Spurred on by an economics discussion about a local debate, six seniors in Amy Rosenthal’s Issues in American Society class attended a standing room only Orangetown Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on October 17. The Board was considering an appeal by a restaurant seeking a special permit for an outdoor dining area.
The experience was a valuable lesson for the students, who had never attended a government meeting before. “It’s important to go out into the community and know what’s happening,” said Aidan E. “And to make sure that your voice is heard.”
Students were surprised by the turnout and the intensity of the public proceedings. “It was less civil than I expected,” noted Pat D. “I expected it to be more formal. People were raising their voices.”
“More people need to get involved,” observed Deev P. “It seemed like the zoning board had the perception that most people were opposed to granting a special permit, but the people in the room didn’t necessarily represent the whole community.”
In fact, local resident Evan T. was the first to speak on behalf of the restaurant. “Around where I live, you can’t escape from the sound of cars from the Palisades Parkway. It might be nice to have some music to drown out the sound of the parkway,” he said, adding that others followed his lead and voiced support for the outdoor seating area.
Back in the classroom, Mrs. Rosenthal noted that those who attended the meeting were able to appreciate both sides of the debate and understand the concerns expressed by nearby homeowners. “It was a life lesson and a solid example of problem-based learning,” she said. “The students identified a real problem and saw that coming up with a fair solution is a difficult task.”
Photo of TZHS senior Evan T. speaking at the Orangetown Zoning Board meeting, submitted by TZHS student Aidan E.