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The Law - Letter or Spirit?

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church millenia ago he compared and contrasted two approaches to life - trying to live according the letter of the law or seeking to follow after its spirit or intent. In Paul's estimation, the first way led to death while the second led to life. Of course he was referring to the Biblical law, which is righteous in both its letter and intent, not to many of our human laws which are corrupt in both.

What law do we say we are following in Cohocton? When it comes to windmills, the law cited is Local Law #2 (LL#2), enacted by our Town Board in late 2006. Serious questions have been raised about its "letter", which UPC Wind and its supporters are using as their guide. But what about the spirit or intent of this Law? According to a recent NY Department of State publication about the functions of a Zoning Board of Appeals,

A zoning law is a community's guide to its future development. That is its purpose. It is not meant to be just another governmental intrusion, another bit of red tape to be untangled before the property owner can go ahead with his plans. The protections afforded residents and property owners within the community from undesirable development come from the restrictiveness of zoning. Traditionally, zoning is characterized by pre-set regulations contained in the ordinance or local law, and applicable uniformly within each district. A landowner can look at the zoning map and regulations and know that if he follows them, he has a right to use his land in a certain way, and that neighboring property is subject to the same restrictions. But, because all land in the district is subject to the same rules, and because no two parcels of land are precisely the same, problems can arise.

Can a landowner do anything they wish on their own land? Not if the very purpose of zoning is respected. Was LL#2 written with the proper intent in mind? Patently not. The clear purpose of LL#2 was to permit and promote a preconceived wind power project that was already nearly fully developed by UPC Wind well prior to the enactment of the law. Setting aside the provisions of Cohocton's master zoning plan, our Town leaders passed a law with setbacks that were obviously designed to accommodate the desires of a specific developer, not to protect the legitimate interests of surrounding landowners.

Thus, while following the letter of LL#2 will definitely lead to contention and loss of community life, even following the spirit of laws like this won't produce a good result. Want to drive one of your town's judges to curse his neighbors at a public meeting? Just pass an unrighteous law and then rile your community up by riding it into the ground. If you want to make sure you get bad results, mix in some political manipulation that actually twists and breaks other laws along the way and then challenge your fellow-citizens to bring you to court. Brothers and sisters, there must be a better way.

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