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New Planning Board Chair Talks Balance, Decision Making

After acting as a member for years, Deirdre Courtney-Batson is stepping into a new role. Read on for a Patch Q&A.

Patch: When were you appointed chair? 

DCB: I was appointed as of Jan. 1 of this year, to replace Donald Coe, who was retiring after a remarkable 39-and-a-half years on the planning board.  

Patch: Was it a role you'd always planned to pursue? Why or why not?

DCB: Not really. When I first joined the board, it never occurred to me that I might someday chair it. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed serving under Dr. Coe’s chairmanship during my tenure, and in all honesty had hoped he would continue through at least one more term. He has been so very good at it! That said, once Dr. Coe announced his retirement, I was certainly interested in taking on the role.

Patch: When did you begin sitting on the planning board, and why did it appeal to you?

DCB: I joined the board in 1990, so I’ve been at it for awhile.  I’ve always had an interest in environmental and planning issues, and shortly after we moved to Katonah, I got involved in a number of debates about traffic issues and historic preservation. From there, one thing led to another.

Patch: Between now and then, which were some of your favorite projects that came before the body? Do any proposals stick out in your mind?

DCB: I don’t really want to highlight any one project. What I most enjoy about being on the board is that you never know what you’ll be looking at next, and you are learning new things all the time. One night we might begin a meeting by looking at a mundane parking lot and then end the evening considering a site plan for a wild animal enclosure. Often we need to understand how a particular business works before we can make a decision about it. Habitat analyses, traffic reports, construction issues, the care and maintenance of horses, or, more recently, generators, historic preservation and design—they’ve all been factors to consider in projects that have come before the board. 

Patch: Do you serve on any other advisory boards? Or are you a big part of any other local organizations? In other words, how do you spend the rest of your time?

DCB: Well, first of all, I do have a day job. I teach history at Pace University in Pleasantville. I’m also the chair of the Katonah Village Historic District Advisory Commission, and I’m active in the Katonah Historical Museum. Before I joined the planning board I was on the board of the Katonah Village Improvement Society, and I still occasionally work on projects for them. I also do alumni volunteer work for my alma mater, Cornell University.

Patch: When it comes to the planning board, is there anything you can think of that most people do not know, but should?

DCB: I sometimes think people don’t realize that the planning board does not have absolute discretion in making its decisions. We are quite tightly bound by the law, and under the law, applicants as well as neighbors have rights, and everyone’s rights need to be protected. Sometimes neighbors who are understandably upset by a particular application will say, “If the entire neighborhood is against this, that should be enough to make you deny it. You shouldn’t even discuss it.”  The fact is, the law requires us to take a hard look at all sides of every application, and to have clear and cogent justifications for everything we do. What we try to do is balance the rights and needs of applicants with the rights and needs of the wider community. Sometimes that does indeed mean denying an application, but more often it involves a certain amount of compromise. We don’t always succeed in achieving an ideal balance, but we always try our best.

Patch: How is the position of chair different from that of member?

DCB: Ask me again a year from now!

Editor's note: This post initially misstated one of Courtney-Batson's affiliations. The information has been updated.

Don Pachner February 04, 2013 at 03:42 PM
Our new chair has beren a thoughtful and thorough examiner of applications and issues brought before the committee, even when I don't agree with her views. She has never been afraid to speak out and ask questions of those coming before the board or of the town, in her role on the planning board. I applaud the Town for their excellent choice.

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