Mayor Sack opened public discussion on the proposed rock chipping legislation at the September 16 City Council meeting by asking the community to respect other points of view on what has become a heated issue.
By Robin Jovanovich
Mayor Sack opened public discussion on the proposed rock chipping legislation at the September 16 City Council meeting by asking the community to respect other points of view on what has become a heated issue. The discussion, while lengthy, was never vituperative, however. The Mayor shared a wide range of emails the Council has received, most of which were from residents in favor of enacting legislation that would limit the number of days chipping would be allowed on any residential construction project.
Builder Al Vitiello, a member of the Planning Commission and the Rock Chipping Study Group formed by the Mayor last October, offered, “Our task, given the emotions of affected neighbors, was to make sure we brought a carefully filtered list of items to the Council, which would then present them for public discussion.” Based on his experience, Vitiello said he is not in favor of limiting the number of rock chipping machines to one on any project or of 30-caelndar days. “Thirty days could never work in many situations. The utility companies dictate, and it wouldn’t be fair to developers because we can’t control the utility companies.”
Fellow Study Group members Andrew Dabinett and Jim Hedges argued that in their extensive research, data shows that most projects could in fact be completed within 21 days. “Our current noise law prevents barking dogs and chirping birds,” said Dabinett. “It is nonsensical that we have no rock hammering law … a free-for-all exploited by some developers, the worst manifestation being 135 Highland Road.”
Hedges added, “We’ve had the benefit of the moratorium in place for the last 90 days. The permitting process has shown that rock chipping isn’t an outlier. There have been 25 rock-excavation permits in 90 days; eight per month is a lot. Every section of Rye has been impacted.” Hedges noted that 64% of the projects were new construction, 28% patios and pools, and 8% commercial. He commended the City website for presenting dates of all building projects.
“We’ve heard that legislation would take away from developer’s property rights,” said Hedges. “But by setting a time limit, we’re incentivizing developers to do more due diligence and consider how hard the rock is and how long it will take to remove it before they start a project. A 30-day calendar offers transparency to all.”
Jonathan Kraut, a Rye resident and local attorney speaking on behalf of the development community, reminded listeners that, “developers are part of our economic engine… The Building Department generates $3.4 million in fees and it costs the City about $700,000 to operate the Department.” He asked the community to think of rock chipping as “a short-term inconvenience for long-term benefit,” and he asked the Council to consider the draft legislation he had submitted.
The legislation proposes 45 days as an outer limit, keeping current construction hours and not stopping rock chipping at 3:30, and allowing an applicant to apply for an additional permit in 12 months, not 18 months as the Study Group recommended. “It is intellectually dishonest to limit the chipping to calendar days,” he posited.
Grace Church resident David Cutner wondered why the laws before the Council were on limiting duration. “I think the focus is wrong-headed, it should be noise abatement.” He continued, “Property owners are asked to contain water on their property, why can’t we ask them to contain noise? We need to protect our quiet and repose. People are not going to accept this [rock chipping] going on in our community.”
Stanley Kotyza, owner of Figaro Builders in Rye, who is working on a large project at 93 Central Avenue, said, “I am not doing anything bad. We are increasing the quality of life in Rye. One of my employees has actually invented new technology.”
City Council members, who as a group have mostly listened during the public discussion at Council meetings the past few months, each summarized where they stand on the issue at this point.
Councilman Richard Mecca, a liaison to the Study Group, said the committee did a thorough job. The question is, he said, how to regulate activity that increases revenues to the City. “Based on everything I’ve heard, I propose the Council consider a 25 consecutive-day limit — a hard stop after 30 days is unrealistic — and allowing construction to start at 9, not 10, on Saturdays.”
Councilman Richard Slack, who also served as a liaison to the Study Group, said he fully supported the proposed law. “It provides reasonable limits. Builders will continue to build here and Rye will continue to grow.” The law has other important features, he noted, among them: “providing for permitting process notice to neighbors, shortening rock chipping hours, prohibiting chipping on holidays and on-site crushing. Calendar days goes to the essence; simple, effective enforcement will be clear if there is a violation. And it’s supported by the Building Department, which has told us that the moratorium shows that a calendar-day approach works.” Slack added, “We haven’t received data that refutes any of the committee’s data.”
On the other hand, Councilman Terry McCartney believes “we do have to give some deference to builders. The law doesn’t recognize two levels of property rights. If we deny developers, it can have impact.” His recommendation is a “hybrid version — 30 work days within 45 calendar days.” McCartney would like to see some language about dust mitigation included in the regulation.
Councilman Julie Killian said she has been concerned about 30 days from the beginning. “I think it’s too tight. I am comfortable with blasting as an alternative. Allowing two machines at a time makes sense, so that a project can be done as soon as possible.”
The 30-calendar-day limit makes sense to Councilwoman Laura Brett. “It’s important for residents to have an expectation. It reduces conflict between neighbors and is easier to enforce.” She continued, “Building projects don’t work like clockwork — there are unexpected delays — so a waiver provision of seven days seems about right. We need 18 months between projects.”
Councilwoman Kirstin Bucci is in favor of 18 months between projects, dust mitigation, and an appeals process overseen by the City Manager.
Mayor Sack said, “We have been listening. This is the first time the council has had a chance to hear what we all think. There is agreement on some and the disagreement is not insurmountable. The moratorium is still effective. It is incumbent on me to do this. I would like to bring the discussion to a vote at the next Council meeting.”
The next Council meeting is October 7. The community will be listening.