Rhinebeck’s green law gets red light for now

Rhinebeck is seeking a six-month moratorium on state-mandated environmentally friendly building regulations while town planners brush up on exactly what they are.

Michael Trimble, chair of the Rhinebeck planning board, told the town board at its April 8 meeting that the planners aren’t currently equipped to enforce the building standards — because they do not know them.

Town regulations passed in a 2009 zoning law require that Rhinebeck begin following LEED standards starting this year, but Trimble said he thought they were guidelines, not set by law in stone.

According to Trimble, because of this misunderstanding, the planning board has not learned the new rules, which will apply stricter standards to ensure that buildings are certified “green,” or environmentally friendly. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Trimble said to follow LEED standards, the planning board would “need a lot of resources and training.” He called the new law “a great idea,” but said the board needs the extra time to learn its complexities and “is simply not in a position” to enforce the standards now.

Without the knowledge of the standards, there’s no way for the planning board to allow any building to move forward legally, which means the zoning board has not been able to accept any applications for new construction this year.

While Trimble told the board that applications were not piling up, he added, “there could be in the next couple of months.”

To temporarily remedy the blockage, Christian Fekete, the town’s zoning enforcement officer, asked the town board for a year-long moratorium on the LEED standards while the planning board studies them.

Town board member Bruce Washburn opposed the idea of a year-long moratorium, calling it an unnecessarily long amount of time, and saying he was concerned it would be carried over from year to year.

“I’d prefer to have a shorter moratorium,” he said.

Fekete agreed that a year would be too long and that the problem could likely be solved within a few months.

The board briefly considered trying to declare itself exempt from the LEED standards on the basis that its current building standards were enough, but the town attorney discouraged it from that path. Legally, the town is allowed to put a moratorium on the standards.

Board members then agreed on a six-month moratorium.

“We keep finding things in there,” Trimble said of the 2009 zoning law, adding that despite “a lot of good intentions,” the law is complex.

The town board will hold a public hearing to discuss the matter sometime in the future.

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