Rhinebeck seeks separate district for fairgrounds

After years of being considered a non-conforming use in a residential zone, the Dutchess County Fairgrounds could soon find itself with its very own district.

Rhinebeck Mayor Jim Reardon hopes to revamp the village’s zoning law to legalize all non-agricultural events at the fairgrounds and add an events code for the village. That would give the fairgrounds more control over the events it holds on its property, and would give the village some more oversight, he said.

To discuss the zoning law changes and the proposed events code, which are the result of 18 months work by various committees, the village board will hold a public hearing on April 24 at 7pm at the village hall.

According to Reardon, at all times other than the annual fair, which is considered acceptable under state agriculture and markets regulations, the fairgrounds have been a non-conforming use in the village ever since the zoning laws were written in the 1960s.

Because of this, he added, every time the Dutchess County Agricultural Society, which operates the fairgrounds, wanted to make a minor change in its operations or “even put a shovel in the ground,” it needed to go before the village zoning board for approval.

To remedy that, the new zoning proposal would create a “Fairground District,” in which a number of agricultural and educational activities are allowed. For example, day camps, concerts, and the keeping of livestock at the site would not need village approval.

However, the village would retain oversight for all building and zoning applications on the grounds that don’t fall within the acceptable use.

The law also creates a buffer zone, in which any utility lines must be placed underground and away from residential neighborhoods.

In the past, Reardon said, the zoning law was generally ignored, allowing the fair owners to make changes as they saw fit, according to Reardon. But when he took office, Reardon insisted that the law be enforced, leading to problems between the fair and the village.

In 2011, the enforcement of the zoning laws on the fairgrounds ended in litigation, and the New York State Supreme Court eventually sided with the village.

Reardon says the current law hampers the fairgrounds.

“You can’t have a fairgrounds that’s only utilized for a fair” one week of the year, Reardon said.
As for an events code, its need became apparent after the Chelsea Clinton wedding in Rhinebeck in July 2010, Reardon said.

In addition to not knowing the details even two weeks before, the village had to use its police force to provide additional security and maintain order because of the large crowds of onlookers.

In some ways, the wedding actually had a negative impact on the village, according to Reardon.

“The end result was that our taxpayers had to foot the bill for police overtime for a private affair,” Reardon said.

This is not the first time the mayor has floated the idea of a village events code. One was proposed in 2011 and, according to news reports, faced strong opposition from fair show producers and business owners.

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