At a recent public meeting, a well-respected
business owner was favorably impressed with something one of the
committee members had just done. He turned quietly to the guy
on his left, and asked who it was that had just spoken. On learning
his name, he repeated it to the
woman on his right. "Oh" she said after a couple seconds.
"Yeah, he's one of the bad guys".
We're going to have to do better that that, for a couple of reasons.
One is that a lot of us aren't comfortable that splitting us into
our differences like that is the best way for our town to try
to solve its problems. We're going to have to deal with complexity
not by simplistically trying to pigeonhole our neighbors into
good guys and bad guys, but by engaging the issues thoughtfully
and with as much open-mindedness as any of us can. The main reason
though, is that we're going to have to find a way to get through
our collective public dialogue together, because we really don't
have a choice. None of us is going anywhere.
We're all going to be right here, whatever happens
with the Belleayre Resort project, our town's government, the
beginnings of World War III, and whatever else is coming down
the pike.The issues we're dealing with are tough ones, and to
work through them we're going to need to keep hearing lots of
perspectives. It's a dialogue that needs to be based on the merits
of what's said, and not on whether our neighbors have a right
to their opinions based on how long they've lived here, whether
they own or rent their homes, or any other criteria some of us
might want to apply. We're a small community where everyone's
If the day has come when it's OK in our town
that some voices areheard out while others are shouted down, we
may as well all be living in Iraq, because we will have left America
somewhere behind us. That might be fine by some, but we believe
it's not acceptable to most of us. There are people who believe
our community's irreparably fractured into "us" and
"them" over the Belleayre Resort issue, which for 3
years now has dominated every aspect of our communal dialogue
and the political life of our town. Our community of course isn't
really fractured in some schizophrenic split, but it is of different
minds in trying to figure out what's reasonable, what's fair,
and what scale of change might make sense for our town.
There's room to work things through, but the
more people buy into the idea of "us" and "them",
the less likely it is we'll find positions most of us can live
with. There isn't any us and them in Shandaken, there's just us.
If there was a "them", it would be people who don't
live here, and whose interests, hearts, and futures are elsewhere.
For now at least, those people aren't part of our dialogue. But
they will be, on all sides and from every government agency and
interested party, just as soon as the Belleayre Resort's Public
Comment period begins.
That'll happen soon enough, and when it does, it'll probably come
as a relief to people on all sides of the issue. That's because
it'll be nice to stop pretending there's no elephant standing
in the corner that can't be talked about as part of our planning
process. It's not an easy course to chart, balancing our rights
with those of our neighbors, our appreciation of what makes this
place special with our acceptance of change, and our right to
the peaceful enjoyment of our lives and property with our community's
need for meaningful economic development.
No, it's not easy, but finding that balance
is the only course we've got. Some people don't see it that way,
but most of us are looking for a middle ground, and for answers
and perspectives that are reasonable. But we're also looking to
protect what we treasure most about Shandaken, whatever that is
for each of us, and no part of that, for anybody, is going down
without a fight.
Our situation in Shandaken isn't unique. Most communities facing
the prospect of change on the scale we're looking at go through
periods much like the one we're going through. In most cases the
particulars come down to planning and zoning issues, so it's not
surprising that controversy's been centered on the draft of a
Comprehensive Plan for the town. For all its ups and downs, and
wherever the plan's headed now, on balance it's been a positive
process and a worth while one.
It's somewhat ironic that if such a plan had been in place a few
years back, it's almost inconceivable we'd be in the position
we're in now, trying to review a single proposal to literally
double the size of our town. And we're dealing with that now because
nobody had the foresight a few years back to imagine and to plan
for the day when somebody would actually propose to do that. So
while sure, the wisdom of hindsight's great, the wisdom of foresight's
That's why any community needs to figure out
where it wants to go and how it wants to get there. That's what
a planning process is, and that's what home rule's about. Only
when everyone knows the parameters of what's acceptable to a community
can any development proceed without wrenching it apart. If we're
going to keep working toward that end, let's just make sure we
give the process, the truth, and one another the respect each