on the News
requires that non-emergency actions such as these must be publicly
posted four days in advance in order to vote on them. According to
Cross just prior to the vote, “The plan has been on the town’s
website since11:30 today.”
No copies of the final plan were available to the public as of the
Although the outcome of the town board’s decision was for most
a forgone conclusion, questions were repeatedly raised concerning
the urgency of the unscheduled votes to adopt both the plan and its
surprise SEQRA review, which board members Van Blarcum and Hoyt sought
unsuccessfully to put off until next month.
“Why can we not have this to look over and to read and really
give it an intelligent reaction?” asked Hoyt. “You came
to see me today,” she said to Cross. “You didn’t
tell me about this.”
“We didn’t have it ‘till a little while ago,”
replied Cross. “It’s legal,” he said.
Present to bolster Cross’ legal opinions was attorney Kevin
Young, recently hired by the board as Special Counsel for the plan.
Young explained that in his opinion, the Comp Plan “doesn’t
fit the definition of an action under SEQRA,” thus allowing
the board to dispense with the normal process of producing a generic
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for it. Instead, he presented
a series of yes-no questions to the board, reading from an alternate
form which allowed the board to issue a “negative declaration”
regarding the plan’s potential impacts. The answers to those
questions split by the same 3-2 margin as the board’s later
votes to accept it and to adopt the plan itself.
Young’s opinion on the matter appears directly at variance with
that of state government, whose SEQR handbook and the Departments
of State and Environmental Conservation clearly recommend “the
use of the generic EIS for comprehensive plans, “ calling it
“specifically designed to analyze actions that call for a series
of subsequent actions such as a comprehensive plan.”
“While it is lawful,” according to the SEQR handbook,
“to issue a negative declaration for a comprehensive plan,”
that is contingent on there being “no potentially significant
adverse environmental impacts as a result of the plan’s adoption.”
Based on last Monday’s votes, it appears Republican board members
believe the new plan cannot have any such effects while Democrats
appear to believe it might.
By way of explanation for the surprise votes, Cross said the issue
had become so volatile he “almost had somebody arrested”
after a confrontation following the July 7 meeting, and that he was
moving ahead with the vote “because I don’t want to see
one more minute of it.” Tensions both at that meeting and in
recent months have run high, as a result of what many perceive as
the committee’s and the town boards refusal to permit public
interaction with those drafting it.
“You have a gag order on the public and the town’s the
loser,” said Judy Wyman.
“Its overwhelmingly clear what the majority of the people want,”
said David Pillard, referring to the approximately 400 petition signatures,120
written comments and 6-1 public opinion voiced at the plan’s
two public hearings all opposing its passage.
“Maybe you should listen to the people,” said Elena Brazen
“The people who voted them in,” responded town ethics
committee member Helen Morelli.
“What you have done effectively in this room is shut down everyone’s
voice,” said Marcie Meiller. “It’s not okay.”
Underlying the conflict for many is the plan’s potential implications
for future zoning and land use and for the proposed Belleayre Resort.
While some changes including the restoration of vaguely protective
language for “mountaintops” were made in the final days
before its passage, others changes such as the removal of formal hamlet
designations were not. Mountaintops referred to are not defined in
the plan; previously, Crossroads Al Frisenda has said of the proposed
resort site “That’s not a mountain, it’s a ridge.”
On the official USGS quadrangle, the words “Belle Ayr Mountain”
are superimposed over the height of land proposed as the site of the
Big Indian Resort and Spa.
As a result of the plan’s adoption, all town zoning laws and
planning guidelines must now be brought into compliance with it. No
timetable for expected changes has been either set or publicly discussed
as of yet.
In a related matter, town attorney Paul Keller denied a federal Freedom
of Information Law (FOIL) request filed by Friends of Catskill Park
and the Catskill Preservation Coalition representing their 100,000
members for copies of records used in creating the plan. According
to Keller, those materials are not subject to FOIL because they represent
work product, “not in final form and therefore not discoverable.”
However according to a July 13 appeal of the town’s denial,
the exception cited by Kellar “does not apply, under town law,
to records which have been relied on in the public review process,”
nor are the materials requested protected under the section of state
law cited by the town. The matter appears to be ongoing.
Pizza & Politics...
By then, though, the 250-plus Republicans on hand were full
on the 30 pizzas incumbent supervisor Bob Cross had brought out to
feed his prime constituents.
Cross said, at a break in his rapid-fire serving up of a myriad slices,
that he’d heard he might be facing a challenge, and had “called
in the troops” just in case.
Signs reading “Republicans Only” were plastered on the
entrances to the park’s picnic pavilion. But instead of pizza,
they referred to the Grand Old Party’s new rules not allowing
any nominations by or of anyone not a bonafide Republican.
Not that that stopped at least one “new” Republican, freshly
said to be shifting enrollment from Democrat, from gaining the nod
for a council seat candidacy. On another front, it halted an independent
with long Republican ties from seeking a GOP nod, forcing him to decide
to go it alone against a candidate who will likely have a cross endorsement
from both parties.
But first things first. The outcome was largely predictable. Bob Cross
wasn’t challenged in his bid for a second term as supervisor.
Town Republican Club founder and president Gerry Setchko, who challenged
Cross unsuccessfully at the same caucus two years ago, easily won
the nod to run for councilman. Tom Crucet got yet another rounding
okay, without challenge, to seek re-election as a Town Justice. Town
Planning Board Chairman John Horn, a former Pleasantville mayor, got
an unchallenged okay to run for an open town assessor’s spot.
But then the mild surprises. Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Keith
Johnson did not put his hat in the ring for the Highway Superintendent
position. He said, after the voting, that he will still run for the
position on his own ticket. He didn’t feel right giving up his
non-enrolled status just for the occasion, Johnson noted.
That left Kenny Berryann, who sought the nod against retiring super
Dickie Merwin two years ago, running against former Phoenicia Hardware
Store founder/owner Eric Hofmeister.
Longstanding Town Justice Bart Guglielmetti did not seek re-election,
or even show at the Thursday, July 14 gathering. Instead, former town
constable and councilman Ted Byron got the nod to seek his seat.
Then there were the other candidates for town council.
Joanne Kalb worked the crowd, was well-nominated, and spoke eloquently
about her desire to serve the town she loves. Husband Bob, a former
town planner and keeper of the stop watch for the evening’s
timed speeches, drew a good laugh when he quipped about having his
only chance at cutting her off.
Mary Herrmann, a consistent Cross critic nominated by a steadfast
crowd of supporters from the former village of Pine Hill, spoke forcefully
about finding new ways to bring the town together, drawing as much
respect for her chutzpah this time as the votes she lost to her competitors.
And then there was former Democrat Rob Stanley Jr., nominated by his
dad, with whom he shares a plumbing business, and one vote shy of
Setchko’s tally in the final rounds.
Which could have been a surprise, were it not that he represented,
in the context of the caucus, a rare young face who addressed his
comments to “the future.”
The final vote count for council nominations was Setchko 159, Stanley
158, Kalb 94 and Herrmann 37. For highway super, Berryann won 138
to Hofmeister’s 79.
What were the sentiments being expressed?
Largely a strong sense of confidence.
“Let no one here believe that our Republican Party is in disarray.
We are stronger than ever,” said councilwoman Jane Todd, nominating
Cross as a hard worker. “Finally, progress…” she
added, noting how there was “more than one issue facing the
town” and pushing the basic GOP agenda of “responsible
growth and opportunity.”
“Be honest, is our town better now,” asked planner Charlie
Frasier, seconding Cross’ nomination with a rhetorical flourish.
“He’s not a dictator.”
During the candidate’s speeches, Setchko spoke of “wanting
to see the town do more community things” and liking the idea
of prosperity. He thanked the supervisor for the pizza. Kalb spoke
about how Cross had “put no value on extremists.” Stanely
talked about the town being at a crossroads where it could “stand
up and take a stand against hatred and animosity” adding that
he would not succumb to any “negative summation of our community.”
Herrmann noted that she was “not here to throw a wrench into
the works” but to seek compromise between the old-timer versus
newcomer and other splits in the town.
“Think of our youth. Our youth is our future,” said Cross,
accepting his nomination, and past two years as supervisor, as a “privilege.”
In the days following the caucus, Herrmann started asking questions
about the propriety of Cross’ pizzas. But by then, the GOP slates
were all set and somewhere, the campaign mills running, the placards
and posters already starting to get made.
Meanwhile, Shanadken Democrats, fresh off a successful and largely-attended
July 9 picnic, has set its own caucus date for Tuesday, July 26 at
7 p.m., also at Glenford Park.
More on what they come up with in a couple of weeks…
& Us... Again
I used to be one of “them”, I try not to take all this talk
too seriously. I have lived in Olive for over three decades. I have
paid enough taxes here to retire to the Caribbean. I have voted in favor
of the school budget every one of those years, even though I don’t
have children. Even now I imagine that locals think of me as one of
“them.” But more than anything, I want this town to produce
young men and women that we can admire, who will go on to move to other
places where they will probably be thought of as “them.”
I want to know that they are proud of where they came from, that they
think of it as a place where they were celebrated and adored.
I have mentored young writers from the high school because I think that
I have something real and concrete to offer them. Invariably, it is
I who learn from them. They come from Woodstock or they come from Pine
Hill or they come from Olive— but they come full of ideas, and
attitude, and an eagerness that makes me so hopeful. Sometimes they
are pierced and tattooed, sometimes they wear clothing that looks like
it has just gone through a shredder. Sometimes they are naive and sometimes
they are jaded. But they are ours, every one of them, and if we start
weeding out who we would choose to have as our neighbors, then we have
nothing to teach, nothing to share. Because this intolerance of people
who might have more money than we do, who might not have ever met the
great farmer Al Fox, who don’t understand that our entire fire
department is volunteer is too easily passed on to tender minds. They
know, they pick up on the unsaid, and then we have done the worst disservice,
by not helping them dream.
When people ask me what I love about living here, my list is almost
endless— the mountains, the streams, The Boiceville Inn, Rosie
and The Olive Free Library, the friends I’ve made that I would
never, ever have gotten to meet if I stayed in New York City. Although
there were more people in the apartment complex I grew up in than there
are in all of Olive, I would walk past them every day and not know who
they were, who their families were, what they did for a living. I would
never be a witness at their weddings or a reader at their funerals.
I would not even meet their eyes, because even in our proximity, we
were all “them”. In Olive, you know all these things and
more. We are a community, and we will only stay that way if we are a
little more inclusive.
At the Bennet School Graduation last month, white kids and black kids
and Mexican kids and Indian kids and Chinese kids mingled with each
other without a thought. Rich kids and poor kids high-fived each other
without a care. They were all getting ready to go into the “big”
school, and their joy was mixed with their anxiety, and the whole of
it was contagious. As I sat there, I started to cry from happiness.
When had this happened, I wondered? When had our town become such a
beautiful rainbow of people?
Ah, I thought, it’s “them.” Welcome, I say.
“Most of my family is invested in Onteora,” Vanacore says
as one of her sons notes that there are Vanacores who’ve graduated
from the school system in each of the last five generations. Rita adds
she’s got family in almost every grade right now.
“It’s been great living in a place where we know so many
people,” she adds. “I get information brought to me from
all levels. It’s a good thing.”
The new OCS VP, who took the position, even though new to the board,
when the three veterans on it said they didn’t want the role,
came to the area from Stamford, CT at the age of 15, when her father
took a job with Rotron and moved into one of the first new houses built
off Maverick Road in Woodstock. She remembers the shock of shifting
from a huge suburban school to Onteora High vividly… along with
the disappointment she felt when her father, with old-school Italian
beliefs, refused to let her go on to college.
Vanacore said that given her choice, she would have studied to be a
Instead, she married her husband, Dominick, just out of school and studied
to become a hairdresser, eventually rising in the cosmetology field
to become a teacher herself. She started her own business, Dreamweavers,
still running strong in Uptown Kingston after several moves. She bought
and renovated one of the cornerstone buildings of Wall Street. Raised
her three kids. Grew involved in a wide range of organizational matters,
both volunteer and business-oriented.
She even became an EMT, pulling on that original wish to enter the field
Sure, there’s a whole book Rita Vanacore could write about the
changes she’s witnessed in women’s hair styles over the
years… a truly insightful and fun story on its own merits. Just
as she has much to say about real family values, via her experience
of extended family living, so rare these days.
But what’s got her focus is the school district, and the community
impetus that got her to her new position.
“I’d been wanting to run for years,” she says of that
process, thwarted for years by the busy-ness of her family and business
What changed Vanacore’s circumstances had everything to do with
the tax debacle caused by the school district’s implementation
of the state’s controversial new Large Parcel legislation, which
saw her meeting with other townspeople throughout Olive to research
what had happened. Eventually, that group became Olive Matters. And
Olive Matters’ meetings, and influence, started growing by leaps
“I realized I both had the time AND the passion to run for the
board,” she says of the decision she made last winter to seek
It’s an issue she’s still passionate about, ready to talk
at length of at a moment’s notice. But she also realizes her focus
will have to change, now that the OCS Board has the majority to keep
the legislation from being enacted again.
“The thing I learned,” she says of her successful candidacy
for the school board, “Is that the more noise you make, the more
you get noticed.”
So what is she planning to focus on as not only a new school board member,
but one of that board’s top officials?
“Policy,” is the first word out of her mouth. Vanacore speaks
about looking back over current policies and finding ways of better
enforcing them. Such as dress codes. Conduct codes for school athletes.
“We’re training students to be accepted in society and the
business world,” she says, bolstering her point.
She also wants to continue working to better the district’s communications.
She feels that if the district wants a long-term goal of building a
new middle school, it has lots of work to do, and steps to do that work
within. Like hearing from hired consultants, first, about how best to
use existing facilities.
And then there’s the current board’s dynamics… which
she’ll only say she “hopes” will not be personal,
but focus instead on what is best for students and the Onteora community.
“I’m learninga ton.. going to conferences, meeting with
all our principals,” Rita says of her hard work filling her new
She added that she’s gotten great help along the way from friends,
family and community members, as well as old board members from her
uncle Joe to former OCS VP Joe Doan. Now she’s wanting to reach
out to other VPs, such as fellow Ovilian Kathy Hochman.
“I’m completely passionate about it all,” she says,
grand kids running in and out of the kitchen as her own kids listen
in. “I love puttinmg the pieces together, pulling on all my organizational
So is this it for political ambitions? “You don’t know how
many times I’ve been asked about the county legislature,”
she replies. “But our current reps are just fine.”