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There is a history to Comprehensive and land use planning
in Shandaken, and there is a continuity to that history and to the process.
That continuity is reflected in what's in the draft plan and what's
not, and by some of the people who've been working on its text these
many years. As the current committee grapples with how or if to proceed,
much of the debate has turned to who's pulling which way at any given
moment, and why. Without a historical context for understanding that,
it's difficult to make sense of. What follows was compiled from a number
of sources including town, county, regional, and state officials, past
Sept.1972 Shandaken's first zoning statute, a 4-page "Interim Zoning"
program is adopted as Town law, at the initiation of the Town Planning
Board. Planners: Clarke & Associates, Rye. NY.
Sept.1973 Zoning Board of Appeals created, amidst explosive anti-zoning
sentiment. First Chairman, Michael Bobbick.
May 1976 Shandaken's first Zoning Ordinance adopted, along with Town's
first Zoning Map. Planner: Clarke & Associates.
June 1979 Amendments to Town Zoning Ordinance adopted to simplify some
of the suburban-oriented language adopted in 1976.
Dec. 1987 Current Zoning Code adopted. Planner: Arthur Brod, Troy, NY
May 1991 Councilman Marty Millman receives a copy of the town of Hunter's
Comprehensive Plan, and announces that Shandaken will hold its own Comprehensive
Dec. 1992 Amended Zoning Map adopted, to correct confusion caused by
errors in earlier mapping.
Feb 1993 Town Supervisor Neil Grant appoints Dean Gitter as Shandaken's
representative to the Coalition of Watershed Towns, the DEC, and other
agencies on water resource management issues and their economic impact.
Board also requests Planner Dan Schuster to apply for Watershed Planning
June 1993 Shandaken Town Board passes resolution forming the Route 28
Corridor Committee "at the request of resident Dean Gitter",
who is appointed Chair. Committee members: Dick Clark, Erich Griesser,
Harry Jameson, Don Kerr, Dennis Metnick, Glen Miller, Rick Petterson,
Alan Rosa, Faye Storms, Geddy Sveikauskas.
Oct. 1993 Town Board appoints Al Frisenda to Route 28 Corridor Committee,
replacing Dick Clark.March 1994 Route 28 Corridor Committee releases
its Resource Protection and Economic Development Strategy for the Route
28 Corridor, with principal recommendation for the "master planning,
financing, and development "of a major resort in proximity to Belleayre
Mountain ski area. Chair, Dean Gitter. Planner, Dan Schuster.
April 1994 Town contributes $2,500 toward incorporation expenses for
the Central Catskills Planning Alliance. July 1994 Central Catskills
Planning Alliance formed. Original President, Dean Gitter, Subsequent
President, Erich Griesser. Planner, Dan Schuster. Consultants selected
by Dean Gitter. Committee members: Jennifer Gould, Beth Waterman, Sindy
Becker, Al Frisenda, Geddy Sveikauskas, Dave Barnet. Funded by $75,000
grant from NYS Rural Economic Development (later restructured as NYS
Empire Development Corp). No public meetings held in development of
Oct.1996 According to town records of 5/99, a "Town of Shandaken
Master Plan Committee" completes its "Goals and Policies for
the Future of Shandaken". The first of 8 goals is expansion of
Belleayre, "supported by year-round sports and cultural facilities
connected to lodging, restaurant, and entertainment facilities".
No public meetings are held and no submission of this
plan is made to Town Board, County Planning Dept. or any other agency.
Jan. 1997 Town signs Memorandum of Agreement with NYC Dept. of Environmental
Protection. Feb. 1997 Town Board passes a resolution supporting the
privatization of Belleayre Ski Center along with unspecified "year-round
sport and cultural facilities".
June 1998 Town Board applies for $10,000 grant to NYS Dept. of State
for "Belleayre Gateway / Catskill Watershed Museum Project",
under "Round 1" of MOA Comprehensive Plan funding.
Aug.1998 Acquisitions begin of properties totaling 9% of Shandaken's
private land. Holdings later identified as comprising proposed Belleayre
Resort at Catskill Park project.
Nov. 1998 Central Catskills Planning Alliance releases Tourism Development
Plan for the Central Catskills. 4 of 5 Development Policies proposed
concern development in proximity to Belleayre Mountain, including development
of a "destination resort". Presidents:Dean Gitter, Erich Greisser.
Planner, Dan Schuster.
Dec. 1998 NYS Dept. of State denies Town's application for "Belleayre
Gateway" project funding on the basis that it is both site and
project specific, not a town-wide planning project.
Phoenicia Community Empowerment Project begins, facilitated by Planner
Helen Budrock of the Catskill Center for Conservation & Development.
Brian Powers later voted Chair with Exec. Committee members Mike Ricciardella,
Declan Feehan, and Harry Jameson.
Jan. 1999 Town Board under Supervisor Neil Grant appoints Zoning Review
Committee consisting of Glen Miller, Keith Johnson, Al Frisenda, Harry
Jameson, Elizabeth Callahan, Art Christie, & Ted Byron. Liaison
to Town Board: Edna Hoyt. Planner appointed: Dan Schuster.
April 1999 Zoning Review Committee finalizes 22 amendments to the Code,
withholding 10 for possible future action. 12 amendments are submitted
to the Town Board and adopted into law, including a revision of the
Schedule of Use Regulations to allow "golf courses and Country
Clubs" in all districts except within hamlets. Super-majority vote
of Town Board permits overriding of binding Ulster County Planning Board
recommendation opposing this. All changes drafted by Dan Schuster.
Shandaken had asked the CWT, a coalition that was set up in the 1990s
and which was instrumental in forging the 1997 Memorandum of Agreement
between the city and watershed towns, to back its proposed local law.
Without taking a position on that law, the group did resolve "to
support the efforts of watershed communities to have sufficient funds
provided by project applicants to the municipality, so that the municipality
can review a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and participate
in the...SEQRA process". Shandaken's proposed law would set review
fees for that participation which could total up to $750,000 to pay
for the Town's review the DEIS submitted by Crossroads Ventures for
its $300 million Belleayre Resort Project.
According to the New York State Association of Towns which also weighed
in with an opinion, Shandaken does appear to have the authority to
set local review fees under the State's Municipal Home Rule Law. In
a letter from the organization's counsel, the group cited the same
legal precedent outlined by Shandaken counsel Jeff Baker in his Memorandum
in explana tion of the proposed law. "Our attorneys have advised
us that it's absolutely illegal," said Dean Gitter, Crossroads'
principal. "And if they go ahead with it we will challenge them
Earlier this month, Shandaken endorsed a resolution passed by the
CWT, condemning New York City's recent request for proposals to review
the project under SEQR at a cost to City taxpayers of $600,000. The
city's proposed review goes beyond looking into water quality issues
and into general development issues, which many feel is intruding
upon home rule. "We felt that we were safe in terms of protecting
our home rule issues because of the MOA," said Catskill Watershed
Corporation executive chair Alan Rosa, who was part of the CWT when
the MOA was forged. "The city has a right to look at any project
in terms of water quality, but not to intrude on home rule."
Rosa fears that if the city looks into "growth inducement"
issues, it might interfere in upstate development issues in new ways.
The issue is so loaded that Christopher Ward, New York City Department
of Environmental Protection Commissioner came to Kingston recently
and met with public representatives and Dan Ruzow, counsel to Crossroads
Ventures a few weeks ago. But according to Rosa, the city still intends
to keep development issues in its review, though it did say that it
would share its scope of work with upstate stakeholders.
Both the town and the city are Involved Agencies under SEQR, although
Lead Agency designation has been retained by DEC. Under that law,
a project applicant is only mandated to pay review fees to the lead
agency. However, according to Jeff Baker, counsel to both the town
board of Shandaken and to the CWT, it is common practice that a developer
make funds available to the municipality in which the project is to
be sited, a view shared by Ruzow in his book Environmental Impact
Review in New York. According to Baker, "It's in the developer's
interest to get their approvals. They'll usually provide the tools
to the town to undertake an adequate review that will withstand a
legal challenge in case someone else challenges it," In a related
issue, councilwoman Jane Todd sought the advice of the Association
of Towns on the legality of Shandaken's proposed law. However, the
first any councilmember knew of it was when a quote from Dean Gitter
was published in a Daily Freeman story. Gitter told the Freeman that
Shandaken's proposed law was illegal according to the Association.
Shandaken Supervisor Pete Di Modica called the Association to find
out why the group was advising a private developer when it was set
up to assist towns. "I was told that Jane Todd had called,"
said Di Modica, who was also told by the Association that Todd had
asked whether Shandaken would be due SEQR fees even though it was
not lead agency. "It is strange that I found out from the newspaper
that Jane was making inquiries and that the quote came from Dean.
I wonder whether she was calling on behalf of the town or the developer."
Praying for whom?
The federally-mandated resolution to protect the right
to pray was dealt with at the brief Onteora School Board meeting on May
12. While prayer cannot be legally instituted by a teacher in or out of
the classroom, this resolution defends the students' right to pray or
take part in religious study during their free time at school.
Under the resolution schools are required to both state
that they have no policy to the contrary, and to nullify any existing
policy which might suppress prayer. The subject of school prayer in its
various manifestations has inevitably invoked
issues of separation of church and state.
School districts that are not in accordance with the
resolution risk losing their federal funding. According to the Associated
Press, 42 states hadacknowledged that all of their schools would or already
do follow the guidelines outlined in resolution as of Friday, May 9. New
York, Arizona, California, Illinois and Ohio had a combined 150 to 200
school districts which had not yet complied or reported their compliance.
Those districts, well aware of the threat of losing money, were expected
to report their compliance shortly.
At the meeting on Monday, May 12, the Onteora School Board unanimously
approved the resolution. The right to pray at school had already fallen
under constitutional protection. The right was apparently singled out
for further resolution on a nationwide level to clarify certain items
and to confirm that prayer is not in fact being prevented or discouraged.
Certain intricacies do exist in the issue, and the mandate
further ensures that schools will deal with each scenario appropriately.
For instance according to the US Department of Education Guidelines on
the matter, schools may not commission speakers for commencement who have
intent to proselytize or speak in a way which encourages prayer, and if
such context arises the school must provide a neutral disclaimer.
However if a school holds a moment of silence during the course of its
day, it may neither discourage nor encourage prayer during that time.
Onteora Board Member Neil Eisenberg noted that in Onteora's case the resolution
is really an affirmation of the school's policy rather than a change:
"Some schools have ambiguous policies, ours isn't one of them."
The importance of passing this resolution for reasons of legality and
funding is undeniable. But is the issue of right to prayer one which the
students are aware of or feel is important?
"In the course of my two years at Onteora, I never noticed kids who
seemed as though they would take advantage of that right." says Natalie
Parker, a former Onteora student who is now a senior at Poughkeepsie Day
School. Elizabeth Thomas, a current Onteora junior, says the issue hasn't
really come up in her experience. "I do, though, agree with the bumper
sticker that says that as long as there are tests at school, there will
be students praying" she jokes.
he pushes his wings forward, parallel to his neck and vibrates his
wings while rocking his body-¯like waving your hands at someone
and shaking them at the same time," and my blushing friend who
wishes to remain nameless continued: "It's really kind of awesome
because he's already this big huge bird that looks more like a dinosaur--totally
out of place in this landscape. He was displaying at me because there
was no other bird there. I thought it was kind of freaky, it made me
think he wasn't very discriminating, like he'd go for something even
of the wrong species."
The black cat liked me though. She met my car when I pulled up and followed
me for the duration of my two-hour tour rendered by my cordial and loquacious
host, Sonny Johnston. He sold Toyotas down in Middletown until he was
70 before he got into the bird business.
"I thought I was retiring. But I got remarried and me and Helen
got into this. She worked at the Frost Valley Y and I met her there
and we got married about 8 years ago. It was coming up on Ground Hog
Day, and I said either we get married on Ground Hog Day or on the 29th
of February," jokes Johnston. "We got along good and we was
traveling with that motor home out West," he continues pointing
to a vehicle the size of a Greyhound bus. "We saw a pair of ostriches
and decided to get into farming them, but we bought our first pair from
some people here who didn't know how to take care of them."
The ranch, which is about 11 miles up Big Indian-Oliverea Road, boasts
about 50 ostriches, 40 emus, half a dozen geese, a peacock, some guinea
hens, quail, and guinea pigs—most of which roam free and help
to keep the parasite population down. The ranch is free to visit, but
has a shop from which you can buy various items, including….ostrich
meat. Yes, these animals are raised for their meat, hides and oil, and
are sent to slaughterhouses where they are butchered and processed.
But don't they get attached to them? "We don't. When we first started,
my wife helped em get out of the shell at birth and she got upset when
the truck drove up to take 'em to the slaughterhouse. Now we just number
'em. It's very easy to get attached to them. Especially to the emus
cause they're not as big, and aren't dangerous."
Emus, which originate in Australia, as opposed to ostriches, which
hail from South Africa, look like smaller ostriches with bigger eyes
that seem moreexpressive. "They're a comic strip to watch, they
do ballet and stuff," says Johnston. They're attracted to shiny
things, and Johnston jokes that he and his wife don't make any money
from the animals, but rather from the booty they get when the emus fleece
women of their jewelry when they're led through the pens. (In fact,
no one is allowed in the pens.) The two sexes are indistinguishable
save for the noises each makes: "The female sounds like an Indian
with a tom tom inside her and the male growls like a dog." Indeed
they do, and the one we're standing in front of rears its head up and
then looks down at the black cat.
Ostriches do not stick their heads in the sand. But beside being passionate,
they are also fierce. "Ostriches own the pen and everything in
it, and they'll protect everything in it," says Johnston. One is
following us as we walk along the perimeter of its pen. "They're
very curious," explains Johnston, adding, "See that big toe
on em? When they fluff up and come at you, just get the hell out of
there cause they can kill you with one kick."
So, don't step in that pen when you go to visit. Oh, and if you get
a rise out of the amorous ostrich, don't tell me because I'm still trying
to get over my rejection.
Call before a visit: 985-7374 and log onto their website: www.catskillostrich.com