on the News
Shandaken’s struggle to pay for it’s required
review of the Belleayre Resort project has taken a new direction, as
its developer’s unprecedented refusal to fund the town’s
participation in the review has resulted in a proposed new local law
to compel them to do so. And in an interesting juxtaposition of events,
the Town Board unanimously passed a resolution backing a position of
both the Coalition of Watershed Towns and the resort’s developer
that NYC’s DEP should stay out of all local issues in that review
that don’t directly impact the quality of the City’s water.
“No one has ever been forced to deal with this before” said
Town Board counsel Jeff Baker who drafted the town’s proposed
law andpresented it at Monday night’s Board meeting.
”The town” said Baker “has an affirmative
legal obligation to participate in SEQRA, and it has the right to protect
its taxpayers from bearing that cost. Given Crossroads absolute refusal
to provide or even negotiate to provide funding, your Town Board had,
really, no other choice open to it.”
Shandaken’s funding problem for the Crossroads review is an
unusual one.With most projects, a developer would be required under
state law to pay all of its host town’s review costs. Under
that law, SEQRA, the town as Lead Agency would be entitled to up to
one-half of one percent of proposed construction costs, or about $1.5
million in the case of the Belleayre Resort review. However since
Lead Agency status on the project has been retained by DEC, Shandaken
has no access to those funds.
According to Crossroads’ lead counsel Dan Ruzow in his book
Environmental Impact Review in New York, in most instances where a
town, like Shandaken, is an Involved Agency but not the Lead Agency
under SEQRA, the developer will voluntarily provide funding to pay
the host community’s review costs. And the SEQRA law, according
to Ruzow’s definitive treatise on it, further mandates that
all Involved Agencies such as Shandaken consider and comment on a
project’s impact as soon as possible in the process, so that
a final determination can be made based on full and complete input
from all Involved agencies, not just the Lead Agency. Crossroads did
in fact sign an agreement to provide unlimited voluntary funding for
the Townís review in 1999, although the company has since chosen
not to honor that agreement, and the Town Board has not sought to
enforce it through the courts.
To get around this problem, the Town Planning Board is in the process
of updating its review fees as an alternate mechanism for funding
part of its portion of the Crossroads review. Although tabled at Monday’s
meeting pending Planning Board approval of changes to the schedule
made since last month’s public hearing, the new fee schedule
would generate about $70,000 for the resort’s Site Plan Review.
That money however, would not be available any time soon, as those
fees would only be due after Site Plan Review is applied for, something
that could only happen if and after DEC issues a final SEQRA determination
approving the resort project. Since the agency has yet to even accept
the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement as “complete”,
that determination if it comes, might be far in the future.
The proposed local law presented Monday night is intended to cover
the cost of the Town’s SEQRA review that is not covered under
the new Planning Board fees, and to cover the funding gap created
when Lead Agency Status was denied the town. It would require a large
project developer such as Crossroads to place in escrow and as needed,
amounts up to one-half of those it could be required to provide if
the town had Lead Agency designation under SEQRA. As
drafted, it could compel Crossroads to make available up to between
and $750,000, though Baker repeatedly indicated such figures were
downward revision, as the town’s actual needs for the full review
process are in
the $200,000 range.
Speaking for Crossroads Monday, Gary Gailes said that “if the
Town Board does pass this, Crossroads will have no choice but to seek
relief in the courts”, a comment on which he and Supervisor
Di Modica disagreed on, as to whether it constituted a “threat”.
"The question" said Di Modica on Tuesday, “is are
we going to do what we’re we’re supposed to do, and what
we have to do to protect the taxpayers, or are we going to roll over
in the face of the threat of litigation?”
“There is no legitimate legal argument” said the law’s
author Jeff Baker “as to the legality of this town law, or to
the town’s right to require payment for its review costs.”
Both the draft law and Baker’s Memorandum in explanation of
it are available at Town Hall and online at www.phoeniciatimes.com
In a related development, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection
-another Involved Agency like Shandaken in the project’s review
- is now seeking to use some $600,000 in funding from the Mayor’s
Office, not DEP funds, to hire consultants to help the agency in its
review of the resort project. In a request-for-proposals circulated
several weeks ago, DEP outlined a number of subjects it’s looking
to study, four of which - Secondary Growth, Community Character, Traffic,
and Air Pollution - don’t in any way pertain to DEP’s
sphere of concern with water-quality.
The City’s action drew immediate fire from the resort’s
developer, Crossroads’ Dean Gitter: “This unprecedented
move by DEP is a complete breach of the MOA and represents DEP’s
desire to control land use in the Catskills far beyond what is necessary
to protect its interest in the watershed. From correspondence we have
obtained, it is clear that radical environmentalists, orchestrated
by the NRDC, are moving to further expand the regulatory incursions
of the DEP in the towns of the watershed”. Clearly excluded
from such characterization is Shandaken’s Town Board, which
Monday night passed a resolution prepared by the Coalition of Watershed
Towns, supporting the basic position articulated by Gitter, though
without reference to “radical environmentalists”.
Speaking for the Coalition, Jeff Baker, its counsel as well as Shandaken’s,
characterized the city’s actions as “an improper intrusion
into local concerns such as growth and land use issues, which should
be considered by local communities and by the State, but not by the
“Shandaken’s not weighing in on the environmental aspects
of redeveloping the World Trade Center” said Baker. “The
City has failed to recognize that as provided under the MOA, development
- even large-scale development - is not inconsistent with water quality
protection, so long as it meets DEPís regulations.”
“We agree with the Coalition that DEP should stay out of local
affairs” said Di Modica, but its very troubling that the developer,
especially under these circumstances, just won’t pay for our
local review.” The resolution passed by Shandaken is expected
to be passed by other towns in the watershed shortly.
MEMORANDUM TO: Pete DiModica, Shandaken Town Supervisor
FROM: Jeffrey Baker, Esq.
Michael Moore, Esq.
RE: Town of Shandaken; Proposed Local Law to Require Project Developers
Reimburse Town Engineering and Legal Fees, and so Facilitate Town
‘Involved Agency ‘
Participation in DEC SEQRA Hearings.
DATE: May 2, 2003
QUESTION: As we discussed, the Town is faced with the dilemma of identifying
a source of fees to participate in the SEQRA review process for the
Resort at Belleayre Project. The developer has repudiated its 1999
agreement with the Town. The developer has also made it clear that
the site plan review fees will not be available for SEQRA purposes.
Left without other sources of funds the question is may the Town of
Shandaken enact a local law that requires developers of large, complex
residential/commercial or industrial projects to reimburse Town zoning
or planning bodies for reasonable engineering and legal fees incurred
in Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) hearings under the
SEQRA where DEC or another agency , such as NYCDEP is the project
lead agency under SEQRA and Town bodies are ìinvolvedî
agencies, and thus will, at some point, have discretionary permit
authority over the proposed project?
ANSWER: Yes. Case law clearly establishes that, pursuant to Municipal
Home Rule Law ß 10, the Town is vested with the implied power
to enact ordinances reasonably necessary to enable its zoning and
planning bodies to carry out their statutory mandates. SEQRA imposes
significant duties upon Town zoning bodies acting as ëinvolvedî
agencies in a DEC-led coordinated review of large and complex projects.
In order to carry out these statutory duties, as well as its police
powers to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens in
the exercise of its discretionary permit authority, Town zoning bodies
may require applicants for large and complex projects to defray the
Townís reasonable engineering and legal fees. I recommend,
however, that the fees must be assessed by and
paid to the zoning bodies who have the permit authority, who are the
actual involved agencies, and not by the Town or the Town Board. Otherwise
the fee statute may be seen as an improper tax or revenue raising
DISCUSSION: Municipal Home Rule Law (MHRL)ß 10 (1)(i) allows
local governments to enact local laws related to its property, affairs
and government. MHRL ß 10 (1) (a) further allows the passage
of local laws related to the transaction of its business; the protection
and enhancement of its physical and visual environment; and the protection
[of the] safety, health and well-being of its citizens and their property
(a codification of the police power). See, Home Builders Ass’n
of Central New York v. Town of Onondaga, 267 A.D.2d 973 (4th Dept.,
1999) (MHRL ß 10 grants towns implied powers to impose fees
for engineering and legal costs associated with subdivision review).
The seminal case on this issue, cited by the Court in Home Builders,
is the Court of Appeals decision in Jewish Reconstructionist Synagogue
v. Inc. Village of Roslyn Harbor, 40 N.Y. 2d 158 (1976). The following
points supporting the proposed law in Shandaken may be taken from
this opinion:Reimbursement fee structures are justified as a “visitation
of the costs of special services upon the one who derives a benefit
from them.” 40 N.Y.2d at 162 (emphasis in original).
It is for this reason that I recommend that the fees must be paid
to the zoning body who will ultimately have discretionary permit authority
over the project, ie., the body from whom the project applicant is
seeking the “benefit” of site plan or special permit approval.
See, also, New York Telephone Company v. City of Amsterdam, 200 A.D.2d
315, 317 (3d Dept., 1994); and Albany Area Builders Assín v.
Town of Guilderland, 141 A.D.2d 293, 298 (3d Dept., 1988) (ìfeesî
charged for revenue purposes or to offset the cost of general governmental
functions may be invalid as an “unauthorized tax”). Project
applicants in the situations covered by the proposed law will be deriving
a benefit, in the form of discretionary permit approvals, from Town
zoning bodies. It is therefore reasonable and lawful to require payment
of the fees of these bodies incurred in the course of their regulatory
and governmental functions as ëinvolvedí permitting agencies
in DEC SEQRA proceedings. Fees imposed must be “reasonably necessary
to the accomplishment of the statutory command.” 40 N.Y.2D at
163; and Margolis v. Tully, 89 Misc 2d 969, 971-972 (Sup.Ct., Nassau
Co., 1977). In this matter, as discussed, below, the statutory command
to the Town involved agencies arises under SEQRA.
Of most importance to our proposed law, it is clear that the size
of the project matters a great deal. The law allows towns, when setting
fee schedules, to recognize that there are different classes of applicants,
based on the nature of the proposed development (residential, commercial
or industrial), or the size or value of the property at issue. 40
N.Y.2d at 164: If a [town] can demonstrate that a class of applicants
generally requires a board to incur costs greater than those usually
attendant upon applications for those in another classification, it
may establish such a class and may establish its fee schedule accordingly.
The same observation was made by the Court in Margolis, 89 Misc. 2d
at 972, citing Jewish Synagogue (the fee schedule may bear a “direct
relationship” to the magnitude of the owner’s economic
interest in the development a greater economic expenditure by the
project sponsor may justify a “higher fee” by town zoning
bodies). Thus, there is legal authority for the proposal to establish
a fee schedule for large-scale projects involving multiple State and
local permits, where town zoning bodies will be required both to participate
in DEC SEQRA proceedings as an “involved” agency, and
later to conduct their own discretionary permit review (fees for which
would be covered under a separate statute). Finally, the Court of
Appeals requires that fee schedules not be open-ended or unlimited;
but should be based upon ”reliable factual studies or statistics”
and the local government’s experience in ìcases of the
same type. 40 N.Y.2d at 163. We propose in our draft law to base the
Town’s new fee schedule on the existing Statewide fee schedule
found in the DEC SEQRA regulations at 6 N.Y.C.R.R ß 617.13 (b)
and (c), by making the allowable town fees a fraction of the fees
allowed to be charged by the SEQRA “lead agency” for its
environmental impact statement review. These established statewide
SEQRA fees should pass legal muster as being reliable.
The SEQRA statute, regulations (6 N.Y.C.R.R. Part 617) and the DEC’s
Handbook” (1992) all make clear that ìinvolved agenciesî
have significant duties and responsibilities in the SEQRA environmental
impact and permit review process (coordination of permit review proceedings
to promote expedited review; providing the ”lead agency”
with relevant information related to their areas of expertise and
jurisdiction; participation in DEC hearings; receiving copies of all
SEQRA documents). See, Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) ßß
8-0107 and 8-0111(3); 6 N.Y.C.R.R. ßß 617.3 (d) and(e),
617.6 (3)(i)617.12 (b) (1), and 617.14 (c); “SEQR Handbook,”
pp. 29-30. In order to carry out these duties, and fulfill the involved
agency’s “statutory mandate” under SEQRA, the Town
has the implied power to enact the contemplated fee schedule, to defray
its zoning bodiesí costs of acting as ìinvolvedî
agencies in the DEC proceedings. Attached hereto is a draft local
law for the Town Board’s consideration.
TOWN OF SHANDAKEN, ULSTER COUNTY Local Law
No. of 2003
AN ACT TO ESTABLISH A SCHEDULE FOR PAYMENT OF PRIVATE
CONSULTANT FEES INCURRED BY AGENCIES OF THE TOWN OF
SHANDAKEN IN CONNECTION WITH LARGE PROJECTS INVOLVING
MULTIPLE GOVERNMENTAL PERMITS WHERE AGENCIES OF THE TOWN
WILL PARTICIPATE IN ìLEAD AGENCYî PROCEEDINGS AS AN ìINVOLVED
AGENCY, AND LATER CONDUCT THEIR OWN PERMIT REVIEW.
1. Definitions and Applicability.
A. This law uses terms defined in the New York State Environmental
Quality Review Act SEQRA (Environmental Conservation Law Article 8)
and its implementing regulations found at Title 6, New York Codes,
Rules and Regulations 6 N.Y.C.R.R., Part 617, as they now exist or
may hereafter be amended.
B. This law shall apply to the following classes of ìactions,î
as that term is defined in 6 N.Y.C.R.R. ß 617.2(b):
All construction projects or physical activities:
- for which a positive declaration (6 N.Y.C.R.R. ß 617.2 [ac])
has been issued ;
- the lead agency (6 N.Y.C.R.R. ß 617.2 [u]) is an agency of
the State of New York or the City of New York; and
- the Town Board of the Town of Shandaken and/or the Planning Board
of the Town of Shandaken or the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town
of Shandaken are ìinvolved
agenciesî (6 N.Y.C.R.R. ß 617.2 [s]).
C. The provisions of this law shall cease to apply once the lead agency
has issued its decision and findings on the action, pursuant to 6
N.Y.C.R.R. ß 617.11.
In any action to which this law applies, the ìapplicantî
or ìproject sponsorî (as those terms are defined in 6
N.Y.C.R.R.ßß 617.2[d] and 617.2 [ad], respectively) shall
pay a fee to the Town of Shandaken to cover the reasonable costs incurred
by Town involved agencies to participate in the lead agency’s
SEQRA and/or permit proceedings. This fee shall be paid to enable
the Town of Shandaken involved agencies to retain and pay for the
services of private consultants, including but not limited to attorneys
and engineers, who will assist the Town agencies in carrying out the
following duties: a) their statutory and regulatory duties and responsibilities
as involved agencies under SEQRA; b) to develop an administrative
record which will promote the fair and efficient conduct of the their
own regulatory and permit proceedings on the action; c) to protect
and enhance the physical and visual environment of the Town of Shandaken;
and d) to protect the safety, health and well-being of persons and
property within the Town of Shandaken.
A. The fees to be paid under this local law shall not exceed, in total,
the following amounts:
- for residential projects, one percent of the total project value,
as that term is defined in 6 N.Y.C.R.R. ß 617.13 (b); or
- for nonresidential construction projects, one-quarter of one percent
of the total project value, as that term is defined in 6 N.Y.C.R.R.
B. As early as possible in the lead agency’s SEQRA and/or permit
proceedings, the Town involved agency or agencies shall make a reasonable
estimate of the amount of private consultant expenses they expect
to incur during the course of these proceedings. The amount determined
by the ìinvolvedî agencies, shall be deposited by the
applicant in escrow with the Town Clerk no later than the date of
Draft Environmental Impact Statement is submitted to the lead agency.
If the amount so deposited is exhausted or diminished during the review
process to the point that the involved agencies determine that the
remaining amount will not be sufficient to enable them to complete
their review of the application, they shall notify the applicant of
the additional amount that must be deposited with the Town Clerk.
If the applicant fails to replenish the escrow account or there are
unpaid amounts for which the applicant is responsible at the conclusion
of the lead agency’s proceedings (1.C., above), the involved
agencies in their discretion may decline to review the project application
under the applicable provisions of Town laws or ordinances until such
amounts are paid.
At the conclusion of the lead agency’s review proceedings, all
funds not expended by the Town involved agencies shall be returned
to the applicant.
C. Where more than one Town agency is involved in the review of an
action, the Town Board of the Town of Shandaken shall, in consultation
with the other agencies, manage and audit the escrow account to ensure
that: requests for payment by consultants are reasonable in amount;
were incurred during lead agency proceedings; are necessary to the
accomplishment of the involved agency’s duties, as set forth
above; and do not duplicate work performed by or for the ìleadî
agency. If only one Town agency is involved in the review of an action,
that agency shall perform these management and auditing functions.
D. This law shall be applicable to any actions pending as of the effective
date of the law.
3. This law shall take effect upon its filing with the Secretary of
Though its square footage has stayed the same, its price
tag has varied widely.
Reportedly at one point, the owner offered to sell it to the town to house
a new town hall for $600,000, coincidentally the same amount of cash in
the Good Neighbor Fund set up as a result of the 1997 Memorandum of Agreement
between New York City and the Upstate Communites. Its current price tag
is $770,000, according to Ricciardella Realty’s website. According
to Gloria Braman, the zoning board secretary and unofficial town government
expert, the plaza builder received a variance to build in 1975.
No new commercial development was allowed on 28, but
the variance was granted with the hope that a supermarket would take up
residence there. But before a tenant was installed, Al Higley opened the
Boiceville Market, effectively putting the kibosh on that plan. Because
the plaza was built before the town had a finalized zoning law, it was
zoned as business highway. The town’s zoning law only allows for
residential uses on 28, with special permitting allowing for some uses
such as restaurant and motel. “
Then in 1987 with the new zoning law, it was redesignated
commercial light industrial,” said Braman. Route 28’s garages
were grandfathered, said Braman, since they were preexisting, but didn’t
conform to the code. The NAPA store received a use variance from the board
of appeals, explained Braman, who said it had been a general store serving
primarily workers at the baseball bat factory.
The result is that voters will now be faced with two completely different
propositions this November, in addition to its regular choices of legislative
representation. First, there will be a resolution on whether to reduce
the size of the county's governing body from its current 33 members
to a 23 member body. Secondly, a referendum on whether to have single-member
districts, put forth by an 8,000 signature drive by county Democrats
this winter, will stand. However, neither can take effect until 2012.
So what happened?
"It appeared it was time to sit down and talk. Things were spinning
in all different directions," county Democratic chairman John Parete
said, adding that the threat of ongoing lawsuits was a deciding factor
in his decision to settle. He offered that the 12-district plan was
a significant improvement over current practices and that there was
"significant uncertainty" as to who would prevail vis a vis
the growing number of Republican lawsuits over the matter. State Supreme
Court justice Vincent Bradley ruled earlier in April that single-member
districts be created, which the legislature's Republican majority achieved
with its mid-April plan, voted on and approved by Bradley. Parete said
his final decision, though, had been based on an undisclosed decision
by county Republicans to take their appeals to higher courts, which
have been ruling very conservatively in recent years.
Immediately following Parete's acquiescence to the deal, county Republican
attorney Francis Murray, who authored the new plan, took it beyond Bradley,
a state judge, to Federal District Court Judge Lawrence Kahn, in Albany,
"I think everybody was saying they wanted smaller districts and
this plan satisfied that criteria," said Marlboro legislator Richard
Gerentine, who led the negotiations with Parete and was named Ward Todd's
successor as Chairman of the Legislature following the decision to go
with 12 districts. Ward Todd, who
doubles as Shandaken Republican Party chair and Ulster County representative
to the Catskill Watershed Corporation, steps down from his legislative
post June 30 for a new job as president of the county Chamber of Commerce.
"We've left it up to voters to decide on the shape of Ulster County
government in eight years from now," Gerentine adding, noting how
the new 12-district plan is better at keeping towns whole. Oddly, he
further noted that he plans to support the smaller 23-member legislature
on the ballot in November, but would oppose any plan to create single
member districts, which he feels would be
too confusing for voters.
Single-member districts currently elect federal and state representatives
and are used by the vast majority of county legislatures around New
York State. But since the county legislature was created to replace
an earlier board of town supervisors in the late 1960s, the legislature
has been intent on multi-member districts, which have favored Republicans
despite a growing Democrat presence in the county.
Under the new legislature plan, the entire town of Shandaken will be
included in the two-representative District 2 with the entire towns
of Woodstock, Denning and Hardenburgh, as it was for years. There is
also a small slice of Saugerties in the equation. According to the 2000
census, Woodstock has 6,241 full time residents, Shandaken has 3,235,
Denning has 516 and Hardenburgh has 208. The two current incumbents
for this district are Republican Michael Stock of Woodstock and Todd,
who is resigning.
All of Olive and Hurley will make up District 3, with three legislators.
Also included will be most of the town of Marbletown.. Three current
legislators live in the district: Linda Bertone, R-Hurley,Richard Parete,
D-Accord, and Robert Parete, D-Boiceville.Other towns that are partially
split between districts are Shawangunk, New Paltz, Marbletown, Saugerties
and Ulster. The city of Kingston will be split among t hree districts:
two contained within city boundaries, and one made up of a small part
of Kingston and most of the town of Ulster.
The current mess dated back to April, 2001, when Todd appointed an eight-member
Special Committee on Reapportionment to accommodate new date from the
2000 Census. Within a week the process had split into two plans: a Republican
call for a seven-district legislature, and the Democrats plans for 33
separate single-member districts. In June of that year, Bradley ruled
the seven-district plan unconstitutional but let it remain in place
for the November 2001 election because he felt it too late to change
it.In March, 2002, Bradley again ruled the plan unconstitutional and
ordered the Legislature to redraw district lines. Appeals followed until
Todd appointed a new five-member Legislative Redistricting Committee
last October. Despite resolutions from Olive, Shandaken, Woodstock and
New Paltz calling for single member districts, a 10-member plan was
set for approval in early December with a nine-member plan
finally adopted later that month. Lawsuits over the plans started in
February, when County Republican Chairman Pete Savago filed a motion
in U.S. District
Court asking the court to impose the nine-district as an interim plan
for the November 2003 election. In late March, however, U.S. District
Judge Kahn ruled
the fate of the county's redistricting will remain under the jurisdiction
of Bradley, provided Bradley made a decision in the case by April 21.
Bradley ordered the county to come up with new single-member district
plans starting April 1.
On April 10, the Legislature adopted the single-member district plan
announced in our last issues; and on April 16 that plan was approved
by Bradley. Then the April 23 meeting occurred, with the Legislature
approving it later that night in a special meeting. Kahn approved the
12-district plan and the public referendum issues on April 25.
See you at the ballot booths come November.
She moves her hands heart-wards, flashing her grand smile
that’s earned Cordo a mother-like reverence from generations of
what are now local men and women.She and her late husband first started
coming up to the Shandaken area in the 1950s. Cordo didn't think she’d
like the country, never having left the swath of Middle Village and Ridgewood,
then central Long Island, that had always been home to her, and where
her three sons were all born.
“I got hooked, though, on the beauty of the place
and the warmth of the people, ”she reminisces. First the family
moved to a cottage behind Tiso’s, the longstanding local Italian
Eventually, they settled in at the Sunrise
apartments above the Phoenicia post
Cordo says she was the eldest of
three, with a brother and sister she still
feels an urge to “look after.” She recalls
her own mother as being “extremely
outgoing,” whereas she always felt shy.
Her father was a professional fireman.
Cordo also says that this is a loaded
time of year for her. Mother’s Day
reinforces the importance becoming a
mother has made in her life, defining her,
as it were. And May 25, Memorial Day
this year, is her youngest son, James’,
James was murdered in a Greene
County bar mishap a few years back, just
after he and his mother had moved into
the small, picket-fence-surrounded home
where Helen still lives.
“It doesn’t matter how old they are
when they die, theyíll always be your
baby,” Helen says, matter-of-factly. Her
living room is a sweet jumble of framed
family portraits, sentimental sayings, and
stuffed animals - plus a number of
commemorative plaques, from the school
district and Rotary, acknowledging and
praising her years of giving. “I still go up to
his room and talk to him. And I get angry
about how something like this could
As Cordo pauses, birds chatter
around her windows. She keeps food for
the starlings, the robins and cardinals,
plus the squirrels and stray cats that all
seem to make her home theirs. Just as
sheís become known at the school for
always wearing flowers, as she learned to
do when growing up. Why NOT be
“Back in the 1930s and forties, we
kids would do the cooking on Mother’s
Day. Weíd go out and buy her a plant.
After church, youíd buy artificial
carnations: pink if she were alive white if
she were dead, and red for a step-
mother,” Cordo recalls of the upcoming
holiday. “I remember my first. They all took
me out to a Chinese restaurant and
wouldnít let me do a thing all day except
be waited on. It wasn’t as much as it is
now, but it was special.”
How big a difference did becoming
a mother make to Cordo’s life?
“When I saw Barry, my first-born, that
first time?” she asks, beaming. “I was
flooding!” She moves her hands up and
down, overcome with emotion. “Oh my
God, there’s no connection like that for
your children. It’s instinct. You protect and
shield them from everything, delight in
their every disorder.”
So how did she ever get from being
a shy child to the mother-for-all who
greets all the students at the school every
morning, bright-eyed and flower-
“Oh, they were doing a production of
Oliver at the local theater and I took my
kids down for auditions and the director,
he asked if I could say a line, so I did.
Then he asked if I could sing and, well.”
Helen Cordo whistles, twirls her
hands in circles and rolls her eyes.
“I blossomed into who I am now!”
Which includes, besides her work at
the school, 31 years organizing the annual
Poppy King and Queen essay contests
for Memorial Day, including a parade of
fifth graders with local veterans through
Phoenicia. And similar parading activities
on Flag Day.
“Oh dear, the Memorial Day stuff is
fun. Iím starting putting that together right
now. I get the veterans to come in and
judge essays on the meaning of the
poppy,” Cordo says. “You know me -
always the loud mouth, always the active
And her secrets of life?
Never talk down to children, or
anyone, she says. Beware those who
seek to cut corners by cutting funding for
education, the elderly, veterans. Always
try to give more than you get.
“Mom, why don’t you just head on
down to the supermarket and get yourself
an orange crate right now, my boy James
would say to me,” Cordo says,
remembering her departed youngest.
“Just place that crate in the middle of
Main Street and have your say.”
She pauses again, the birds singing
about her sun-dappled home.
“Keep the loneliness and hurt to
yourself,” she adds, smiling as deep as a
wound. “Keep going.”
POV Getting At The Heart Of Mother’s
When the light was fading, and Mrs.
Morel could see no more to sew, she rose
and went to the door. Everywhere was the
sound of excitement, the restlessness of
the holiday, that at last infected her. She
went out into the side garden. Women
were coming home from the wakes, the
children hugging a white lamb with green
legs, or a wooden horse. Occasionally a
man lurched past, almost as full as he
could carry. Sometimes a good husband
came along with his family, peacefully. But
usually the women and children were
alone. The stay-at-home mothers stood
gossiping at the corners of the alley, as
the twilight sank, folding their arms under
their white aprons.
Mrs. Morel was alone, but she was
used to it. Her son and her little girl slept
upstairs; so, it seemed, her home was
there behind her, fixed and stable. But
she felt wretched with the coming child.
The world seemed a dreary place, where
nothing else would happen for heróat
least until William grew up. But for herself,
nothing but this dreary enduranceótill the
children grew up. And the children! She
could not afford to have this third. She did
not want it. The father was serving beer in
a public house, swilling himself drunk.
She despised him, and was tied to him.
This coming child was too much for her. If
it were not for William and Annie, she was
sick of it, the struggle with poverty and
ugliness and meanness.
She went into the front garden,
feeling too heavy to take herself out, yet
unable to stay indoors. The heat
suffocated her. And looking ahead, the
prospect of her life made her feel as if
she were buried alive.
The front garden was a small square
with a privet hedge. There she stood,
trying to soothe herself with the scent of
flowers and the fading, beautiful evening.
Opposite her small gate was the
stile that led uphill, under the tall hedge
between the burning glow of the cut
pastures. The sky overhead throbbed and
pulsed with light. The glow sank quickly off
the field; the earth and the hedges
smoked dusk. As it grew dark, a ruddy
glare came out on the hilltop, and out of
the glare the diminished commotion of the
Sometimes, down the trough of
darkness formed by the path under the
hedges, men came lurching home. One
young man lapsed into a run down the
steep bit that ended the hill, and went with
a crash into the stile. Mrs. Morel
shuddered. He picked himself up,
swearing viciously, rather pathetically, as
if he thought the stile
had wanted to hurt him.
She went indoors, wondering if
things were never going to alter.
She was beginning by now to realise that
they would not. She seemed so far away
from her girlhood, she wondered if it were
the same person walking heavily up the
back garden at the Bottoms as had run
so lightly up the breakwater at Sheerness
ten years before.
“What have I to do with it?” she said
to herself. “What have I to do with all this?
Even the child I am going to have!
It doesn’t seem as if I were taken into
Sometimes life takes hold of one,
carries the body along, accomplishes
oneís history, and yet is not real, but
leaves oneself as it were slurred over.
“I wait,” Mrs. Morel said to herself.” I
wait, and what I wait for can never come.”
Then she straightened the kitchen, lit
the lamp, mended the fire, took out the
washing for the next day, and put it to
After which she sat down to her sewing.
Through the long hours her
needle flashed regularly through the stuff.
Occasionally she sighed, moving to
relieve herself. And all the time she was
thinking how to make the most of what
she had, for the children’s sakes.