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City zoning board of appeals meetings’ attendance questioned

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OGDENSBURG — The city’s volunteer Zoning Board of Appeals again is facing criticism for its alleged frequent inability to get all its members to attend meetings to vote on requests for variances.

At the Sept. 23 City Council meeting, there were questions about the seven-member board’s reliance on 4-0 votes to approve variance requests and some members exceeding the three-meeting limit on unexcused absences. “You’ve got a responsibility to be there or don’t be on the board,” Councilor Wayne L. Ashley said.

But board Chairman William H. Flynn would appreciate some patience.

“Having only four members present is never ideal,” he said. “The members present and the city planner try to ask the applicant all of the salient questions so the request is discussed thoroughly before a decision is reached. Often the board and the applicant will develop a compromise or strategy so that the applicant can complete the project request. This often occurs with input from the city planner and the code enforcement office. With a full board present there is the chance for the full board to ask questions of the applicant and to have all voices heard. But this is not always possible.

Board member Misty Fishel resigned in June. Planning and Development Director Andrea L. Smith said applications for board membership can be found on the city’s website or by calling her at 393-7150.

Like Mr. Flynn, she said she would appreciate patience.

“I can’t force people to apply to the zoning board,” she said. “I can’t hold their hands to bring them to meetings.”

Mayor William D. Nelson understands the dilemma.

“It’s a thankless job,” he said. “You get pounded. It’s not an easy board to serve on.”

Mr. Flynn, a board member since 1983 and chairman since 2009, begs to differ.

“I don’t think any of the current members think their job is an easy one, but it is certainly not a thankless job,” he said. “There is a lot of satisfaction in knowing that they are trying their best to enforce the municipal code, while at the same time helping citizens to do what they would like to do to improve their properties. Sometimes it’s impossible to do both. But, in most cases, if the board can work with the applicant, there will be a solution reached that is at least satisfactory to both parties, if not ideal. I also think we all feel we are doing our civic duty and we take pride in that. We volunteer our time and energy, and go to at least four hours of training per year because we all want the same thing, a city we can be proud of.”

The three-meeting limit, Mr. Flynn said, has been given “extremely wide latitude” lately.

“This is not a board that a lot of people are interested in being a part of,” he said. “No one likes to be put in the position of having to say no to a variance request. So those people who are on this board are given a lot of flexibility because work schedules, illness and appointments are also a part of their lives. ... As long as there is a quorum present, we must have the meeting. And we always give the applicant the option of waiting until the following month to have their case heard.”

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