on the News
At the same time, Emerson
founder and Managing Partner Dean Gitter, who is also the developer
of the proposed Belleayre Resort currently under state Department
of Environmental Conservation review, recently announced that he will
be moving what had been the town’s leading hostelry, and one
of its biggest employers, to Woodstock for the coming two years. He
added, upon questioning at a May 11 press conference, that he was
also tendering offers from other towns in the Catskills to take his
“Emerson enterprises,” and no longer felt tied to the
home town he once said his many development plans were designed to
While announcing the creation of his new Emerson Inn at Woodstock,
to be located at the old site of Legends/Deanies at the corner of
routes 212 and 375 on May 11, Gitter stated that he had talked to
a fire investigator who said that an ongoing investigation, still
ongoing according to county arson officials and Ulster County District
Attorney Donald A. Williams, has “eliminated all causes of the
fire except for arson or squirrels with matches.” He further
surmised that the “incendiary nature of the rhetoric”
involved in opposition to his resort, also in Shandaken, may have
been a factor in causing the suspected arson.
The developer added, during the same event, that he would rebuild
the Emerson, a $500 a night “five star” hostelry, only
in those towns that wanted him.
Gitter’s remarks led to a press release from the Catskill Preservation
Coalition expressing bereavement for the loss of the Emerson while
simultaneously condemning Gitter’s suggestion of the fire being
a result of opposition to his party.
The Catskill Preservation Coalition is a consortium of about a dozen
national, regional and local environmental groups who pooled resources,
including scientists and other witnesses, to counter his proposed
Belleayre Resort during a series of state-overseen Issues Conferences
last summer. Its members include the National Resources Defense Council,
the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited and the Catskill Center for Conservation
This past Sunday, Gitter replied to a recent editorial by veteran
Kingston Freeman political reporter Hugh Reynolds about the developer’s
charges of being the brunt of fiery attacks by his project’s
opponents. In his letter to the editor, Gitter referred to project
detractors “suggesting that the Emerson be torched and myself
shot.” He noted that he’d heard that conversations had
been overheard by “the town supervisor and at least one, potentially
two of the publishers of local newspapers.”
Calls to Shandaken supervisor Bob Cross Jr. about Gitter’s accusations,
and his role in them, went unanswered as of deadline.
Ulster County District Attorney Don Williams said this week that he
has arranged for a senior assistant from his office to assist the
ongoing investigation of the Ulster County Task Force into the origins
of the Emerson fire, which has also involved state arson investigators
and representatives from the FBI and federal Alcohol, Tobacco and
“At this point a final determination concerning the question
of whether it was incendiary or not has not been made,” Williams
As for his moving the Emerson to Woodstock, Gitter said at the May
11 press conference that it was a means of keeping most of his staff
intact. The restaurant is hoping to open up in the site of Legends,
once home to Deanies, at the junction of routes 375 and 212 by mid-July,
pending approvals by Woodstock’s Commission for Civic Design
regarding exterior changes Gitter is planning.
“We, as Emerson Enterprises, will entertain expanded operations
within any town within the Catskill Park that demonstrates that it
wants us,” Gitter said at the press conference. “We are
looking for those places that want us. Whether or not Shandaken is
that community remains to be seen.”
Gitter added that he was going to be seeking expansion of his Lodge
at Emerson Place before the Shandaken Planning Board, hoping to build
added rooms as soon as possible. He did not say whether permits for
such expansion had been discussed with the New York City DEP yet.
Local debate over the Belleayre Resort, as well as Gitter’s
Emerson Place development, originally called Catskill Corners, has
fueled the Shandaken political scene for over five years now. In 1999
and 2001, what amounted to Democratic majorities came into power in
the town for the first time in recent history, based on growing antipathy
towards the developers’ resort plans. Current supervisor Bob
Cross Jr. won election in a tight backlash vote backed by developer
monies in 2003, and is currently readying for what promises to be
a bruising campaign this season.
“The people have
spoken,” shouted John Tisch, a lifetime Olive resident who had
grown increasingly vocal at Onteora meetings about the tax hikes facing
his town since bills went out in January. A number of fellow members
of Olive Matters, the ad hoc group put together to fight the legislation
who held a major rally in Olive’s Davis Park two days before
the Tuesday vote, cheered and shouted similar statements of victory
as the remainder of the evening’s gathered crowd sullenly dispersed
just before midnight.
“Olive Matters got organized,” noted one man, his fists
raised above his head.
Boardmembers-elect Cindy O’Connor, Mary Jane Bernholz and Rita
Vanacore will join incumbents Lev Flournoy of Olivebridge, Marino
D’Orazio of Marbletown (just on the Olive line), David Patterson
of Glenford, and Herb Rosenfeld of Woodstock.
Johansson was appointed, at the board meeting held to accept the May
17 vote, to fill D’Orazio’s seat. On May 24, the board
voted to put the budget back up for a second vote, noting how it had
passed everywhere except for Olive, and that the anger vote should
A June 21 second voting date has been set district-wide, with many
former budget opponents, as well as all three of the boardmembers-elect
pushing for its passage.
Public hearings on the budget will take place June 7 and 14.
Also up for vote will be a proposition to purchase two school busses,
a means of avoiding the higher lease costs the district has been paying
since on a contingency budget.
Olive town supervisor Berndt Leifeld said this week that although
many in town are still upset at the ways in which the school district
“got into town business,” “personally, I think the
town’ll do the right thing… They go back to taking care
of school business and we’ll go back to doing our town business.”
According to teachers, poll-watchers and school officials at Onteora’s
four elementary schools voting was heavy all day… but particularly
at Olive’s Bennett Elementary in Boiceville. There, lines ran
50 to 70 people thick all day, and final voting dragged on for at
least a half hour after the polls were supposed to close.
The final district-wide budget tally of 1860 for and 1995 against
broke down to 373 for and 258 against the $43,011,783 proposed budget
in Shandaken, 675 for and 310 against in Woodstock, 394 for and 320
against in Hurley, and 418 for versus 1107 against in Olive.
The second proposition to spend $171,500 for new school vehicles was
also defeated, 2043 to 1,693, with Shandaken hosting 319 yea and 287
nay votes; 582 for and 357 against in Woodstock, and 365 for and 334
against in Hurley. Olive took down the proposal by coming out only
427 for and 1065 against the proposition.
The three top vote-getters for the district who all won three-year
seats starting July 1, were Cindy O’Connor of Shokan, with 2,038
votes, Mary Jane Bernholz, with 1,953 votes, and Rita Vanacore, with
1,817 votes. D’Orazio won the two-year seat filling out the
term of Tom Rosato, elected last year but resigned in January, with
a total of 1,760 votes.
The remaining candidates in the field of 10, in order of finishing,
were Anne-Marie Johansson of Olive, with 1648 votes; incumbent Kathleen
Hochman of Olive with 1,645 votes; Lisa Childers of Woodstock with
1,641; Jack Jordan of Pine Hill, with 635; Tom Hickey of Oliverea
with 597, and Cathy Neal of Shandaken with 550.
Broken down by districts, the results show the huge effect of the
massive Olive output of over 1500 votes to Woodstock’s under
1,000 tally, Hurley’s just-over 700 voters, and Shandaken’s
600 plus numbers. Over the years, Olive’s numbers have tended
to average the highest in the district, at least since the Onteora
Indian mascot issue arose in 2000, bringing down a budget with it,
while Woodstock’s have shrunk since the 2002 election, when
the present board was first elected. Shandaken and Hurley numbers
have stayed relatively low for the past three years, although the
former has shifted from being traditionally against to being for the
proposed budget this year.
From top district vote-getter down, the individual results were as
O’Connor won 119 votes in Shandaken, 323 in Hurley, 95 in Woodstock
and 1501 in Olive.
Bernholz received 73 votes in Shandaken, 229 in Hurley, 99 in Woodstock
and 1,552 in Olive.
Vanacore won 8o votes in Shandaken, 220 in Hurley, 49 in Woodstock
and 1468 in Olive.
D’Orazio got 347 votes in Shandaken, 377 in Hurley, 916 in Woodstock
and 120 in Olive.
Johansson received 260 votes in Shandaken, 260 in Hurley, 872 in Woodstock,
and 256 in Olive.
Hochman received 304 votes in Shandaken, 309 in Hurley, 893 in Woodstock,
and 139 in Olive.
Jordan won 302 in Shandaken, 174 in Hurley, 87 in Woodstock, and 72
Hickey received 297 votes in Shandaken, 150 votes in Hurley, 98 in
Woodstock, and 52 in Olive.
Neal received 323 votes in Shandaken, 105 in Hurley, 82 votes in Woodstock
and 40 in Olive.
“We’re all for the kids,” said Vanacore to those
around her following the unexpected results, as her fellow winners
“I thought it was all over,” said O’Connor, who
refused further comment. Bernholz sat, acknowledging congratulations
but also refusing to speak.
The three new board members all vowed to vote against re-implementing
the Large Parcel legislation should the issue arise again in August.
They will join three candidates who voted for it last summer plus
one, Dave Patterson of West Hurley, who was the sole vote against
its implementation last August.
Only Vanacore seemed willing to speak at any length following the
tallies late May 17.
“We’ve shown that we may be a small community but we’re
a tight community,” she said as midnight neared after the vote.
12, notices of reassessment went out to more than 250 of Shandaken’s
larger landowners, “everybody 20 acres and up,” according
to Assessor Rosalie Boland. Notably absent from the list of reassessed
properties were several hundred parcels owned by New York State and
comprising nearly three-quarters of the town’s land. According
to Boland, those parcels are already “up there” at the town’s
current baseline assessed value of $600 per acre.
This year’s partial reval says Boland, is intended to bring all
private landholdings in town “up to that same level” of
assessment, which reflects a market value of $2,143 per acre. While
the town already knows that the state does not accept this value and
will be challenging it, whether private landowners will do the same
thing, or contest the criteria by which they were selected for reassessment,
is, for now, an open question.
“I know everybody in town’s going to hate me,” said
Boland “but I don’t think that it’s unfair.”
Asked how the town’s new valuation for undeveloped forest land
was arrived at, Boland said it was “based on timber value”
because “the state bases its assessment on timber value,”
and because “Bob (Cross) knows about timber.” Boland also
said that other factors such as a parcel’s potential “developability,”
were sometimes taken into account.
The immediate and compelling reason for the reval, according to several
town officials who asked not to be named, is to enhance the town’s
negotiating position in the ongoing litigation between Shandaken and
the State Office of Real Property Services. The underlying issue is
the town’s assessment of state land, initially from 1992 to 1996,
but also now including more recent years. The state’s position
is they were overcharged by the town, based in part on assessment of
private lands at a lower rate. The new re-assessment appears intended
to render that argument moot in the future. Cross on Tuesday declined
to elaborate on what is happening with the case, except to say he is
“working to get it resolved.”
Initially seeking $1.2 million in total restitution for these overcharges,
ORPS had agreed, under the town’s previous administration in 2003,
to a no-interest, no-penalty settlement that would have cost Shandaken’s
taxpayers about $20,000 a year for 10 years. Despite the Onteora School
District and the County having agreed to this, on taking office in 2004,
the current administration rejected the deal believing a more favorable
settlement could be negotiated.
“If it goes to court it goes to court,” said Cross. “The
town of Shandaken doesn’t owe the state that amount of money.”
In February 2004, Supervisor Cross told The Phoenicia Times that he
had rejected that settlement following advice on the subject from State
Senator John Bonacic’s office. Last week Bonacic’s spokesman
Langdon Chapman said that their office had not been consulted by the
town on the new re-val, and declined to speculate as to its appropriateness
or legality. Paul Kellar, the town’s attorney, also said that
he was not consulted on the matter.
Asked whether the current larger-parcel reval came at the request of
the town government, Boland said “Bob didn’t ask me to do
it. We agreed it was a good thing to do…He said he’d help
me and he’d be behind me on this thing.” As to whether the
town board was consulted, she said “I didn’t speak with
all of the town board but Bob and Jane (Todd) were in on all the meetings.”
The implications of the current reassessment, should it stand possible
legal test, could potentially be far reaching. Several large landowners
affected said they thought it could significantly accelerate the rate
at which land in town would be sold to DEP and to DEC. Some speculated
that it might lead to significant acreage being taken off the tax rolls
through legal conversion to ownership under private land trusts and
not-for-profit corporations, resulting in a substantial and permanent
loss in tax revenues to the town. Others said they thought it would
likely increase pressure to subdivide and develop their properties to
cover the increased tax burden.
Of the 7 “larger parcel” landowners interviewed for this
story, few expressed strong objection to the new assessed value, but
many did to being singled out for reassessment based on the actual market
value of their properties, whereas the rest of the town’s taxpayers
had not been. One who asked not to be identified said “It’s
like saying from now on we’re going to tax all people with red
houses differently than everybody else. You can’t do that in America.”
Unless successfully challenged or stayed by the town’s 3-person
Board of Assessment Review on Grievance Day, May 24, the new valuations
go into effect immediately. “The law says the (new) value is correct
until it is proven to be incorrect by the property owner. It’s
going to be up to those individuals to file a grievance,” said
ORPS spokesman Joe Hesch, who at the same time acknowledged that the
grievance procedure has no mechanism to challenge the validity of how
properties were selected for reassessment. But questioned directly as
to whether the 20+ acre designation is a valid or lawful criteria for
the town to have used, Hesch was quiet for a moment, then precise in
“That would be up to the local Board of Assessment Review or the
courts to decide.”
Note: The writer’s family is one of several hundred financially
impacted by the town’s new 20+ acre re-val.
"This area is very
special," she says, "and its specialness comes from the
harmony between the hamlets - these authentic historical places -
and the mountains. I believe that if people understand it, they'll
take care of it." It's that mission - to promote understanding
of the magic of our area's history and natural beauty - that keeps
Maureen working hard in a role that is unpaid and can only be done
in the "spare time" outside her busy full-time job.
Maureen became a part-time resident of our area in 1987, splitting
her time between here and New York City, where she had lived for 14
years pursuing a career in publishing. In 1993, the perfect opportunity
opened up - a job at The Overlook Press, a well-respected independent
publishing company with editorial offices in NYC, but headquartered
in Woodstock. Maureen jumped at the chance to become a permanent Catskills
resident, and for 12 years has held an important position handling
Overlook's Special Sales and Subsidiary Rights departments.
Maureen began her historian role when she volunteered as assistant
to Town Historian Charlie Zimmerman during the DeModica administration.
She had what she calls a "great immersion" in the town's
history by serving on the Shandaken Bicentennial Committee throughout
2004, which included helping to create and sell the handsomely-produced
Shandaken historical calendars as a fundraiser, and assisting with
the Bicentennial Celebration in Phoenicia in July.
When Zimmerman moved away last fall, she stepped forward and was given
the Town Historian role by Supervisor Cross. Along with her Bicentennial
experience, she also brought a letter of recommendation from Ulster
County's late "historian emeritus," the beloved Alf Evers,
with whom she had become acquainted through Overlook Press, his publisher.
"It was wonderful to know him," she says. She loved visiting
Evers at his book-filled cottage in Shady, and she is on a committee
that is creating a tribute to him in the form of a bench and plaque
in a beautiful part of Woodstock's Comeau property.
The Bicentennial activities have continued since last summer, and
Maureen has played an important role in producing historical maps
on kiosks in Phoenicia and Pine Hill, as well as writing for informational
pamphlets and other publications. The next phase is to transform the
historical maps from the kiosks into brochures. Also, though the Bicentennial
Committee, Maureen had an important hand in drafting a grant proposal
to the Catskill Watershed Corporation for historical markers. With
the funds awarded, three of the standard blue-and-gold metal historical
markers will be placed at significant locations in Shandaken. Another
CWC grant is paying for upgraded shelving and additional displays
for the Shandaken Museum.
Other related duties that Maureen is undertaking include scripting
a local-history documentary that is being produced by photographer
Mark Loete, - a co-member of the Bicentennial Committee - and handling
educational presentations, such as a talk she recently gave on the
subject of hatcheries for the local chapter of Trout Unlimited. Research
for such presentations allows her one of her favorite parts of the
job - roaming the town's roads and hills finding long-forgotten sites
that once played important roles in the lives of the citizens of earlier
days, such as the Cruikshanks' Hatchery Hollow in Big Indian, or the
Chichester furniture factory. And she is also a member of this year's
"Shandaken Day" committee, planning festivities for August
27, the first of what that will become an annual celebration.
Maureen also serves the community in other ways, as an active member
of the Memorial Library Board, the Shandaken Democratic Club, and
the Catskill Heritage Alliance. All are an expression of her love
of the community and the environment, and go hand-in-hand with the
role of Town Historian.
According to NY State Arts and Cultural Affairs Law, there are four
main duties that make up the Public Historian's job: Research and
Writing; Teaching and Public Presentation; Historic Preservation;
and Organization, Advocacy, and Tourism Promotion. Maureen clearly
takes all of these to heart. Ironically, despite its apparent dedication
to local history, the State of New York has been without an acting
State Historian since April of 2001, and without an official State
Historian, appointed by the Governor, since 1994. Since Maureen and
her dedicated colleagues are required by law to follow guidelines
set by a "State Historian," there's a definite impediment
to fulfilling their Oaths of Office according to the letter of the
law. The Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS)
passed a resolution in 2002 expressing their desire for an appointment
to be made, but it has so far gone unheard by the governor.
Ignoring the state-level difficulties, Maureen stays focused on the
spirit of the law - on learning all she can about Shandaken's history
and carrying out her duties, with the goal of spreading the harmony
of our area's history and natural beauty. Her biggest challenge is
simply, as she says, "getting everything accomplished - in just
evenings and weekends." Time - and what people do with it - is
the stuff that defines history; time is both our most precious resource
and our biggest obstacle. Although there's never enough of it, Maureen
Nagy is heroically using the time she's been given, and making our
own times - our little slice of history - a little better.