Planning board back to work after nearly 2-year hiatus

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Photo by EJ Conzola II. Former Whitehall Mayor Francis “Fra” Putorti, right, talks with fellow Champlain Canal Recreationway Commission member Kal Wysokowski during a ceremony Aug. 9 in Schuylerville. Putorti is now the chairman of the reconstituted Village of Whitehall Planning Board.

By EJ Conzola II

The Village of Whitehall Planning Board has resumed work after a nearly two-year hiatus, but the board cannot begin to truly address some of the major issues facing the community until the Village Board adds another piece to the code enforcement puzzle – a new compliance officer, according to Planning Board Chairman Francis “Fra” Putorti.

The Planning Board has held two meetings since it was reconstituted in late September and dealt with one issue – a request by a village business to erect a storage facility on its property, which was approved, Putorti said. The board’s workload is expected to increase as more people become aware that the board is functioning once again and bring their proposals forward, he said.

“We’re trying to get things started again,” Putorti said.

The board is responsible for reviewing proposals for new construction or significant renovations to existing buildings, as well as helping see that land uses are compatible with the surrounding areas.

But the biggest issues facing the community that fall within the Planning Board’s jurisdiction – including the unsightly and deteriorated conditions of many properties within the village – can’t be addressed until the village hires a new compliance officer, Putorti said.

The village has been without someone to enforce many of its codes since Dan Styczynski resigned from the compliance officer post on Aug. 1. The village has received several applications for the vacancy, but Village Board members said they want to delay making a hire until an advertisement appearing in The Whitehall Times has run its course in an effort to find the best available candidate.

The compliance officer addresses violations of village codes, many of which are related to a property’s appearance. More serious code violations, including those involving violations of state building codes, are dealt with by the Washington County Code Enforcement Office.

But the county agency handles enforcement duties in 14 of the 17 towns and six of the eight villages in Washington County, including both the town and village of Whitehall. That scope of responsibility for the seven enforcement officers in the county office often means issues go unaddressed for significant periods of time, village officials have complained.

While the Planning Board waits for the compliance officer post to be filled, its members are working to complete required training and to review the village’s ordinances – not only to familiarize themselves with what the laws are but to see where they need to be updated or strengthened, Putorti said.

Putorti also said he has asked the other board members – his wife, Cheryl; Lee Gosselin Jr.;  Diane Petryk; and Shane Bennett – to come up with their own list of priorities the board should address. Those lists will help determine where the board focuses going forward, he said.

The board wants to “try to get Whitehall back on the map again,” he said.

The village had been without a functioning planning board for about two years after it was repeatedly unable to draw a quorum of at least three members – the minimum number needed for the board to take action – to its meetings. After Petryk – who, along with Bennett, was the only active board member – raised concerns at a Village Board meeting about several projects had been undertaken without Planning Board approval, the Village Board appointed the Putortis and Gosselin to the body.

The revived board will now hold a monthly meeting at 6 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month in the village offices on Skenesborough Drive, Putorti said. Although the board has “nothing major right now” before it, Putorti said he wants to establish a schedule so residents and those who are contemplating projects in Whitehall will know the board is back in business.