy), this was a good example of successful research, effective preparation of background material, case studies, and proposed legislation. I like to get things done.
Broadband Internet: Living in the modern world
In my heart and soul, I'm an engineer, a techie, and even a nerd...but one with effective social skills and an ability to communicate ideas. I've been living with the Internet and using it professionally since the 1980s. I've paid (dearly, you wouldn't believe how much) for high-speed access since the 1990s.
Other tech-savvy people in Danby have been there with me and, more recently, we've been joined by as many Danby residents as could get high-speed Internet. Sure, we say, "Can't live without it," but we also know lots of other people in Danby who can't get service!
In the mid-2000s, Ric Dietrich, Danby's former Supervisor, invited Internet-interested people to a meeting in Town Hall. I attended. Around 2010, when the Tompkins County Legislature formed its first Broadband Committee, Ric and I participated. That effort contributed to the infrastructure buildout by Clarity Connect and Haefele that brought Broadband to parts of Danby beginning in 2015.
Clarity's fixed-wireless (radio) network, which I now use, has been very helpful to some. While high-speed in its day, that service no longer meets the FCC definition of Broadband. We need a better solution, and we need a universal solution that is available to everyone in Danby.
I will work toward achieving that goal.