Follow Up on the News
"I think it would have been courteous to supply a copy to the town," said Beth Waterman, planning board chair. Pete Di Modica, the town supervisor was also miffed that he had not been informed. Crossroads initially submitted its DEIS for its Belleayre golf course resort project in May to the DEC, but amazingly the 3,000 some-odd page document (the longest one ever reviewed in New York State) was found to be incomplete and too difficult to read. Since that time, Crossroads has been working to fill in the holes in the DEIS and to increase its readablity. While in a recent conversation, Gary Gailes, a project consultant, said that the new document would be longer, according to a DEC spokesman, it's actually about half the size.
According to the spokesperson, the DEC now has 30 days from the December 20 resubmittal date in which to evaluate whether the document is in fact now complete. When it is deemed complete, another series of public meetings will be held in which the public can comment on the document. The spokesperson could not comment on any other aspects of the DEIS, including why the town was not informed of its existence. "I'm disappointed in the actions that DEC is taking, not opening up these things that are so important to the people of Shandaken," said DiModica. "I sent a letter asking for a copy for the town hall so that citizens and consultants can see it.
The clock shouldn't start ticking until its made accessible to the public. With a project of this size, the whole process should be made transparent." Kathy Nolan, a Mt. Tremper resident, member of the Comprehensive Plan Committee and frequent activist says she wonders what might be in the document that the DEC or the developer doesn't want our local officials to see. She points out that Crossroads could have made provisions for public copies to be made available. "The supervisor didn't even get a copy. He would have to drive down to New Paltz [DEC headquarters] and pay for copies," says Nolan. She further wonders why if DEC needed help from consultants to review the document initially, why the agency now feels it is in the position to find whether it is complete alone.
According to Waterman, at least the consultants for Shandaken have received relevant sections of the document. But Nolan maintains that the document segments information in such odd ways that the entire DEIS needs to be looked at. Calls made to Crossroads Ventures for details on the new DEIS were not returned in time for inclusion in this story.
The fifth anniversary of the Memorandum of Agreement with the Citypassed withbarely a mention. What did get talked about was the delivery to DEC of the Belleayre Resort's Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which detailed in over 3,000 pages plans to turn eight percent of the privately-owned land in Shandaken into a 1,253 bedroom resort, including golf courses, restaurant seating for almost 1,100, and parking for upwards of 2,000 cars. A review of the proposal was begun by governmental agencies and others.
Over at Onteora, Trustee Joe Doan led an attack on the performance both of students at the Phoenicia School and of its former Principal Randy Collins. Soon after, the Board brought in new legal counsel to try to force the removal of Superintendent Hal Rowe.
Gary Gales presided over a presentation to the Town Board seeking support for a NYC Watershed Museum in Highmount on property he'd donated in the middle of Crossroads' proposed resort holdings. The Catskill Heritage Alliance objected to DEC, claiming the two projects were run by the same people, and the museum's 40,000 projected annual visitors should be included in the resort's DEIS. Crossroads called the assertions "ridiculous" and DEC rejected them but within weeks Gales moved the proposed venue to Arkville. The Planning Board approved 3 soccer fields along Rt. 28 in Mt. Pleasant, and was served with a lawsuit filed by neighbors. County Legislator Linda Bertone, elected as a Democrat, announced after 5 weeks in office that she was a Republican, and State Supreme Court Judge Bradley ruled that the legislative district in which she, Ward Todd, and Rob Parete were elected was probably unconstitutional and would need to be redrawn post-haste, or at least before the next election.
As mud season began, the Town provided for the free removal of junk-cars, and many went away. The State's Watershed Attorney General and New York City's DEP each weighed in with substantially negative assessments of the Belleayre Resort DEIS. The new "Blueberries", a 40-room hotel in Pine Hill, was issued a Special Use permit for the reopening of the old Wellington. Neighbors promptly filed suit against.
Spring: Andrew Poncic's plan to harvest water near the end of Woodland Valley went over like a tanker truck on a windy country road. At the public hearing, the public was not pleased, nor was Poncic pleased to provide information requested repeatedly by the Planning Board, much of which, to date, it's still waiting for.
The town established a Bicentennial Commission in preparation for celebrating that milestone in 2004. DEC's consideration of a plan to reintroduce elk to the region was indefinitely postponed. Planning Board Chair Phil Davenport went on leave on absence, and later in the year resigned, with the position being filled by Beth Waterman.
In the Belleayre Resort Review process, DEC requested major revisions in 12 areas of the DEIS, sending the document back to Crossroads Ventures. The Town Board hired attorney Jeff Baker, counsel to the Coalition of Watershed Towns and a former partner of Crossroads' counsel Dan Ruzow, to represent the town for its upcoming review of the project.
The big event of the spring political season was the School Board elections, in which a slate lead by Trustee Joe Doan was soundly defeated, being replaced by Marino D'Orazio, the Board's new President, Kathy Hochman, and Neil Eisenberg. Meg Carey was named Vice-President.
Summer: The O'Connor Foundation gave $250k to help site the NYC Watershed Museum in Arkville's Industrial Park, after the CWC guaranteed the $1 million for its exhibits - until then earmarked for use only in Shandaken - would still be available if the museum moved to Delaware County.
The Federal Government released its data from the 2000 census, and most people were pleased to learn that Shandaken is the fastest growing town in Ulster County, measured by the rise in per-capita income, median family income, and educational attainment. Some who interpreted this data as suggesting the glass might be half-full were attacked for not being sufficiently depressed about the town's economic performance, in an exploration of the boundary between corporate free speech and hate mail.
17-year old Jennifer Coppolino drowned while tubing in high water in an unmaintained section of the Esopus, just below NYC's Portal at Allaben. Three weeks later, kayaker Lawrence Kirwin perished in the same section of the creek. DEC, the only agency with administrative jurisdiction, said it has no responsibility to help keep the creek safe for recreation, while landowners would be violating state law if they attempted to do anything about it. The issue may be headed for the courts, at the behest of the families of the deceased.
The Circus came to Town and landed in Phoenicia Park. Shortly afterwards, SAY'S Chris Fisher notified the town that "what is known as Phoenicia Park is no longer a facility operated by the Town of Shandaken", by virtue of a lease the organization signed for use of the parish field. The property however, appeared to already be under lease for use as a park, as part of a long standing arrangement between the Town and St. Francis de Sales, under which the town reciprocally has been providing significant services. This state of affairs seems likely to assure that public funds cannot be sought or spent to upgrade the facility.
The Town Planning Board selected Rhinebeck attorney Drayton Grant to represent it in connection with the SEQRA review of Crossroads Belleayre Resort. The move was widely seen both as a rebuff to Di Modica's preference to see the Planning Board use Jeff Baker in that role, and as a possible sign of support for the resort project amongst the seven Planning Board members.
As the Comprehensive Plan Committee shifted into high gear, Town Planners discussed a possible land use moratorium to permit the completion of that plan. None was proposed, though a highly-charged campaign in opposition to the idea was mounted.
N.Y State demanded a $1.2 M payment based on our assessment of 54,000 acres of state-owned land from 1992-1998.
Just before the Labor Day weekend, a kitchen electrical fire put Sweet Sues, Phoenicia's premier breakfast joint, out of business for a while, despite a great save by the MF Whitney Hose Company. The dropoff in weekend foot traffic on Main Street was almost immediately apparent.
Randy Collins finally told the school district he wasn't coming back, and Interim Principal Linda Sella agreed to stay.
Fall: It rained, finally. Main Street retailers reported a significant loss of business. The Belleayre Music Festival ended its 11th season with sales up 30% over last year.
After 9 months in negotiation, Shandaken signed an agreement to acquire the Pine Hill Water Company from developer Dean Gitter. A lawsuit was filed challenging a decision by DEC to permit the removal of one third of that system's water for use in the Belleayre Resort project, prior to its transfer to the town. A water district was formed to administer as much of the hamlet's former water supply as it eventually ends up with.
Election results from Shandaken showed a continuation of the trend apparent since '96 toward greater support for Democratic candidates. Congressman Hinchey and Assemblyman Cahill both won reelection with 2-1 margins townwide, and Richard Bockelman was re-elected Sherriff by a wide margin, but lost in Shandaken. Ulster County dropped its appeal of Judge Bradley's decision on redistricting, and formed a "bipartisan" committee which included an actual Democrat, to come up with a new plan.
This Winter: Town Clerk Laurilyn Frasier's dog remained on guard at Town Hall, presumably owing to its political connections, which Di Modica seems unwilling to upset by showing it the door.
The Planning Board approved Terry Savage's 7-unit Subdivsion in Woodland Valley.The Ulster County Legislature raised the county tax levy 20% and individual property taxes an average of 9%, and approved a redistricting plan barely different from our current "probably unconstitutional" one and virtually assured to keep the county in court for the indefinite future. Also passed that day was a resolution "Supporting the Development of the Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park", an unusual step for a proposal which has not yet had a public comment period, or even been accepted as "complete" under SEQRA regulations.
SAYS offered to sublease Phoenicia's parish field to the Town, essentially telling Shandaken's taxpayers we're keeping your car keys, but we'll let you make a copy for yourself if you sign over the title to us. Crossroads resubmitted its DEIS on Friday Dec 20, effectively shaving off a substantial part of the 30-day period in which DEC is obligated to respond to the "completeness" of the materials submitted. As of Christmas Eve, according to DEC, the box hadn't been opened.
He said the search typically takes "at least six months, sometimes a little less or sometimes more, depending on who's interested and how particular the board is." Once a search firm is selected, the board describes to the firm's representatives what kind of person they're looking for, and the firm puts together a brochure describing the school district and its needs.
"The firms have contacts," explained Rowe, "through BOCES, college and university placement offices, and they have a tendency to be aware of where people are who would make a good match. The firm will give the board names of ten or twelve people and their credentials, the board will accept or reject some of these, possibly ask for more names, or ask to interview some of them."
Board president Marino D'Orazio said, "We want to conduct a nationwide search, and we want the highest-quality candidate. We don't want someone who has had a long, long career somewhere else and is looking to come to the Catskills to retire. We want someone who has some experience but is not in the twilight of their career. We're not going to settle." The final hiring decision is made by the board, but feedback from various sources is considered. "When I came here," said Rowe, "the board interviewed five or six people, and the interview team consisted of nineteen people from the schools, the community, the board, and the administration. Different firms deal with it differently, but there is always an opportunity for some public input."
Negotiations with the teachers' union are expected to begin in January. The school board met in executive session at a special meeting on December 3 to discuss "the direction we want to take as a board and the main issues we want to address in terms of the contract," said D'Orazio. "We've exchanged some preliminary, off-the-record exchanges with representatives of the teachers' union. The union has made some proposals that might allow us to save on health insurance. We're trying to keep costs to some kind of manageable salary increase." The timetable, according to Rowe, "depends on how close together the board and the union are. It could take anywhere from a couple of months to more than a year." If negotiations are not resolved by September 2003, teachers will continue, by law, to work under the terms of the expired contract until an agreement is reached. In that case, the new contract may specify that its provisions will be retroactive to the end of the previous contract. Rowe anticipates that one of the union's bargaining points will be its complaint about a non-certified instructor teaching a for- credit class in the Indie program.
The board's spokesperson in the negotiation is the district's lawyer, John Donoghue. Rowe, who has to sign the final contract, will sit at the negotiating table, along with business administrator Chuck Snyder, who will cover the financial aspects. The board will appoint a committee of its own members to consider the progress of the negotiations and send recommendations back to the table. The union spokesperson is New York State United Teachers representative Walter Fultz, who will attend with the OTA president George DeFina and vice president Webb Leonard.
Also in January, the board will begin to hear budget requests from department heads, with two presentations to be made at each of seven consecutive board meetings through April 16. "The budget will be tough this year," Rowe warned, "with gaps in the state's general fund, meaning aid at best will stay level, and conceivably will be reduced." At last week's board meeting, Snyder presented data on what to expect if the budget is defeated in May, and the district has to go to a contingency budget, which is capped at a percentage increase over the previous year's budget, based on an average of the year's Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI this year is low, due to poor performance of the economy, so the contingency budget would probably be only 2-1/2 to 3 percent above the current budget, Snyder estimated. He expects that to maintain the same staffing and programming levels, existing costs will rise by six percent, due largely to health care cost increases and debt payment for the Bennett Elementary School expansion. Major cuts will obviously be required if the board's budget does not pass.
D'Orazio said the budget presentation schedule will be posted on the Onteora website, www.onteora.k12.ny.us, and encouraged the community to attend the presentations. "This board would like to have active participation of the public before putting the budget before the voters." The committee on alternative education, formed in response to requests from some parents at the Woodstock Elementary School, decided, at its third meeting, to disband because, said Rowe, "It couldn't find its purpose." When asked if the administration had other plans for addressing the problems at Woodstock, Rowe replied, "I'm looking at the whole elementary system now because enrollments are slowly dropping. Class sizes are becoming too small for us to afford the staff. We may have to consolidate classes in order to eliminate some elementary teaching positions that will shift to the high school, which is growing in enrollment."
Rowe expects that positions will be dropped through attrition and that no teachers will be laid off. He did not specify how the rearrangement would affect the situation at Woodstock, except to say, "It may bring a different collection of parents together. We're looking for ways to address the concerns expressed and to create a situation at each of the elementary schools that faculty and parents can buy into. I continue to believe that in order for a school to be healthy, the faculty has to be looking at how they can add interest, communicate well with parents, and stay current."