I have lived in a 150-year-old historic home in Caroline for 40 years. As residents, we are collectively in awe of the town’s open spaces, clean water and air, lush environment and rich soil, and spectacular views. In 2022, our community is at a crossroads.
The town of Caroline is considering zoning ordinances that include the small hamlets of Slaterville Springs, Brooktondale and Speedsville. Zoning divides town land into areas that define rural and hamlet districts whose purpose is to promote and foster growth and development but simultaneously foster orderly growth in rural areas and conserve and protect open land and natural resources.
What is at stake? The town of Caroline has some of the richest soil, most tenable water resources and spectacular views. We are flanked by the rich forests of the Shindagin Hollow State Forest and the Hammond Hill Forest. The town also has rich natural water resources falling within two major watersheds. These resources allow for precious habitat areas to flourish.
If we want to be shepherds of the land for generations to come, we must acknowledge that the time has come to protect ourselves from large corporate business development and unwieldy expansion that does not support the town’s rural character and resources. Water availability and purity, air quality, wildlife protection and land preservation — including that of our agricultural legacy — needs protection through thoughtful governance and zoning.
What can we do? We can be informed of the facts. Recently, social media has spawned misinformation about the Caroline zoning process. Here are a few facts. In 2006, a group of residents appointed by the Town Board formed a Planning Board, which penned the first Comprehensive Plan. A revision of this plan was adopted in 2020 by the recent Town Board.
Its mission “is to identify a clear and compelling vision for the future and to develop strategies to reach that vision.” The plan suggests potential goals and actions for the future including zoning, economic impact, formula business restrictions and design guidelines. Important in the plan is not only the nurturance of the positive character and livability of the town but also the investment in environmental protection and rich natural resources.
The slow and meticulous process of considering and implementing potential zoning ordinances takes time. The Town Board appointed a Task Force for Land Use and Economic Development comprised of residents and landowners. The research and recommendations of that volunteer group led to the Feb. 10, 2021, resolution by the Caroline Town Board to establish a Zoning Commission, in accordance with state guidelines, that will “investigate and research zoning, make recommendations to the Board and then disband upon the submission of their final report.”
That investigation and research phase is where zoning lies today in the town.
Through these many years, all residents in the town have had a right to participate in town governance not only through voting but also through the public reflections on the Comprehensive Plan, the Task Force and the Zoning Commission.
While residents could have become a member of any of these groups through application, residents have been given the opportunity for additional input through public meetings, town newsletters, town questionnaires, privilege of the floor and town drop boxes.
Since the recent pandemic, state law has limited in-person town meetings, but Zoom has allowed not only for virtual participation but also for video recordings of all meetings that are readily accessible online. Announcements of future meetings, agendas and previous questions are available on the zoning website as well.
In the town of Caroline, I have often heard town residents declare at meetings, “A man can do what a man wants to do with his own property.” What’s at stake? While independent rights are important, we must acknowledge that we live in a community.
All citizens have the right to live among the lush natural resources and beauty that the town is defined by, but there are hazards that may be lurking in unruly development, commercial sprawl and environmental pollution. The town’s most recent version of the Comprehensive Plan made a commitment to “the value and necessity for a diverse rural population” where all residents “felt safe, welcome and valued.”
I extend my sincere thanks to our former longtime Town Board members Molly Adams, Phoebe Boynton, Don Barber, Ed Cope, Nellie Farnham, Dominic Frongillo and others who set in motion the protective custody and adoption of the first Comprehensive Plan in its early days. These visionaries set the pace for today’s possibilities.
My thanks to the meticulous work of the current Town Zoning Commission and to their patient and accessible research that is informing the draft-in-progress of our first zoning law. In the wake of misinformation, I implore all town residents to educate themselves on facts that have been presented and respect the investigation and research process that will unfold.
In the first Town Zoning Commission meetings I attended, a consultant reminded the group that zoning ordinances reflect the character of the area. Anyone interested in learning more about the zoning in Caroline should visit townofcaroline.org/zoning-commission1.html.
Renate Ferro has lived in the town of Caroline since 1982. She served as the chair of the Caroline Democratic Committee for 17 years. She has been a Tompkins County Democratic Committee (TCDC) member since 1995. She is the former vice chair of the TCDC and current director of TCDC communications. She is an artist who has used the upstate New York landscape to inspire artistic creation for most of her adult life.