Location. Location. What Was That Third Thing?
Well, people are either less smart than we figured down in
Sullivan County, or their government’s worse than we
guessed. Either way, they’re moving forward toward 5
casinos and God knows what kind of future for their children.
We’d propose building a humongous security fence across
Ulster County’s southern border but we doubt it would
help. Maybe one day some natural disaster will close 209 permanently
outside Ellenville, and the rest of our county will remain
fairly recognizable. Short of that, our choices are basically
do something or do nothing. But as for actually trying to
protect ourselves, we doubt our current county legislature
is so inclined. Blood brothers and legal partners with the
mighty Modocs of Oklahoma - both of them and their attorneys
- it’s Chamber of Commerce President Ward Todd’s
signature at the bottom of that treaty, from back in 2001
when he held current Chairman Gerentine’s job and neither
could remember who attended any of the pow-wow’s where
they negotiated it. The kicker is that our county’s
now obliged to sue any of its towns that tries to stop a casino
from being built in it. Way to go, county government! So while
we wish it were further away, we guess Monticello’s
as good a place as any to turn into an adult entertainment
center. It’s half the drive time Atlantic City is for
Donald Trump (like he’d actually drive it) and the locals
it seems there, are either dumb as posts or docile as sheep.
Good location, huh?
One more exit up the Thruway puts you in Ulster County; most
of us know that spot around mile 70 where the real Catskills
come into breathtaking view. Looks pristine, right? and most
of it is. But here’s some news you may have missed from
2002: we’re now urban, not rural under federal designation,
and the county even has its own Metropolitan Planning Organization.
So while we can think of our neck of the woods any way we
want, it is pretty much official. “Country” or
not we’re a metropolitan area. And while we’re
not suburbia, we are most definitely a bedroom community to
the larger New York metropolitan area. If you’ve any
doubt about that just look at today’s real estate prices
and ask yourself who’s buying those bedrooms. Better
yet, ask a realtor. Still unsure? How about this: Traffic
volume in Ulster County has tripled in the past 20 years,
and is right on track to triple again in the next 20, and
that’s without any casinos nearby and without anything
new and big getting built. And does anyone think nothing big’s
In Hurley there’s “Hidden Forest” on the
drawing boards, a 652-home gated development representing
a 25% increase in that town’s people and housing units.
Think about that. 25 percent growth of a whole town on just
400 acres. Well sure the applicant’s got an Ulster County
mailing address and a deed that was probably signed by a Dutch
governor. But this is a project of US Homes, a $10.5 billion
New Jersey company that built 37,000 new houses last year
alone. So is this a “local” project? You tell
us. Looks like they just ran out of space in Jersey and Rockland
and Orange County and now we’re next.
So if Hurley can grow 25% in one project, what about Olive
now that holding raw land has gotten pricier? What about Shandaken?
There’s a town with 1,300 bedrooms worth of lodging
proposed, 3,000 new people a day in a town of 3,300. And elsewhere
in the region? 2,600 new housing units proposed for the Kingston
waterfront, and everyone says great. That’s 6 or 7,000
new people in a city of 23,000. Well OK. It’s not in
the watershed and there’s an interstate highway nearby.
But hold on, how about just over the notch, where Hunter Mountain’s
Orville Slutsky’s got 400-plus residential units in
the talking stage, just south of the junction of 214 and 23A.
Think that’ll take Hunter’s planning board more
than a couple meetings? No problems there.
And this is exactly how it happens. Don’t like the word
“sprawl”? Pick one with a positive ring like “development,”
it’s the same thing. But anyone who thinks either one
doesn’t mean higher taxes should immediately call their
nearest relative in suburbia and ask what they’re paying.
Every new project comes in with the same song and dance, “We’re
increasing the tax base, we’re self-contained, and the
roads can handle it.” And the bigger the projects are
and the smaller the town, the more taxes go up and the faster
long-time residents are forced out.
So what does it mean to acknowledge that we’re bedroom
communities and part of a growing metropolitan area? We think
what it means is that the business of Ulster County is exactly
the same as every other metropolitan county. It means that
what makes our economy work is people living here, full or
part-time, working, either here or somewhere else, and paying
their taxes and supporting every business and everything else
that goes on. That’s our future, and if we don’t
make planning for it our priority, we’re all going to
be paying for a ride on someone else’s gravy train with
stops at Casinotown, Resortville, and Walled Enclosureburg.
In Shandaken, there’s a new Comp Plan in progress that
appears to be factoring in, at best, little of this. But the
full draft is still a committee secret, so we’ll have
to wait and see. Olive seems to have put everything meaningful
to managing its future on hold, pending an alternate resolution
to the large parcel issue. There’s a lot of uncertainty
and it’s certainly justified.
Some folks say the real future’s tourism and for proof
look backwards. What we see there is 2 generations of a second-home
based economy, 3 generations with passenger trains and boardinghouses,
and before that, 4 generations of tanbark and bluestone extraction.
We think it’s the last 40 years that are relevant to
helping plan for the next 5 or 10.