all of the sessions have been slimly attended to date, even though
some of the ideas being discussed – and not talked about –
would have monumental effects on the shape of the region as we now
know it. According to demographic data presented at each of the meetings,
the projected enrollment of the district will be down by approximately
25 percent by the year 2011, reducing the need for three elementary
schools, as currently exists. Combined with strong suggestions from
the state and federal government that all school districts institute
some form of separate Middle School facility, big changes are afoot.
Currently, the grade seven and eight middle school is not meeting
some of its Federal Standards through the No Child Left Behind Act.
Bennett Elementary School, which everyone seems to know would make
for the best Middle School location, because of its shared campus
with the High School – yet which no one will discuss because
of the recently-demonstrated loyalty of Olive voters – was the
first to hear KSQ presentations on Thursday November 17.
OCS Superintendent Justine Winters said during the Bennett meeting
that parents have explored the possibility of having one elementary
school at each end of the district, but added “no one wants
to see a school close in their community,” even though implementation
of a middle school covering grades five through eight would suggest
closing an elementary school.
A proposal was made by a middle school steering committee to reconfigure
and separate the middle school from the high school. During the Bennett
meeting, discussions turned to suggestions of a middle school either
as an extension to the high school or via renovation of the West Hurley
School, even though a number of people raised concern with West Hurley
because it is not centrally located to the rest of the district.
When asked if Bennett could become a middle school since it is part
of the central location, Winters referred to a multi-million dollar
renovation bond that would be necessary for any changes and said,
“I do not recommend it. The voters passed a bond, I do not want
to go against it.”
Five years ago Onteora passed a referendum to upgrade Bennett School
that ended up being challenged by former board member Joseph Doan
around the same time the district came under fire for planning to
change its Indian mascot.
At Phoenicia Elementary School on Monday, November 28, parents and
Onteora district community members brought up concerns about a number
of issues including poor community turnout during the KSQ architects
presentation. Phoenicia parents expressed worry over dwindling enrollment,
and whether such could create an obstacle for the need of improvements
to school buildings making it less likely for voters to support a
potential bond. They noted that Phoenicia is becoming a “bedroom”
community, where houses are sold to weekenders who pay taxes, but
do not vote school issues and asked Quadrini if this is a trend throughout
the valley. Quadrini responded, “Everything north of Yonkers
and South of Albany has been steady and we are seeing growth, but
your circumstances are unique compared to other districts we were
working with in the region, but we do not see changing enrollment
as a positive or negative, it is a factor we need to address and the
idea for you as a community is to be proactive and not reactive.”
School board member Lev Flournoy stressed that the time to address
low enrollment is now and said, “the school population has been
declining by fifty or so students yearly for the past three years.”
Superintendent of Onteora School, Justine Winters agreed with Flournoy
when parents voiced astonishment at the annual decrease of students
and added, “With Woodstock and West Hurley combined, the Kindergarten
this year only has 31 children…that is two Kindergarten sections
of fifteen and sixteen, a dramatic change from a few years back, where
West Hurley and Woodstock had multiple Kindergartens.”
Compared to the other schools in the district, Phoenicia Elementary
has the lowest student population, including 40 children who attend
the school on variances from other schools in the district. Phoenicia
currently has two modular classrooms and the art room is in a storage
All of Onteora’s schools, the architects reported, have aging
facilities with old windows, inadequate fencing, aging playgrounds,
parking problems and floor tiling with asbestos.
At both Bennett and Phoenicia, and later Woodstock and West Hurley,
Quadrini presented examples of nine different grade configurations
based on a request for a separate Middle School made by the future
of the district committee and a middle school steering committee.
“How would you at Onteora go from three elementary schools,
to two when there is compelling geographic issues about where those
two elementary schools would be located and I want to hear from you,”
Quadrini said, inferring that schools be kept open on the eastern
and western ends of the district, the better to accommodate everyone.
He has not recommended closing a school as a solution, but expressed
that it should be considered when talking about reconfiguring grades
and enrollment. He wants to explore every possibility with the community,
so that they can trust the right decisions were made for a successful
passage of a bond.
At both Woodstock and West Hurley’s meetings, parents and teachers
in attendance suggested that any attempt to close Bennett School would
see “Olive voters ganging up on us again,” and suggested
that the best scenario, for now, would entail a closing of Woodstock
Elementary, shifting its students to West Hurley, which has a larger
campus (even though it retains a number of problems with its water
supply that would need remediation).
Instead of setting up a separate Middle School at first, people suggested
splitting the High School, which would entail some overcrowding for
a few years but might work out in the long run.
The architects have suggested a two part bond; one addressing a five
year need, where more important structural building needs would be
met first, the second a ten year need. He explained that his firm
has only experienced one failed budget and they worked with the community
where it was passed the second time around. They also said they will
whittle down choices for the district to a more manageable two to
“If the community does not believe in this or understand it
it is not going to pass,” Quadrini said. “We are here
to listen to the community, go back with a plan and work with the
School board trustee Rita Vanacore addressed Quadrini in Phoenicia
and said, sharply “We have a school district that has seen a
lot of financial irresponsibility for a long time, so not only are
there people, especially those on fixed income, not necessarily that
they don’t want to, but they feel that the money they are spending
has been wasted, and not spent financially responsible so there is
a whole history behind what has been happening here too…those
are like the realities and you must gain the trust of the district.”
Community members at the Phoenicia and Woodstock meetings looked for
ways to reach out to the district, such as giving presentations to
other community groups, changing meetings to a later time, and meeting
on a Saturday morning, convenient for seniors. Thoughts were also
expressed that reconfiguring schools in the long term could save the
tax payers money, and noted that quality of schools means quality
The Judge Now
Also filing appeals to the September 7 decision by DEC Administration
Law Judge Richard Wissler, which clocked in at 167 pages, were lawyers
for the Coalition of Watershed Towns, Delaware County, and the towns
of Shandaken and Middletown, and the Catskill Preservation Coalition,
an ad hoc group of national, regional and local environmental organizations
put together and administered by the Catskill Center for Conservation
The Belleayre Resort under scrutiny is the brainchild of local developer
Dean Gitter, also responsible for Emerson Place in Mt. Tremper and
the Emerson at Woodstock, and calls for the build-out of dual golf
courses, dual hotels, and dozens of private homes and condominiums
along a ridgeline running through central Catskills. Gitter recently
scoffed at a proposal by U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey, echoing
sentiments in Wissler’s decision, that called for a splitting
of the massive proposal for everyone’s benefit.
The appeals range from that filed by lawyers for the CWT, also representing
Delaware County and the two involved towns, who are challenging Wissler’s
decision on questions of “community character” and secondary
impacts involving phosphorus, to the CPC’s asking for broader
adjudication parameters on four issues and Crossroad Ventures’
appeal of everything Wissler decided.
According to DEC officials and attorneys involved in the case, all
involved parties in the case, including the New York State Department
of Environmental Protection, will have until mid-January to respond
to each other’s appeals submissions, which will also be filed
with the DEC. Deputy Commissioner Carl Johnson, who took over the
case after Acting DEC Commissioner Denise Sheehan recused herself
from it, based on her having been involved in it all earlier within
its seven year history at the DEC, will then have as long as he wishes
to make a ruling on which, if any, of his Administrative Law Judge’s
decisions will no longer stand.
Given that Johnson will not only be ruling on the hundreds of pages
of paperwork involved in Wissler’s actual decision and its appeals
(and responses), but the thousands of pages of 1994 Issues Conference
and Public Hearing transcripts, letters, and other documents, as well
as Crossroads voluminous 2003 Draft Environmental Statement, everyone
is expecting his decision to take months if not years, pushing it
into the coming gubernatorial election cycle.
“Delay, obfuscation and needless obstacles have, from the completion
of the DEIS in 2003, been the clear focus and strategy of the opponents
to the Project,” wrote attorney Dan Ruzow of Crossroads’
counsel, Albany-ased Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna LLP, in his Nov.
22 appeal. “The ALJ’s confused and confusing Rulings have
occasioned yet more delay, and uncertainty. It seems time, finally
to accord the Applicant the benefit of carefully considered and professionally
administered assessment of the NYSDEC staff. The loss to the Central
Catskills region of potential economic benefits of the Belleayre Project
would not easily, if ever, be offset.”
His arguments for the above seek to paint Wissler as overreaching
and incompetent, by questioning the veteran judge’s decisions
on all matters, particularly when countering the DEC’s own judgments,
while simultaneously arguing that the economic benefits of the Crossroads’
project, “in which a private project seeks and is able to meet
an identified and long-standing public need, the fostering of renewed
tourism,” should allow for a greater “flexibility or ‘latitude’”
in the application of State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA)
Gitter, meanwhile, has noted the expense of shepherding his proposal
through the process as an encumbrence, noting how, “The cost
of the appeal will be north of a million dollars… That's another
The state DEC, meanwhile, takes 27 pages to worry over the ramifications
of some of Wissler’s decisions, where he asks for further inquiry
into matters the agency had thought it had the final word in, including
matters involving the potential resort’s water supply, its effects
on aquatic habitat, stormwater runoff, wildlife, and the overall quality
of the Catskill Forest Preserve experience as regards its intended
usage when first set up more than a century ago.
The twelve issues (out of 16) that Wissler set for in-depth review
in his September ruling, which took over nine months to arrive at,
are 1) water supply and groundwater and surface water impacts; 2)
aquatic habitat impacts; 3) stormwater impacts; 4) impacts to the
Catskill Forest Preserve; 5) impacts to wildlife; 6) noise impacts;
7) traffic impacts; 8) visual impacts; 9) impacts to community character
in the area; 10) secondary and induced growth impacts; 11) cumulative
impacts; and 12) the developers insufficient discussion of alternative
plans to those submitted for review.
The Catskill Preservation Coalition, which opposes the project, made
an appeal to not only bring those 12 issues to trial, but to do so
in even more detail. The Preservation Coalition also asks Wissler
to force the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center to supply any and all plans
for future expansion, as they believe those plans should be reviewed
along with the Resort plans.
The CPC’s four appeals areas, according to Catskill Center Executive
Director Tom Alworth, included calls for a greater consideration of
traffic, water supply and wildlife issues seen in the light of accompanying,
but as yet officially-non-related expansion plans for the state-owned
and operated Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, as well as greater consideration
for the noise impacts of the proposed development’s long construction
Members of the CPC include the Natural Resources Defense Council,
the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Theodore Gordon Flyfishers Inc.,
Hudson Riverkeeper, Friends of Catskill Park, Zen Environmental Studies
Institute, Inc., the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), Catskill
Heritage Alliance, the Pine Hill Water District Coalition, and the
Catskill Center for Conservation and Development.
“The DEC’s decision on which issues will still be adjudicated
– and we really doubt all would be thrown out, if any –
will be final,” said Alworth. “I’m not surprised
by the appeal, but I do believe they’ve come down particularly
hard on Judge Wissler. After all, he is the judge and after all, he
does represent the one objective voice who after listening to all
the facts asked for 12 issues to be fairly adjudicated.”
Alworth and others around the case, who asked to not be named, said
that the idea of going after a judge in an appeal bordered on “the
outrageous” and seemed to indicate the hand of Crossroads principal
Dean Gitter, as did the use of a number of key adjectives and phrases.
There were also questions this week about the wisdom of Crossroads’
apparent tactics, which will not only stretch the project’s
review process at least another year, but also into what will likely
be a new state administration that could prove less business-supportive
than that now in power.
Actual adjudication, when it does occur, will happen in the Middletown
hamlet of Margetville, according to Gitter’s request, who could
have had it occur in either effected town.
Gitter, meanwhile, reacted to the CPC’s appeal with letters
to local newspapers and a barrage of rare statements to the press.
“In their frenzy to kill the Resort, the (Preservation Coalition)
have abandoned any pretense of concern for the community and have
revealed their total disinterest in the amount of collateral damage
they cause the citizens, taxpayers and business owners of Shandaken
and Middletown. They should be ashamed of themselves,” said
Gitter, who has started propounding that the Catskill Center is seeking
to halt all business in the region, especially not on weekends..
Marc Gerstman, the attorney representing the Coalition, called Gitter's
“Dean does not know what he is talking about. He consistently
sets up straw men to knock down without any relevance to the facts
and the reality of his proposal,” said Gerstman. “ His
approach continues to be "divide the community" to his advantage
without regard to the greater issues presented by his resort.”
He added that Gitter was trying to shift focus away from the substance
of his proposal.
“It appears that Mr. Gitter has no faith that his proposed resort
will pass muster in the crucible of a neutral evaluation…”
Gerstman insists the Coalition favors a smaller scale project on the
site like the one Congressman Maurice Hinchey proposed two months
ago. Gitter rejected Hinchey’s plan claiming it was “economically
At The Fire Department
Just this past Tuesday,
Dec. 6, the Commissioners met to decide how best to dole out the money
to the three houses.
When a company wants money for a new truck, it must ask the Commissioners.
Paint the firehouse? Ask the Commissioners.
While it’s never been a big deal before, there is sudden interest
in the Board of Fire Commissioners, a five-member board of elected
members that are responsible for the legal and financial issues of
the fire district. Such elections usually catch the interest of fire
company membership but rarely get noticed by the rest of the community.
This year there are no less than four candidates for the one seat
up for grabs with the retirement of Commissioner Wayne Benjamin at
the end of this year. Whoever gets elected would serve a five-year
Running for the seat are Linda Michela, Ted Byron Sr., George Blank
and Val Schmidt.
Michela, the only candidate to reach out to local media to inform
the general public about the election, is a Woodland Valley resident
and a member Phoenicia’s MF Whitney Hose Company.
Ted Byron Sr. is a Mount Tremper resident and a member of the Onteora
Hose Company. Byron, a former town board member, most recently returned
to local politics with his unsuccessful bid for Town Justice last
month. George Blank, a member of MF Whitney Hose, lives on Bridge
Street in Phoenicia where he operates the Black Bear Campground. Val
Schmidt rounds out the ticket. He is a member of the Shandaken/Allaben
In an open letter to the community, Michela said the district needs
an active firefighter to become a part of the board.
“For a quite some time, politicians and firefighters who have
not been active have run the board. I feel they are out of touch with
the needs of the active firefighter,” she wrote.
A key issue, she believes, is the ability to attract and keep qualified
Firefighters also face rapid changes in technology. Michela thinks
the district needs to keep up with those changes.
The winner will join current commissioners Howard Sebald, Chad Story,
Ken Umhey Jr. and Richard Loveless.
The election is scheduled for Tuesday, December 13, 2005 from 6:00PM
to 9:00PM at the MF Whitney Fire House on Route 214 in Phoenicia.
All registered voters who reside within the Phoenicia Fire District,
which again covers all previously mentioned hamlets, are eligible
to vote in this election.
None of the other candidates answered calls for interviews.
“I love designing
a new candy bar,” says Stang. “Picking out the ingredients,
deciding how to decorate it with stars and moons and hearts, making
a label. I used to be a painter. I like making food as opposed to
art because everything gets consumed. As a painter you end up with
all these canvases collecting dust, but everyone likes to eat chocolate.”
In the early nineties, Stang cooked for cowboys out on the range.
She would stay in one of several cabins on a ranch of 290,000 acres,
while the cowboys gathered cows and calves or inoculated cattle. “It
was beautiful country,” she remembers, “and it was a fascinating
culture to learn about, but I got too lonely.”
Having grown up in New Rochelle, she decided to move back to the Hudson
Valley in the late nineties and worked briefly at Sweet Sue’s
in Phoenicia. In 2001, her entrepreneurial impulse kicked in, and
she opened the Blue Bird Café in Shokan, serving dinner in
the restaurant where Judie’s Kitchen operated in the daytime.
Though popular for its delicious, reasonably priced food and live
music, the Blue Bird folded after eight months. “I didn’t
know how much money you needed to start a restaurant,” Stang
explains. “If I’d known you need enough to go a year or
two, I would’ve borrowed money first.”
After working for a while as chef at the country club in Woodstock
and then the Full Moon Resort in Oliverea, Stang took a professional
pastry course at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. “I
found out that I don’t like French pastry,” she says.
“I really loved chocolate, making it and decorating it.”
Last fall, she began seriously making chocolate in her kitchen. When
her artfully designed confections were included in a local studio
tour in the spring, she put up an awning to greet tour participants,
and then just decided to stay open. She installed stainless steel
sinks in the enclosed front porch to get a license from the Department
of Agriculture, bought a display case, and began to decorate the little
shop with antique signs and bric-a-brac. Now she is open every weekend
and will increase her hours as the holidays approach.
Stang cooks with organic chocolate, much of it Fair Trade. “A
lot of chocolate coming from African countries is processed using
child and slave labor, so I don’t buy chocolate from big commodity
companies. Fair Trade chocolate comes from growers’ cooperatives
in Ecuador and other countries. The growers get the money instead
of the big middlemen.”
She cooks in small batches with all natural ingredients. “My
flavors are a little different, less sweet and more unusual. I use
chili sometimes, cardamom, ginger, orange peel and fresh fruits that
make them a little sour. I also make grain-sweetened chocolate, using
corn and barley syrups that don’t have such a high glycemic
index, for people who have trouble metabolizing sugar.” She
makes marzipan (the almond-flavored European delicacy), nut bars,
chocolate fish (molded in the shape of fish, not containing fish,
she notes), white chocolate with pistachios and cranberries.
The chocolates are packaged in simple but handsome gift boxes, sealed
with labels Stang designed herself using vintage postcards. Also available
in the shop are fresh-baked cookies and Guatemalan Antigua coffee,
whose heady aroma fills the room.
Lucky Chocolates is located at 5207 Route 28 in Mt. Tremper, just
east of the junction with Route 212. During the holiday season, the
shop is open from noon to 7:00 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. After
Christmas, hours will return to weekends only. Call 688-7959 for special