Planning Board SNAFU
According to De Mayo, water pumped from his basement that had previously
flowed over the area where the road to the subdivision now lies has
where to go but back into his house. “My basement has absolutely
been destroyed because the road has been elevated and acts as a dam
on the left side of my house,” De Mayo said. “I have pumped
8000 gallons of water.”
Mayo told board members that when he purchased his home in 1980 he wasaware
that a sump-pump was required to keep water out of the basement
and that there was the possibility that a right-of-way could one day
provide access to a subdivision behind his property. So when he learned
last year of the proposed 4-lot subdivision, De Mayo said he went “out
of his way” to inform the Planning Board about the existing water
problem. “I did this in advance of everything,” he said.
Board minutes from May 14, 2002 obtained from the Town Clerk’s
office support De Mayo’s claim. Concerning the public hearing
on the proposed Keith Boyd subdivision the minutes state: “A Mr.
De Mayo called and was concerned that where the road goes up it has
a dip and the water comes down and his cellar floods. He would like
to put in a culvert pipe… under the road … so that water
can go across and into the small pond.”
De Mayo’s comments, Town Clerk Sylvia Rozzelle informed town
board members that the Planning Board approved the Boyd subdivision
on July 9, 2002 without referring the matter back to the Town
Board for approval of the property as an “open development district.”
Properties without county or municipal road frontage accessed by a private
road require such a designation before a subdivision can be granted.
records, Rozzelle explained, show that the Planning Board sent a letter
to the Town Board in March, 2002 recommending that the Town Board
approve an open development district for the Boyd subdivision. The Town
Board responded with a letter, she said, which stated that town attorney
Peter Graham should review and approve a road maintenance agreement
for the subdivision and that Highway Superintended Jimmy Fugel
inspect and approve the private road construction prior to the Planning
Board making their recommendation. Once these criteria were met, the
letter continued, the Planning Board should notify the Town Board
so that it could act on the Planning Board’s recommendation.
the Planning Board did not come back to us,” Rozelle told board
members. “And they went ahead and approved it without Jimmy
[Fugel] inspecting the road.”
the Planning Board did not refer the matter back to the town board or
seek Fugel’s input is unclear. Planning Board minutes dated March
12, 2002 clearly indicate that board members were aware that Fugel’s
inspection of the road’s construction was required: “The
50’ coming off of Brown Road has to be approved by the Town Highway
Supervisor before the planning board can approve this subdivision,”
the minutes state.
Board Vice-Chairperson Paula Minew, whose signature is on the plat for
the Boyd subdivision, declined to comment on the matter until after
she had time to obtain a copy of the file from the Town Clerk . “I
only keep a copy of my files for 6 months,” she said when reached
telephone after the town board meeting. “Usually, if there is
a problem, it comes up in that time.”
Board Chairperson, Charles Weidner, however, said he does not think
the oversight was on the part of the Planning Board. “There’s
a little bit of controversy,” he said by telephone last week,
“but I don’t think the Planning Board is to blame. …It
came back to us with an
approved open development, but it’s easy to put the blame on unpaid
people instead of the elected officials.”
said planning board members would meet with the Town Board on
August 12 (the same day this issue of the Olive Press goes to press)
to review what happened.
the meantime, what is to be done about the road?
to Fugel, an engineer would take care of the problem. “You need
a licensed engineer to design the road and handle where the water goes,”
he said after the town board meeting. “That whole phase was left
out of the project.”
he was excluded from the subdivision approval process, Fugel added,
the Council for the Association of Towns, Kevin Crawford, has advised
him to remain an inactive participant until the situation is corrected.
Code Enforcement Officer John Ingram, however, told town board
members that he would not issue a certificate of occupancy for the one
home that has been built on the Boyd subdivision until the road is engineered
properly. The motivating factor for Boyd to do so, Ingram said during
the town board meeting, is that “he wants someone in the house
by September 1.”
response to Ingram’s proposal, De Mayo said: “There is nothing
but the COO (certificate of occupancy) to stop [Boyd] other than me
taking legal action against the town of Olive… I am willing to
let it sit for now and see where the chips go.”
could not be reached for comment.
Tax Issue Closure Time
The school board must decide by August 21 whether to implement
legislation that allows the district to separate the New York City-owned
Ashokan Reservoir from the tax base and spread out the remaining tax
levy equally over the taxpayers of Woodstock, Olive, Hurley, Shandaken,
and portions of Lexington and Marbletown. Woodstock stands to gain the
most from this alternate arrangement, which would change its tax increase
for the coming year from 13 percent to only one percent.
speaking strongly in favor of the proposition, gave an example of the
tax differential, saying, "This year two houses in Olive, one selling
for $207,000 and one for $210,000, paid a combined school tax of $2,096.
At the same time, one house that sold in Woodstock for $200,000 paid
$2,749 in school taxes. One property in Woodstock paid $700 more in
school tax than the combined school tax of both Olive properties."
He added that even with a 56 percent increase, Olive taxes would still
be lower than those of Woodstock.
supervisor Berndt Leifeld addressed the ongoing dispute between Olive
and New York City over the value of the reservoir property. He said
that once the two entities agree on a fair market value, one of the
criteria for applying the large-parcel legislation to Olive will no
longer be met, and Woodstock will face a severe spike in its taxes if
the change is implemented and then the situation reverts to its current
status. Meanwhile, Olive feels that New York City is not paying its
fair share of taxes because of its reliance on an antiquated assessment
ironically, it is New York City, through its Memorandum of Agreement
with Watershed towns, that pays for Olive's legal representation in
the City's challenges to Olive's valuation of the reservoir.
Cross, the Republican candidate for Town of Shandaken supervisor, suggested
that if the towns unite in trying to get the city to raise its assessment,
they might have the clout to succeed. He estimated that the result would
be an extra $12 million from the city, which could be applied to reduce
taxes in all the towns.
supervisor DiModica expressed sympathy for both sides of the tax issue
but concluded that the board should "enable the change for the
coming year for the fairness of the people of Shandaken," who suffer
from many of the same restrictions as Olive residents, due to its location
in the city watershed and state ownership of much of the town's land.
town council member Cindy Johansen began the hearing by outlining the
hardships Olive residents must endure as a result of the Ashokan Reservoir's
location in the midst of the town, for which the town's lower taxes
are meant to serve as compensation. These hardships include the lack
of a town center and of good farming land, since the creation of the
reservoir flooded the most populous areas and the best farmland; the
necessity of driving miles out of the way to get across or around the
reservoir to reach shopping, services, and entertainment; even more
extensive and long-term detours during bridge renovation and the recent
terrorist alerts; severe limits on commercial development, legislated
by New York City to protect the quality of its drinking water, and consequential
minimization of the commercial tax base; close supervision and restriction
of construction and outdoor activities by the city's Department of Environmental
Protection (DEP) police; and low property values as a result of all
these disadvantages. Many of these complaints were echoed by other speakers,
as well as the point that the creation of the reservoir was imposed
on the unwilling town by New York City.
Woodstock residents argued at the meeting that these problems were irrelevant
to the issue at hand, in that they did not prevent Olive children from
getting as good an education as other children in the school district.
These speakers felt that all property owners in the district should
be taxed equally for equal school services.
some of the Olive speakers pointed out that Woodstock properties of
the same size as Olive properties sell for higher prices, an advantage
for Woodstockers who may reap profits on their homes, Woodstock residents
turned this argument around to object that lower property values in
Olive would mean fewer actual dollars in tax increase under the alternate
system, despite the high percentage of increase.
of both towns spoke of economic hardship. The median income in
Olive is $51,000. In Woodstock it's $66,000.
speakers from Olive stated that the issue is too complex for the board
to decide in such a short time and that it would be unfair to make the
change now, when the coming year's budget has already been approved
strong opinions were expressed throughout the night, attempts at unity
were also made, as when Wilber twice made a point of shaking Leifeld's
hand and expressed admiration for his colleague. Leifeld reassured the
board that, contrary to rumor, Olive's police and road maintenance services
that are used by the district would not be withdrawn if the board decides
to implement the change. Wilber and others asserted the need for tax
reform at the state level, saying that the reliance on property tax
for funding education places undue burdens on property owners. And he
said he was disappointed by the turnout of Woodstock residents.
school board, which did not respond to any public comments at this meeting,
will meet on Wednesday, August 20, at 7 p.m. at the high school to discuss
whether to take action on the tax legislation.
It’s More Than Play
These days, of her three loves, it’s politics that has the front
seat. The town council, which usually meets twice a month, has taken
extra meetings over the Onteora school tax debate and the fight to keep
the School Board from voting to apply the large-parcel tax law to Olive
this year, in order to buy time until next year’s vote. The town
council needs the year to figure out how to deliver more equity to the
situation, and to come up with a strategy for what has become an increasingly
complex chess game. “That large-parcel tax law was intended for
power plants and large corporations. It was never intended for a reservoir.
With a huge commercial venture you’ve got prosperity, new businesses,
new taxpayers, new residents. With the reservoir, we’ve got none
of that. We’ve got this beautiful body of water that we can’t
access. We can look at it from afar, but don’t put your foot in
it!” And beyond that legal issue, Linda believes “it’s
unfair to pit communities against each other,” as it has done
with Olive and Woodstock.
The tax debate has brought to the fore the special nature of life in
Olive. “About 100 years ago New York City and the town of Olive
entered into a shotgun wedding and Olive has been the abused spouse
in that marriage ever since.” When Linda speaks of living with
“the entity that controls our lives” it begins to sound
like a horror movie, and in a way, it is. After all, to build the Ashokan
Reservoir five towns were buried under water, and a new neighbor moved
in that seems invisible, but its unseen hand controls many issues. “New
York City owns 54% of Olive. New York City owns half the town and controls
the rest. Anything in the watershed they have control over. They can
stop you from washing your own car in your own driveway. They try to
have us believe they are benign. Oh, they’ve got so many wonderful
words they use for themselves, like ‘good neighbors.’ Yes,
they seem invisible, until you see that DEP cop with his radar pointed
at you. Why is he here? We don’t need them to be traffic cops.
Why are they answering police calls? Why are they driving around in
Samsonville, that’s outside the watershed. This is a nice, quiet
little town, and we’ve got local police, which are quite adequate.
But we also have DEP cops, we have the Ulster County Sheriff, we have
the New York State Police, we have the DOC Federal Reserve cops. Our
quiet little town is now a ‘terrorist target.’ Mayor Bloomberg
calls for a level orange alert, Olive goes to level orange. It’s
a maddeningly complex issue, and it’s lucky for Linda that she
has her other two loves, family and theater, to escape into. She lives
in the house her husband Fred, a UCAT bus driver, was born in, the house
his father grew up in. Originally a one room plank house built in the
early 1700s, the house has been added on to many times, and an 1897
newspaper found in one wall dates one addition. “One time a car
slowed down in front of the house. There was a woman in it who used
to live here.” From that visit, Linda found out there was a baby
born right where her desk sits now, the woman’s brother.
When Linda went on that blind date 28 years ago, her husband-to-be seemed
very shy. “We went to a horrible movie called Airport 75. He was
already in the theater before I even got out of my car. I was afraid
to say boo, I thought he’d run five miles. Two weeks later, I
was going back to Olive to visit my sister, and she said, ‘Freddy
wants to pick you up.’ I said, ‘Freddy who?’ Well,
I fell in love on that second date. We were married five months later.
Within a month, I got pregnant.” Linda already had one child.
“I was one of the original single mothers. Back when it wasn’t
popular yet,” she jokes darkly. “I was 25, which was considered
long in the tooth to still be single.” Linda had four more children
with Fred, including twins. “All five are teachers,” she
was children’s issues that first led Linda to local politics.
“My kids grew up at the old Davis Pool. Olive has and always has
had the best recreation program in the county. Where were the kids going
to go? We don’t have a town center, that’s under the reservoir.
So we had to provide a place for kids to go. We had a program where
we picked up the kids, provided swimming, arts and crafts, took them
back home. For years it was free. And the older kids got jobs as counselors.”
Linda coordinated a youth program, “rent a kid,” where kids
could register with Linda, and locals that needed some work done could
hire them. “There are adults today that come up to me and tell
me I got them their first job.” Linda’s first assignment
as a member of the town board was recreation, and later, the transfer
Linda’s children were grown, she had more time for herself, and
luckily she stumbled on the Shandaken Theater in Phoenicia, where she’s
now stage manager and on the Board of Directors. As stage manager she’s
had a chance to do a little bit of everything, including direct and
act. “And I’m essentially still a mom. They call me Stage
Mom. More people call me “Mom” now than ever.” The
theater, originally an old Oddfellows’ Hall, then a movie theater,
stages musicals every spring, works by new playwrights during their
summer play fair, a comedy or light drama every fall, and a free Christmas
show in the winter. A busy life. What’s next for Linda? Well,
she’s running for town council re-election this fall, so don’t
expect her to be slowing down any.
Protesting City Closures
“None of us believe that a car bomb can take out that dam,”
Shurter in a similar vein. “I just hope that the terrorists are
as stupid as you think we are.”
also argued that allowing people to drive their cars to across
Monument road would assist the DEP police with surveillance. “We
your eyes and ears,” said one person. “We see what goes
members of the Olive First Aid squad said allowing emergency vehicles
to cross the dam – a route that is at least 5 minutes faster than
the detour – could be a matter of life or death.
is too much of a risk to allow vehicles on the road,” Welch
maintained, adding that the only time an emergency vehicle would be
permitted to pass throught the barricades was if a pedestrian was injured
on Monument Road.
an attempt to ease concerns about the safety of the 28A detour,
Principe said the DEP plans to cut back the evergreen vegetation
so that the sun can reach the road surface, repaint the lines,
and improve signage. This work, he said, will be done before winter.
plans, for which Principe could not provide a timeframe, include
leveling the shoulders so that they are even with the road and re-aligning
the road to reduce its steep grade and remove hair-pin curves.
“We are going to have the DOT come down and work with the Olive
highway staff and engineers in a couple of weeks,” he said.
also said the five bridges surrrounding the reservoir are slated for
repair in the coming years and assured Town Supervisor Berndt Leifeld
that they would be worked on one at a time, keeping one lane open. A
timetable for this construction, however, could not be provided.
and I talked to [the former DEP district engineer] and the bridges were
in design then,” said La Monda. “And now Todd (West)
says they are still in design. This leads me to believe that the design
of the road will not be done in 10 years.”
whatever the timeframes for improving the reservoir’s infrastructure,
it appears that Monument Road may be closed permanently.
would not use the word forever, but it’s closed,” replied
Principe when someone asked if the road would ever open again.