The New Scotland Town Board unanimously passed a resolution to not take any further action against Commercial Zone Advisory Committee member Liz Kormos after meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 12. At the same meeting, the board voted unanimously to extend a building moratorium that has been in place since May.
Kormos had been at the heart of a potential conflict of interest concerns raised by committee chairwoman Roz Robinson, but the board decided to drop the issue after much debate in which Robinson raised questions about the nature of the relationship between Kormos and a potential buyer of the Bender melon farm property.
Town Supervisor Tom Dolin said each board member had their own reason for choosing not to pursue the matter, but said his vote stems from Kormos role as an advisory committee member. He said since Kormos acts in an advisory capacity she should be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as those with decision-making powers.
I don’t think they should be subjected to the same code of ethics as elected officials, he said.
He added that advisory members are often experts and have experience in the fields they are advising on, and will often have had dealings with a number of parties.
He also said Kormos has brought a substantial amount of information to the table and has been a useful CZAC member.
Kormos’ lawyer Peter Lauricella issued a statement on behalf of his client regarding the dismissal of the matter.
`It vindicates her position that she never had a conflict of interest. She looks forward to getting back to work with the CZAC process,` he said.
Kormos said that since she has no control over the final outcome of the zoning law and no financial interest — two key factors in a conflict of interest — she did not break town code.
A moratorium on commercial development in the Town of New Scotland for commercial buildings larger than 30,000 feet has been in place for six months, and at Wednesday’s meeting, the board opted to extend it for three more months, ending on March 1.
The Kormos matter dealt with the relationship she had with a potential buyer, Mark Schafer, of the Bender melon farm, located at the heart of the commercial zone.
That developer was later outbid by Sphere Development LLC, which has plans to develop the farm with a 137,000-square-foot anchor store.
Kormos, who is also a member of advocacy group New Scotlanders for Sound Economic Development, which supports a 50,000-square-foot size cap on commercial retail stores, said she considered resigning from the committee, but has received so much support she will stay on to finish the recommendation to the Town Board.
She said she was satisfied with the outcome, but not the process.
`The matter was not handled well by all parties,` she said. `It was designed just to get me off the committee.`
She also said she questioned the motivations of Robinson in raising the matter, but she expects CZAC to continue to function despite the conflict.
`We’re both professional. We don’t have to be best friends to work on this committee,` said Kormos.
Kormos said there is still much involved with making a final change in the zoning law, including town approval, county approval and public hearings.
`We really do not have very much time to come up with a recommendation,` she said.
She added she believes she will be able to provide CZAC with information that supports her original position that a big-box development is not the best way to develop the land.
Dolin said he expects CZAC will be able to continue its work, and he is happy to see the matter resolved.
`I think Ms. Robinson acted in good faith, and as chair she had the responsibility to at least investigate,` Dolin said.
He also said since the board was committed to a three-month extension to the moratorium, they decided to see if they could finish before the March 1 deadline. He said in hindsight, though, a six-month extension would have been better, but they did not expect a six-week delay at the time they held hearings for an extension.
Robinson said she is not convinced that a conflict does not still exist, and said she is concerned with the process moving forward.
`I still feel there’s clearly a conflict of interest,` Robinson said. `I do have a trust issue.`
Robinson said she will need to `regroup` to discuss how to proceed to make a final recommendation.
She said she felt that letters of intent to make Kormos a potential partner in the purchase of the property changes the situation and `taints` some of the information she brought into CZAC meetings, citing it as subjective.
Kormos had previously stated she was a consultant for the buyer, Mark Schafer. Kormos also said, though, that while no formal partnership agreement was made to be a `minority partner,` there were letters of intent discussing the issue.
`We had no official partnership agreement, no dollars involved,` Kormos said. `It was all just negotiations and offers.
For Robinson, though, the signatures on the letters are enough to raise a potential conflict.
Robinson added that Wednesday’s meeting got `out of control,` and some people who had alternative opinions were intimidated. She added she is not surprised at the outcome.
Marlene Prentiss read a statement on behalf of her husband Bob, an active member in NS4SED supporting an extension to the moratorium.
She said she and her husband supported a one-year moratorium, as was recommended by the county, rather than the six-month one that was put in place.
She also said that 800 people in the area spoke at the public hearing at the high school against big-box retail development, and that more than 2,000 people signed petitions opposing it.
`We want sound economic development, but not unbridled development. And, we definitely don’t want regional-drawing, big box stores here,` the statement read.“