The Carmel Board of Education is attempting to be proactive in keeping an open line of communication between the district and the Kent Town Board regarding a transportation facility following years of contention over a lack of dialogue.
Over the years, the Kent Town Board has taken issue with the Board of Education for not consulting them on a plan to place a new bus depot on Kent’s tax rolls. The depot, which was approved in 2019 after an $85 million bond proposition was put up by the district for a third time, would be on land previously owned by Kent Materials along Route 52.
Kent officials have previously criticized the district for purchasing the property and eliminating a parcel of industrial land from the town tax rolls, but also not abiding by the towns zoning and planning codes prior to initiating the proposal.
“We tried to work together a few years ago and we came to the school board and it didn’t go off too good,” Councilman Bill Huestis said at the April 6 Town Board meeting. “We are not here to be contentious. As a town councilor, as someone who has enjoyed the quality of life in our town and school district, I have had some things that have bothered me.”
Huestis explained the zoning integrity of Route 52 and the health safety and welfare of residents and students is major concern moving forward. Supervisor Maureen Fleming said she’s also disturbed that the project is advancing without input from the town when the depot isn’t a permitted use in that zone.
Fleming stressed that the project has moved along despite what’s outlined in the town code.
“The school board can come in and put whatever it wants there, and it clearly isn’t a use for that property,” Fleming said. “And I don’t know how it gets to go forward, I have to say.”
David Shaw, attorney for the Carmel Central School District, explained that the school board isn’t obligated to consult the town if the district wants to purchase a piece of property and build on that land, per state law. He said the district can purchase land and proceed with a project despite municipal law unless there is a specific health, safety, or welfare objection.
Despite years of dispute, he said the New York State Education Department insisted the district work cooperatively with the town as the plan progresses.
“There’s a long history of public-school districts being able to acquire land and the local codes would not apply,” Shaw said, contesting the uses of the bus garage are indeed consistent with the existing zoning code. “We want to make every commitment to meet every legitimate concern the town might have.”
Shaw added if any project brought forth by the school district matches closely to the intended use of the zone designated by the town, municipal law wouldn’t apply when the school district is already the owner of the property. Essentially, a non-residential project could be proposed in a residential zone so long as it mirrors the code close enough.
When asked by Councilman Paul Denbaum if the district plans submit an application to the towns zoning board, Shaw replied that the school has no intention of doing so, further asserting a SEQRA process was conducted and completed by the district.
“We would like to move ahead with the project,” Shaw said. “Holding out whatever interest you have in the nature of health, safety and welfare, and to resolve those if those are legitimate concerns.”
Fleming said she took offense to the school board disregarding the town code and residents, citing how the Kent population panned the districts bond proposal during each vote. Shaw cautioned officials if they opted to litigate the issue that it would likely cost the taxpayers more money to cover the legal fees.
Fleming asserted how disingenuous it is to assert taxpayers would be impacted financially because town officials want to protect the community. Huestis stressed the significance in safeguarding the integrity of the town code.
“To make it as if our wanting to protect our residents and our town code and then costing them money because we want to stand up for our town and even the school board has to follow our zoning code is a little offensive,” Fleming said, noting the town isn’t planning on filing an injunction. “This is costing our taxpayers already walking in the door. This is a major issue for Kent residents, so if we have to ensure our zoning code is followed, we’re entrusted by our voters to make sure their rights are protected.”
The Town Board asked Shaw a plethora of questions that he provided answers to at the May 4 Board of Education meeting. Carmel Trustees unanimously agreed to share the information with the Town Board.