Regional Planner for the regional environmental organization set to turn
40 next year, has started meeting with elected representatives in the
towns of Olive, Shandaken, Middletown and Andes, as well as the villages
of Fleischmanns and Margaretville, to try and set up a grass roots collaborative
effort amongst them that will decide how to best spend the half million
in promised funds.
The Smart Growth funds, announced on a local basis as part of Governor
Eliot Spitzer’s Agreement in Principal to support a new Belleayre
Resort compromise proposal that includes ties-in to state-owned Belleayre
Mountain Ski Area, are part of a larger $2 million state fund dedicated
to supporting “improvement projects that retain the vibrancy of
the hamlets, villages, and town centers.”
At a February 5 Shandaken Town Board meeting where he introduced a possible
resolution geared towards jump starting a collaborative process between
the targeted towns, Manning said the Catskill Center will not be in charge
of the money, but wishes to “start a regional dialogue.” He
said the communities might want to discuss possible ways to leverage the
funds, which will be controlled by the state Department of Environmental
Conservation, so as to put them to the best use.
“Our organization has no control how the state is going to handle
those monies,” Manning said to his audience, which included a number
of folks who see the money as too small for any major projects and something
of a pay-off to get acceptance of the governor’s AIP. Shandaken
officials tabled the resolution Manning presented for further study.
Under its description in the AIP, projects eligible for Smart Growth funds
include streetscape amenities, Main Street improvements, landscaping,
affordable housing and enforcement of sign regulations.
Manning said, at the Shandaken meeting, that he believes the state will
pay more attention to an application for use of the funds that is prepared
by a group of municipalities than those from individual governments competing
against one another for the funds.
“New York State Route 28 is the major thoroughfare of the central
Catskill Mountains, offering the traveler a unique experience of mountain
scenery and clear waterways, complemented by historic hamlets, and it
is the combination of resources that gives the region much of its scenic
and community character and is vital to the region’s economy,”
he said, noting that the roadway passes through the heart of the Catskill
Park, a resource created by an act of the state Legislature in 1904 and
now encompassing approximately 700,000 acres, about half of which are
lands of the Catskill Forest Preserve and held in the public trust.
“These six Central Catskills municipalities share many of the region’s
unique resources and can mutually benefit by exploring cooperative approaches,
engaging in intermunicipal discussions and identifying collective strategies
and actions that support and enhance such shared resources,” Manning
said, noting that he is hopeful that all government representatives consider
joining what he called the “Central Catskills Collaborative”
to work together through a bottom-up process that builds on local goals
and objectives and engages in a regional dialogue focused on protecting
and promoting the scenic, cultural, historic, and economic well-being
of the Route 28 corridor and the Central Catskills.
In Olive, a similar meeting had yet to be scheduled, although Deputy Superviusor
Bruce LaMOnda said he saw nothing to keep his town from joining in a regional
consortium of the sort suggested.
Manning, in a separate interview, said recently that his current involvement
with the collaborative project is as a means to a larger end: reinvigorating
a corporative regional sensibility throughout the area. He said that his
predecessor at the Catskill Center, Helen Budrock, had done good work
within individual communities around the Catskills; he felt his job was
to now get communities across the map looking into “the larger picture.”
“We need to understand how we share this resource,” he said,
calling the Smart Growth money, no matter what its detractors say, a “big
boost from the state.”. “My job is to help connections arise
around the process.”
“These moneys are meant for capital projects and not planning,”
he said. “The idea is to return vibrancy to our hamlets.”
Some project ideas he welcomed, talking off the top of his head, included
better trail heads for the park, sidewalk improvements, and an overall
upgrading of walking facilities in the area. At the same time, he said
that he felt the greatest long-term benefit that everyone was wishing
for out of the new funds was a better sense of cooperation, or at least
dialogue, between the six Route 28 communities involved.
“I just want to be able to facilitate that,” Manning said,
pointing to similar projects pulling together farming communities in Schoharie
County, historical tours in Delaware County, and joint efforts in Greene
County’s Mountaintop Communities. He said what was needed in many
places was a better sense of a regional, as well as an individual municipal
“sense of place.”
He said the potential difficulties of passing similar resolutions establishing
a cooperative effort amongst towns were worth it, in the long run, if
a new way of discussing regional matters could be established.
In similar talks, Catskill Center Director Tom Alworth, under fire from
some in local communities for his role in helping reach the new Belleayre
Resort compromise, spoke as well about moving his organization from specific
goals conserving land and fostering specific advocacy campaigns to a new
focus on the regional… similar to where the CCCD had been 12 years
ago when it came under fire for helping propose the Catskills being recognized
as one of a few hundred special United Nations Biosphere regions around
Alworth talked about his organization’s “optimism” and
“glass half full” ideals, pushing for a unique mix of development
and conservation that will not only save the region’s natural resources,
but provide better livings for all who choose to live here. He spoke in
terms of new development pressures, much as the state’s new Department
of Environmental Conservation Regional Director, Willie Janeway, did in
a separate interview about his own view of challenges, and opportunities,
over the coming years.
Both men spoke at length about drawing new attention to the Catskills
in light of the governor’s Belleayre expansion and resort proposals.
Janeway said that he was hoping that not just the proposed, and once-started,
Catskill Interpretive Center in Mt. Tremper will be started in the coming
years, but at least three other such centers in Delaware, Greene and Sullivan
counties, the better to focus on the region’s watershed, history,
and communal aspects. Alworth said he was hoping to find ways of breeding
more interaction between counties and communities, the better to overcome
bad planning decisions that might not be seen when towns or villages look
out only for themselves.
Speaking on an even wider basis, the Catskill Center’s new Director
of Policy, Deborah DeWan – last with the organization 12 years ago,
spoke about how the new focus brought to the Catskills by Spitzer and
his Belleayre focus, while still controversial, is activating numerous
other longer-promised or hoped-for projects. She said the effort is on
to get people to thinking in terms of all the Catskills, and its park
as well as watershed attributes, the better to create a “park effect”
identity to protect it, and grow it smartly, in the future. Much like
the Lake District in England, the Alps, or the way Vermont has come to
“This Smart Growth initiative,” DeWan said, “is part
of that. It’s an opportunity…”
But also, being involved in such battered and self-protective towns as
those it is geared towards, one set up for more challenges.
Stay tuned on this one…
to DEC Region 3 Director Willie Janeway, in a February 4 interview at
his New Paltz offices, he had heard that the Scope, as he termed it, would
be out this Friday, February 15.
“The best thing will be to look at the new scope next to the old,”
Janeway said, after noting how the extra time had been needed to ensure
“that this be done right, answering everyone’s concerns.”
Janeway presided over a trio of December, 2007 “scoping sessions”
where a large number of local residents came out to comment about what
they wanted to see in the projects’ environmental impact statements,
as well as to question the resort’s appropriateness for their community,
the negotiating process by which he governor’s AIP was reached,
and the propriety of the DEC overseeing a review process for which it
was also an applicant.
A minority of community and business leaders touted the vast proposal’s
potential economic benefits at the same gatherings and have since started
passing around their own petitions supporting what’s been proposed
and basically questioning the possibility of too many questions being
asked of what’s proposed.
A moment of controversy arose at the Town of Shandaken’s February
4 meeting when new Supervisor Peter DiSclafani apologized for having authorized
a $3,000 payment to a Westchester-based environmnetal consultancy firm
for supplying comments to the DEC regarding the Scope in time for its
deadline, which occurred fast on he and his new board having taken office
in January. DiSclafani noted that he had polled all four of his board
members about the matter, in lieu of a meeting, with four agreeing to
hire Ferrandino Associates, who had previously been hired by the town
to prepare a longer series of concerns for the town two years ago. Only
the board’s sole registered Republican, Rob Stanley, had said no
to the request and loudly complained about the procedure, which bypassed
open meeting laws, at the recent meeting. He was backed up by a number
of Resort employees, backers, and others in town worried about process.
The Ferrandino submission, short by highly specific and tied directly
to all elements of the projects’ history, asks for greater detailed
impact studies in all areaS and, in particular, in relation to such possible
regional impacts as snow making, mountain bike trail runoff, and traffic.
In addition, it suggests that full alternatives to what’s proposed,
as well as cost analyses related to local business and wage impacts, be
provided for the town’s own planning board permit decision-making.
The scoping document is basically a list of all the issues that the project’s
environmental review must address. The state agency was to review all
those ideas brought forth at the December hearings, plus within hundreds
of letters and e-mails, and put together a document taking all into account.
This is not the first extension for the scoping process. All public comments
were originally to be submitted before Jan. 7, but a number of citizens
and organizations complained that there was not enough time to compose
those comments, which address the proposed 700-acre development plan set
forth by Crossroads Ventures. A two-week extension was requested; one
week was granted.
A second request for an extension came from the town of Shandaken, which
has a new administration this year. The new Town Board wanted more time
to draft comments, but its request was denied.. leading to the recent
The Scope involves both a private development (the proposed construction
and operation of the Wildacres Resort and Highmount Spa Resort complex
by Crossroads Ventures) and related proposals by the Department of Environmental
Conservation: the expansion of Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, including
“ski-in, ski-out” access to Crossroads’ proposed Highmount
Spa Resort; the acquisition of a parcel known as Big Indian (1,200 acres);
and the acquisition of the former Highmount Ski Center (78 acres) and
an easement (21 acres) on the Highmount Spa property.
The project would be located in the towns of Shandaken in Ulster County
and Middletown in Delaware County, within the boundaries of the Catskill
Park. It is subject to an analysis as required by the State Environmental
Quality Review Act for its potential environmental impact.
The preparation of the scoping document is among the first steps in a
review process that will take a breather after the state releases its
Scope in the coming weeks, and resume after both Crossroad Ventures, the
private developer, AND the state come back with full plans in the form
of multi-volume Draft Environmental Impacvt Statements. While the Crossroads’
document is expected to involve updating of previous information, the
state’s creation will involve not only release of a long-awaited
Unit Management Plan for the ski area, but detyails and impact studies
for all that Spitzer promoted in his September 5 press conference.
Supporters of the project say the development would help the economy and
provide badly needed jobs. Their efforts have included a push by the Coalition
for Belleayre, an ad hoc group that successfully fought the state’s
previous attempts to shut down their Catskills ski area and later started
promoting summer music series at the state-owned facility, to rename itself
The Coaliton To Save Belleayre in an attempt to make the current plans
appear like “do or die” decision.
Critics say the development is too massive and would damage the region
if allowed to be built as proposed. In addition, they have noted that
state development of its ski resort in light of climate change is bad
economics, and that the current plans represent possible class divisions
in the region. Furthermore, their voices have been joined by competing
privately-owned ski areas who say the state will be putting their businesses
in danger with its expansion into new private-public areas.
Stay tuned, next issue, for what the scope actually says. And when everyone
expects to be given their next opportunities to talk about this behemoth.
The Phoenicia water committee
has changed somewhat from the original roster of hamlet representatives
appointed by former Supervisor Robert Cross Jr. That committee, which
dramatically altered the rate structure of the water district, was criticized
for holding its meetings in private.
This month Supervisor Peter DiSclafani appointed John Kilb, Paul Pettinato,
Alfred Peavy, Don Bucher and Mike Foremont as the new committee. The
committee’s first task is to review the rate structure established
under the previous administration and try to strike a balance between
the water district’s property tax levy and the usage fees, which
some say are too high.
In Pine Hill, the new water committee is made up of Peter DiModica,
Marge Lloyd, Mary Herrmann, Michele Wooton, Richard Schaedle and Lowell
DiModica, who was appointed Chair of the committee last year, said this
week that the Supervisor is letting both new committees select their
own chair. As for the agenda of the Pine Hill water committee, DiModica
said their first task is to familiarize themselves with the billing
for all the accounts. With meters installed, payment has shifted away
from the previous per fixture formula and gone to usage. The committee,
DiModica said, wants to be sure that the new approach spreads out the
cost burden fairly. He used an example of a summer home where the owners
are only in it three or four weekends a year. While that can mean only
a small contribution to the water district for the owner of such a property,
the committee will look at what a fair minimum rate would be.
In other news, the plight of area seniors came to the town board when
Eve Smith, the town’s social services officer, suggested the town
take over the responsibility of the senior meals program.
Now run by Ulster County, the meals program provided a nutritious lunch
five days a week at the Phoenicia Methodist Church until last month,
when the company contracted by the county to supply the meals complained
about low turnout and stopped delivering.
Since then there have been several meetings to work out the best way
to handle things, the most recent being this week when Mike Ricciardella,
the owner of Brio’s Restaurant in Phoenicia, offered his restaurant
as the location to prepare the meals.
Town Council member Tim Malloy, who cooks at Brio’s, said the
plan is to prepare the meals in Brio’s kitchen and wrap them up
and cart the lunches up the street to the church where seniors can enjoy
them and the social event that the program was always meant to supply.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Malloy said.
The town board is also taking a hard look at the case of the Shandaken
Landowners Association, which is suing the town because of an alleged
selective reassessment of private property.
At the February 2nd meeting, Association President Peter Vinci was given
the opportunity to state his group’s case to the new town board.
The exchange was respectful, a remarkable switch from two years ago
when Vinci and former Supervisor Robert Cross Jr. exchanged blows outside
of town hall over the case.
DiSclafani said after the meeting that Vinci had asked for the opportunity
to bring the new town board up to speed on the case, or at least to
how the landowners saw it, and that the town board was not prepared
to make any decisions on the case at this time.
The Board, DiSclafani said, was only there to listen.
”Our attorneys advised us not to say anything,” he said.
He added that the board is considering holding a special meeting in
a couple of weeks to deal with the case. Because it is ongoing litigation,
the discussion would be held in executive session.
The board also made the expected appointment of Maureen Millar to the
planning board. The appointment was to have been made last month but
was tabled after town board members decided to advertise the position
rather than appoint Millar at the board’s reorganization meeting.
The position was advertised but the board still wanted Millar and took
some heat from audience members for not re-appointing planner Keith
Holmquist. Holmquist was informed in December that he was not going
to be supported by the DiSclafani administration, but submitted an application
for the spot after the Board advertised the position.
Planning Board member Charles Frasier told the board that Holmquist
should be reappointed because he was a quality member while he was on
the board. Frasier then suggested that the Board was only getting rid
of Holmquist as a form of revenge against the previous town administration,
which had dumped members of both the planning board and the zoning board
appointed by its Democratic predecessors
Frasier said that he knew those choices by the previous town board caused
rancour in the town, but that the only way to start healing the divided
community was to not continue the “getting even” style of
Prior to taking office, DiSclafani stated publicly that he was not reappointing
Holmquist because he was trying to reshape the planning board. Last
year Holmquist voted in favor of approving the controversial water harvesting
project slated for Woodland Valley.
Millar was appointed, but Board members Rob Stanley and Vince Bernstein
opposed the appointment.
We’re talking, of course,
about Tony & Tina’s Wedding, the hit Off-Broadway play of
18 years running that started screening as a film at the Waverly Theater,
former home to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, back in November, with
Reverend Debra performing actual vows before each screening. And of
how this odd gig, which Debra’s hoping to take next to the Colony
Café in Woodstock, has helped grow Romano’s separate RentAReverend.com
Suffice it to say that St. Valentine’s Day, and Romance with a
capital R, mean a lot to the Reverend.
“I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. My parents took me out
of high school on Staten Island when I was 16,” Romano recalled,
trying to get at what she finds so special about the Big V-Day, along
with all the gaudy trappings of the sorts of weddings she’s become
involved with much of the time. “It’s an over the top, commercialized
holiday, but I never got to play with pink paper and glue, making Valentines
for my mom, when I wished I could. I guess you could say I’m making
up for lost time.”
Reverend Debra says she slipped into her new life a few years ago after
spending years in the insurance business. When she found herself let
go from one job she particularly hated, she said a friend suggested
she start doing something she really wanted to do instead of always
focusing on what she didn’t like. Since she’d already gotten
a license to perform weddings years before hand, around the same time
she started studies as a paralegal, it wasn’t a big leap to starting
her own business.
“Then I answered a Craigslist ad for someone looking for a wedding
officiant,” she says. “In that my moment my life changed.”
Today, Reverend Debra performs weddings with Hudson Valley Ceremonies,
as well as on her own. In addition to the Tony & Tina gigs, she
spent the recent holiday season wedding folk at the Charmin Restrooms
in Times Square… and is also proud to have brought together a
goodly share of alternative folks in committal ceremonies she feels
are often more emotionally charged than normal weddings, because of
the still-renegade aspects of the phenomenon.
She talks about how, when her son was killed in a motorcycle accident
1998, she felt she had to do some major things with her life. At the
time, it was all about returning to school for the paralegal degree.
But then, it also was involved in her new sense of commitment to bringing
people together… with a bit of fun.
For her Tony N Tina gigs, Romano teases her hair bigger than usual,
wears a miniskirt and fishnet stockings, and plays up the nasal New
York accent she learned as a kid. Her words may be largely on script,
but her intonations are broad… and fun, stressing vows of recommitment
as well as newlyweds.
“I chew gum. I’m very 80s,” she says of her act. “And
yet I make my ceremonies very personal. There’s something great
about officiating someone’s choice, and being part of the happiest
moment of their life up to that point.”
Reverend Debra added that after all these years doing weddings elsewhere,
now, she’s ready to go to the town to see if she can hang out
a shingle that would publicize her special services in Olive and the
rest of the Catskills. In addition to making it possible to share what
she does with neighbors and fellow Catskillians, she’s looking
forward to sharing her husband, Antoine Hepkins’, musical contributions.
“You’ve just got to hear his version of ‘Here Comes
The Bride,’” she notes. “It’s, what can I say…
pretty groovy, all in all.”
She hoped folks would be able to catch her act before Tony & Tina,
if not in Rosendale, at least in Woodstock… at a date still to
And as for Valentines, she noted that busy or not, she adores any holiday
that reminds folks how important it is to declare one’s love.
And accept others.
For further information visit www.rentareverend.com. Or just call 845-532-5610.
Towards A Budget
Although cost projections
were incomplete, she highlighted a few items.
BOCES’ projected budget could increase by 3.1 percent and district
technology by 38.9 percent. The State contingency budget is set at 3.51
percent allowable if the budget were to fail. The equipment budget currently
stands at $462,371, but if the budget were to fail equipment funds would
McLaren said she has a rough analysis on potential teacher retirees
for the next three-to-five years, but cannot give out too much information
until they receive formal letters from the teachers. No projection was
given except to say that many teachers are reaching retirement and incoming
teachers salaries could affect the budget.
Board member Cindy O’Connor asked about State aid based on perception
of the district’s wealth, which many say is skewed by Woodstock.
“Are they still using the same formula?” she asked.
McLaren said wealth ratios are always taken into account. O’Connor
said she and fellow board member Rita Vanacore went to State Assemblyman
Kevin Cahill’s office last year with the hope of restoring aid
in recent years, adding that they intend to go again in the coming weeks.
Preliminary figures for the coming year’s budget, expected to
be in the 3 to 4 percent range, according to some reports, was expected
to be presented at the postponed meeting, and will likely be coming
forth in the coming weeks, including the next regular meeting at Bennett
School starting at 6 PM on February 26.
The district’s annual budget vote and board elections are scheduled
to take place on May 20.
In other recent financial news, school board president Mary Jane Bernholz
gave a report on the comptroller’s audit findings between 2005
and 2007. The audit results found, “Controls over cash receipts
and cash dispersed payroll and the computerized financial systems were
not appropriately designed.”
Bernholz continued: “The duties of the treasurer and the payroll
clerk were not appropriately segregated.”
She added that the district did not always properly compensate new or
retiring employees, sometimes getting overpaid or underpaid; district
bank accounts were not reconciled for a year. Furthermore, she said
the previous administration responded to the audit finding within 30
days with a plan of action and tasks in the business department were
reassigned, the treasurer position was terminated and additional staff
hired for work completion.
“Through this process there were no fraudulent intentions or suspicions
noted,” Bernholz concluded.
School district treasurer Monica Kim gave a report on current district
finances and said they are watching interest rates closely because it
will affect the cash flow.
“In July we were getting 4.85 percent and I got a letter last
week that it’s now 3.5 percent and only going down,” Kim
In other business, Director of Transportation David Moraca explained
the education policy that forbids bus service to students who live within
a mile of the Middle/high School.
“Many families have expressed serious concerns for the safety
of their children walking along Route 28,” said Moraca, “which
leads me to the conclusion that the most effective way to address this
situation is to work to establish a safety zone along 28.”
Moraca assured the board that the 20 or so students will continue to
have bus service until a solution is achieved. Moraca is not sure when
bus service began for the particular students, but he said it is in
“violation of board policy.
In order to create a safety zone that would allow bus service, a valid
petition must be submitted to the board. Moraca said he has submitted
an appropriate petition form to district clerk Jeanne Shultis available
for parents to collect signatures.
Although parents already petitioned in the past, it proved invalid;
therefore Moraca said they must petition again. The petition must contain
the signature of 25 qualified voters who live in the district OR five
percent of the number of voters who voted in the last school election,
which ever is greater.
Moraca noted that means petitioners must collect 116 signatures. Providing
the signatures are valid the issue will then go to voter referendum.
Superintendent Leslie Ford said she also asked the town of Olive to
supply a crossing guard, but the request was denied.
In preparation for the coming year’s the transportation budget,
Moraca invited the community to take a ride on an old and new school
bus last week, hoping that the public would approve the purchase of
new buses. For the past two elections the purchase of new school buses
have been denied.
“I would like to invite the board and anybody from the community
and give you the opportunity to look at what we are looking to purchase,”
he said, noting that a review of safety features would be part of the
demonstration. “I will take you for a ride in what we would like
to retire and then take you for a ride in what we would like to purchase.”
The rides were set for February 9. The exact number of how many took
up the chance was unavailable as of press time.