Friday, February 27, 2009

RUPCO Agonistes, Continued

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, February 26 edition

If there is one good thing to come out of this whole RUPCO controversy it is the reminder of how dreadful and awful children are.

RUPCO, of course, is now the acronym for the proposed 53 units of affordable housing which are to be airlifted, say some, from the slums of Mumbai, and deposited on a pristine, 19 acre wetland in Woodstock, hitherto domicile to seven bog turtles and fifty-eight thousand single-use plastic baggies, many of them feral.

For the last five years the Woodstock planning board, cattle-prodded by the community, has given the 19-acre wetland attention amounting to more than all the world’s focus on the Brazilian rainforest. Their investigation has established that the 53 units will be constructed across seven acres not located in the 19-acre wetland, and in fact there will be a minimum 100-foot buffer between the 19-acre wetland and the nearest shack. There should be no disturbance to the seven bog turtles or the wild fifty-eight thousand single-use baggies.

Under guidance from the same cattle prod the planning board has applied equal diligence to issues relating to water and air quality, traffic, lighting, spotted owls and snail darters. Investigation so far has disclosed no serious impact on these elements.

Some people thought the planning board should cower from the ghastly specter of tree slaughter, for indeed it is predicted a good number of third-growth trees will be removed to make room for the slums to be airlifted from Mumbai. But the embarrassment that came with the realization that in the last ten years the planning board had approved the construction in areas all over the town no less than seventy-five dwellings with seventy-five clearings, and seventy-five driveways, and seventy-five wells, and seventy-five septic fields and seventy-five yards, plus ten or fifteen swimming pools, which must have caused the destruction of no less than one hundred and seventy-five thousand trees, has given the planning board the fortitude, some will say the shamelessness to face this new arboreal massacre.

So for those opposed to airlifting slums of Mumbai to Woodstock, there appeared to be less and less recourse for denial of the RUPCO application.

Until someone fussed about the revelation that the 53 units could domicile up to 36 children!

Children, of course, have always been the bane of humanity. Not only has the arrival of children in many instances signaled the departure of romance, but even in those relationships that endure the imposition of children’s mewling, sniffling and whining there is the additional aggravation of feeding, clothing, housing and educating the little buggers. Our society, which some call ‘advanced,’ has actually become the most primitive tyranny, with laws that force parents or guardians to feed, clothe and house their children, and if not done adequately sends off the offending parents and guardians to be fed, clothed and housed in a jail.

Our society extends its tyranny by forcing even those who had the forethought to never have children to nonetheless help finance the education of children born to those sociopathic parents who demonstrated far less consideration for the community. Yes, it’s called ‘school tax.’

Studies have shown that people with more years of education tend to have less number of children. Yet despite the trillions of dollars spent over the millennia to educate the young we still have children around. So obviously, educating children is a dead-ender.

Woodstock was well on its way to eradicating children, recently even electing to the town board an eighty-two year old man who crusades against cars idling and people having children. What a breath of fresh air he is! With any luck the town-sponsored youth athletic leagues will dry up, the Woodstock youth center will fold, the Woodstock elementary school will shutter its windows, and we can revel in the Apollonian beauty and grace of Jay Wenk.

Once Woodstock gets the dead-beat kids out of here, then we then can work on the old timers who are responsible for the taxes that pay for Medicare and Medicaid and social security. Except Jay, of course, who will be our hero for throwing the last kid from Woodstock over the town line to Saugerties.

We have a new rallying cry to prevent the slums of Mumbai from landing on a pristine wetland in Woodstock; Kids Suck. Should this cogent argument, if not spawned at least given nurture and credence recently in the pages of a local paper, not stop the RUPCO proposal in its tracks, well then by golly we might as well all throw in the towel and prepare ourselves for a grim future shared with children. Can any prospect be more loathsome?

I won’t pretend total agreement, but I do feel honest sympathy for the concerns, environmental or otherwise, of those opposed to the RUPCO proposal. I just hope they don’t pick up this bummer of an argument and run with it.

* * *

A ‘Let There Be Light’ moment: I can’t remember if it was one month or two months before the 2005 Democratic caucus when councilwoman Liz Simonson announced her bold endeavor to “green” the Town’s buildings and vehicles. We broke our necks getting her elected to her third term so she could “green” the Town. Progress has been slow, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. A year ago she persuaded the town board to spring for some software that was going to help “green” the Town. Unfortunately, like most software it needed data to work with, and there began the long, long chore of data entry. Progress has been slow, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. At last, in January of this year Simonson figured out the electric bills for various Town buildings. The sewage treatment plant used $28,000 in electricity last year (2008)! She was so shocked by this figure that she has repeated it numerous times (I guess finally somebody will get sick of hearing about it and do something). I just happened recently to be glancing at the Town budget. Since it keeps a record of previous years expenditures I saw that in 2007 the sewer plant used $27,742.96 in electricity. This is $257.04 less than the 2008 expenditure Liz “discovered.” I’m left wondering if for only $257.04 Liz really had to go though all that time and trouble to add up electric bills that the Town’s bookkeeper had already tabulated. Well, so now we know why Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Unsolicited advice: Reed beds, anyone?

Town Board Meeting, February 10 (Part 2)

This article appeared in the Townsman, February 19 edition

The Woodstock town board at its March 10 meeting will re-open the public hearing on a proposed amendment to the zoning law regulating development near wetlands, watercourses and water bodies. The town board opened the public hearing at an October, 2008 meeting, where the 26 page, single spaced document was greeted by many members of the public as too long, cumbersome and complicated, and created the unanswered question of who, the Town or the applicant, should pay for the additional professional services required to administer the law. The revised document on file with the town clerk does not appear to address those concerns, and in fact may exacerbate them by proposing to completely erase exemptions to the regulation, including postholes. Other elisions to the original document include description of applicant information required for planning board consideration, and other verbiage relating to purely administerial matters.

Perhaps a serious flaw is that the revision makes reference to sections that are not consistent with the recently codified version of the zoning law.

Dara Trahan, the Town’s planning technician, said in her introduction to the revised document, “I’ve been asked to highlight sections of the law that could be reduced in length.” Councilman Chris Collins, when asked about his input responded, “I work with others via open discussions i.e. we discuss changes, additions, deletions, edits etc. and weigh the pros and cons of every change and try to reach consensus on the best way to handle issues.” It is not known when or where the “open discussions” took place.

The town board also scheduled special meetings, one for February 23 at 4:00 PM at the Town Offices to continue a discussion regarding building rental fees, and one for March 9 at 4:00 PM at the Town Offices for another discussion regarding the proposed comprehensive plan.

In subcommittee reports, councilman Chris Collins, whose charge is to oversee land use regulation, cited the upcoming public hearing on the proposed amendment to the zoning law regulating development near wetlands, watercourses and water bodies, and the March 9 special meeting on the comprehensive plan, and left it at that.

Councilwoman Liz Simonson, in her charge to bring cell phone service to areas of the town not served, announced that she had contacted Verizon and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) with regard to her proposal to install antenna on the so-called RNN tower on Overlook Mountain, and has tried to contact ATT on the same matter. There has so far been no response. She had nothing to report with regard to her endeavor to “green” the Town’s fleet of vehicles or its buildings, citing a “rough month.” She cited again her discovery after careful analysis that the sewage treatment plant used $28,000 in electricity in 2008, which is $257.04 more than the $27,742.96 spent in 2007. She praised supervisor Jeff Moran for his decision to close the public room in the Town Hall for the winter, citing a $1400 savings in fuel costs.

Councilman Jay Wenk’s proposal to forward to the town attorney a sixteen-page law prepared by George (“Jerry”) Washington to address buried fuel tanks was stalled by concerns of board members that it was too cumbersome and that now was not the time to consider adding a “public health officer” position to the Town’s payroll. There will be more discussion on the proposal at a later meeting.

Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum announced on behalf of the recreation commission their request for volunteers to help maintain the ice skating rink located at Rick Volz Field in Bearsville. With so much snow this year the Town’s maintenance department personnel had little resources for clearing the facility for the public’s use.

There was no second meeting of the town board in February so that members could attend the annual Association of Towns meeting in New York. The next regularly scheduled meeting of the town board will be March 10.

RUPCO Public Hearing, February 12 (Part 2)

This article appeared in the Townsman, February 19 edition

A smaller but still sizable crowd turned out for Round Two, the continuation of the Woodstock planning board’s public hearing for comment on the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) provided by Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO) with its application to build 53 units of affordable housing (the so-called ‘Woodstock Commons’) behind the Bradley Meadows shopping center in Woodstock.

Of roughly 30 speakers, fourteen expressed approval of the project, ten were against and six made requests for additional information and/or recommended more study of the DEIS, or otherwise made equivocal statements.

Arguments against the project included those made by Judy and Dave Bruck, who expressed concerns with traffic, environment, property values, taxes and the lack of guarantee that Woodstockers would get to live in the units. Thea Hambright, speaking along similar veins, asked the planning board to make RUPCO guarantee Woodstock workers would perform at least 50% of the construction and Woodstock residents reside in at least 50% of the units. Phyllis Lane predicted that increased traffic on quiet Playhouse Lane would devalue adjacent properties. Carol March decried the destruction of what she estimated to be 9600 trees on the proposed site, and thought RUPCO should consider renovating the now-empty Simulaids building in Bearsville. Harry Castiglione worried about traffic. Cheryl Chapman sent a letter expressing a concern with traffic. Loretta Klein, first criticizing what she thought was an exhibit of bad manners on the part of project supporters, expressed concerns about the environment and the availability of units to Woodstockers. Bill Cook also had environmental concerns. Jay Cohen offered a rambling dissertation concerning “group A” and “group B,” and ultimately attacked RUPCO’s “hype” about the project and predicted “chaos” were it approved.

More or less equivocal were statements by David Menzes, who critiqued the scale of the project and the “process” that led to it; Abby Mitchell, who worried that increased global warming might result in flooding to the area; Jay Wenk, who thought the world was becoming too populated, “although I don’t know what you [the planning board] can do about that;” and Dr. Arthur DiNapoli, who does not support the project but felt that a planning board denial would result in a “lawyer fest” that opponents would eventually lose. “I’m against it, but we will get by.”

Speakers for the project included Rene Imperato, Michael Pacut, Judy Flynn, David Boyle, Robert Young and Mike Shaughnessy, each taking the position that the environmental review has been thorough, and that Woodstock’s need for affordable housing is acute.

Former town board members Gordon Wemp and Bill McKenna spoke for the project. McKenna reminded the listeners of how former controversial land use decisions, for instance the firehouse in Bearsville, the cell tower, the highway garage and the senior housing behind the post office, had all been executed without the ensuing doom predicted by opponents. Wemp, addressing the often-repeated idea that Woodstock “do it [construct affordable housing] ourselves,” cast his eye about the widely acknowledged embarrassment of the condition of the Community Center and said, “This facility speaks for itself.” McKenna and Wemp each urged the planning board to work with RUPCO to make the best project possible.

Woodstock Land Conservancy member Michael DeWan, after making it clear he was speaking for himself and not the organization that in the past had taken stands on land-use proposals, but which has remained neutral in this debate, made a passionate speech supporting the project, saying it gives “the potential for Woodstock to exemplify a good community,” and noting, “Our nation has just done something remarkable; so can Woodstock.” DeWan was referring to the election of Barack Obama, whose name had been invoked by several preceding supporters of the project.

Deborah DeWan, director of policy and program development for the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development (CCCD), but also speaking for herself, stated her strong support for the project, noting its positive environmental features and that the opposition “does not represent our better nature.”

Barry Samuels, president of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce and Arts, but speaking as a private individual, wished that the RUPCO project would be located across Chestnut Hill Road from his residence rather than the ten homes instead slated for development there. “I would choose living across the street from the Woodstock Commons with its 53 units over the development of ten second homes,” he said, looking forward to more full time residents of the town.

Michael Berg, director of Family of Woodstock and a member of the Ulster County Affordable Housing Consortium, speaking in support of the project reminded listeners that “this is not a popularity contest,” and went on to describe the extremely low availability of affordable housing in the area. He took those speakers who had expressed worry that the housing would be available to “non-Woodstockers” to task by asking rhetorically, “Where was the opposition to all the second homes being built here?”

Maryanne Collins asked the planning board to make their decision based “on the merits and not the emotions” surrounding the proposed project, and concluded her statement of support for the project by noting, “Woodstock will become a Hamlin, and no children will be here.” Hamlin, it will be recalled, lost all its children to the Pied Piper.

The public hearing, which had begun at 6:00 PM, ended with a unanimous vote to close it. The next step is for the planning board to digest the comments addressed to it, and to decide within thirty days on a format for RUPCO representatives to respond to them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Valentine's Day Condolence

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, February 12 edition

Let us dedicate ourselves to the proposition that those who profess love for the first time, or tangle in new ways with that frightful emotion, are soon to face the worst, most awkward and potentially embarrassing day of his/her life this coming Saturday, February 14, aka Valentine’s Day.

I have many reasons to be grateful for entering the 28th year of marriage to my sweetie, and perhaps one of them is not living in dread of the rapid approach of Valentine’s Day. Don’t get me wrong, I know that a sober, thoughtful gesture will be required of me, be it nice chocolates, a sincere sentiment written into a carefully chosen card, or some fresh expression of how lucky and fulfilled I feel to have had this wonderful woman endure me all these years. I am long past the old mistakes of buying her a leaf blower or new potholders for Valentine’s Day. As much as I will try my best to please her with a heartfelt token of my love, I have the comfort of knowing that if I louse it up it won’t mean I’m packing my bags on the 15th. At least I don’t think it will.

But for those new in the adventure of romantic love V Day nears with great peril. Feelings can be so wrought and convoluted that it’s rather odd that humans should consider themselves ‘rational’ beings.

If we were rational beings we could expect an exchange something like the following:

First Person: “I think you are wonderful and beautiful and I feel very attracted to you.”
Second Person: “You do? Gosh, I don’t feel that same way toward you.”
First Person: “Oh, you don’t? I guess I’ll find someone else to feel very attracted to.”
Second Person: “That’s a good idea. I hear there are billions of people on the planet, and I bet one of them will be perfect for you. Good luck.”
First Person: “Thanks for listening. Have a nice day.”

Instead we hear exchanges like:

First Person: “Um, er, like wow.”
Second Person: “You think?”
First person: “Sort of, yeah.”
Second Person: “I don’t think so.”
First Person: “I’m going to kill myself.”

Honestly and truly, which would you prefer?
1) Telling someone for the first time how deeply and passionately you feel for him/her without first having any idea how he/she will respond, or
2) An arranged marriage.

Now pity those countless, unmatched hearts out there grappling with these kinds of feelings, and expected to somehow crystallize them simply because the calendar insists that they should. Marcel Proust saw right into this quandary when he observed, “There is nothing like desire for preventing the things one says from bearing any resemblance to what one has in one’s mind.” Ain’t it so?

Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this is an affliction visited solely on the young. True, Romeo and Juliet fell in love when they were kids and killed themselves. But Anthony and Cleopatra fell in love when they were middle-aged adults and they killed themselves. There’s no proof, but I bet they all did it either just before or just after Valentine’s Day. Their experiences give credence to that dependable American lexicographer, Ambrose Bierce, who defined ‘Love’ as, “A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder. This disease… in prevalent only among civilized races living under artificial conditions; barbarous nations breathing pure air and eating simple food enjoy immunity from its ravages.”

Some people attribute the rise and prevalence of Valentine’s Day to greeting card companies. I doubt it because I can’t believe such a large number of remorseless sadists could possibly exist in our society and not be jailed.

No, I think it more than mere coincidence that the rise of Valentine’s Day in our society followed roughly the demise of public executions. Since no longer being privy to watching people face death at the end of a noose, we have instituted the yearly rite of watching people face their doom at the end of their awful, flailing and suspenseful professing of love.

I hate shilling for the greeting card companies, but if you know anybody out there who has recently fallen in love, take pity and send a sympathy card. If you happen to be one of the unfortunate souls trying to figure out what to get/give/offer your new sweetheart this Saturday, I leave you with words, again belonging to Proust: “…Delicious vagueness rich in expected surprises, which is romance.”

Good luck, and remember; there are billions of people on this planet.

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear, sweet wife.

* * *

Hallmark Moment: Despite the sharp differences of opinion, the 130 or so residents gathered at the Community Center for the public hearing regarding the proposed RUPCO affordable housing project were so respectful to one another that several people in the hall found themselves applauding statements made by both sides. There was one senior fellow at the back of the room doing such, and while applauding a comment by someone approving the project he was approached by a worried Woodstock councilman, Chris Collins, and reminded, “You’re not supposed to clap for people who support the project.” Ah, the clarity!

Town Board Meeting, February 10

This article appeared in the Townsman, February 12 edition

Woodstock, February 10, 2009

The federal stimulus package, at this moment still stalled in the congress, may put a new wrinkle into the controversy surrounding the Town Hall versus Elna Ferrite issue. Councilwoman Liz Simonson, having had a conversation with Dan Ahouse, aide to congressman Maurice Hinchey, informed the board of the possibility of obtaining federal grants to offset possibly as much as 80% costs of creating an energy efficient facility. The Town Hall renovation project, completely designed for energy efficiency, but stalled on bids that exceeded the bonding authorization, may qualify for such funding. Simonson expressed the concern that pursuing the Elna Ferrite building may take so long that the Town would lose the grant opportunity.

Old arguments were rehashed concerning the Town Hall’s inadequacy with regard to enough space for the departments to be housed in it and its inadequate parking, versus the potential for the Elna Ferrite building to house all the Town’s departments, with Councilman Chris Collins advancing the former and supervisor Jeff Moran taking the latter.

In the meantime, Dennis Larios of Brinnier & Larios, the engineering firm that helped the Town construct the new highway facility, offered to walk through the Elna Ferrite building and advise the Town on how to proceed with its consideration of that location.

Moran hopes to assign a task force to study the alternatives.

The meeting of the Woodstock town board began with a recommendation by Paul Shultis Jr representing the Skate Park task force that the town spend approximately $42,000 to install a new, ten-foot high fence around a portion of the park and cloak it with a special sound-deadening sound blanket. The task force had been appointed by the town board to investigate means of abating the annoyance to neighbors caused by noise from the skate park adjacent the Woodstock youth center. Chaired by Shultis, the members included councilperson Terrie Rosenblum, youth center director Fern Malkine-Falvey and Jay Cohen.

Shultis and Cohen, while admitting that there can be no absolute guarantee the project would completely satisfy the affected neighbors – none of whom had attended the last three task force meetings – they felt the sound barrier would certainly bring the park within compliance of the law as it pertains to decibel levels.

Cohen, at the request of the board, will obtain references and testimonials from users of the product, and assuming that goes well the “ball will be in your [the town board’s] court,” said Shultis.

David Lewis, who had been tasked last December with investigating the possibility of instituting bike lanes on town, county and state highways, in his preliminary report described the idea “as an amazingly complicated issue” and asked that his final report, scheduled for March, be put off until May.

Meira Blaustein, representing the Woodstock Film Festival, asked for and received an assurance from the board that rental rates for use of the Community Center and the Town Hall for the 2009 film festival will not be increased. In 2008 the festival paid the Town $1744 for the six-day use. The 2009 festival is scheduled September 30-October 4.

Assessor Marc Plate urged the board to adopt a resolution in protest of Governor David Paterson’s proposal to cap the state’s payment of property taxes on state lands. Although the impact to Woodstock would not be extreme by itself, coupled with less state aid to education, plus mandated relief to property taxes paid by utilities, including cable and telephone, Plate felt the cumulative impacts called for a Town remonstrance from the Town. New York State owns lands valued at $13 million dollars in Woodstock. The board unanimously adopted such resolution, and will forward it to state and county officials.

At the invitation of Collins planning board member Peter Cross, a professional wetland delineator and surveyor sought for his advice on helping construct the “base document” that is needed to execute the Comeau easement with the Woodstock Land Conservancy, advised the board to perform a new survey in CAD (computer aided design) format. He estimated such cost at about $13,000. The “base document” would be a description of the 76 acre parcel in its present form, including existing buildings, topography and parking lots and a delineation of portions reserved for municipal purposes, including potential future improvements. The board reserved judgment as to whether to conduct such a survey until further consultation with the Conservancy.

In a matter also related to the Comeau property, Paul Shultis Jr, who is involved with the Woodstock soccer program, asked the board to consider creating a new, separate ingress to the upper parking lot, claiming it would improve traffic safety. The board has budgeted to improve the parking lot, a project currently awaiting an interpretation from the Woodstock zoning board of appeals to see if the proposed expansion of the lot, also to increase traffic safety, would require a variance from the zoning law.

The board had yet another endless discussion concerning building rental rates, which finally ended in the decision to take the matter up in March.

Affordable Housing Public Hearing

This article appeared in the Townsman, February 12 edition

Woodstock, February 5, 2009

Approximately 130 people crowded into the Community Center to participate in the planning board’s first public hearing for comment on the Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO) draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) concerning the proposed 53-unit affordable housing development, the so-called Woodstock Commons, to be located behind the Bradley Meadows shopping center. Despite the controversy that has raged around the proposal, first advanced more than five years ago, civility was maintained throughout the near-four hour proceeding. Because the three-minute cap on comment went largely un-enforced only about half of the nearly eighty people who had signed up to speak were heard, and the hearing would be adjourned until February 12.

Aside from Kevin O’Connor, executive director of RUPCO, who outlined the proposal’s environmental sensitivity in positive terms, describing it as “the most innovative in all of New York State,” and Sensible Action for Growth and Environment (SAGE) attorney Warren Raplansky, who presented a number of concerns with the DEIS, there were about 38 speakers or their representatives, 17 offering positive comment on the proposal, and 19 criticizing it. Of the 19, ten identified themselves as neighbors in the area of the proposed development. Two additional comments could not be discerned as for or against.

Technically the hearing was to gather comment on the quality and completeness of the environmental review provided by RUPCO, and in this regard the opponents of the project spoke with more specificity to the matter, citing what in their opinion were deficiencies in the report with respect to protecting wetlands, wildlife and the aquifer reported to lie below the project site, and for failing to take into account the potential for flooding and unsafe traffic conditions, taking too lightly the potential tax impact on the township (as a result of school tax increases), not establishing the legal right to municipal water and sewer service, underestimating lighting impacts, and not securing the eventuality that the housing would be available exclusively to Woodstock residents but instead for all participants of a state-wide lottery.

Supporters of the project spoke in more general terms, citing the town’s acute need for affordable housing, RUPCO’s sensitivity to environmental issues that may not be expected from other developers, the potential boost to local merchants, the fact that the 1989 zoning law supports the clustering of housing on that property, and although theoretically the housing, because it is supported by public financing, must be made available to anyone in New York, in reality it would end up benefiting mostly people currently living within a fifteen mile radius.

Ulster County legislators representing Woodstock, Don Gregorius and Brian Shapiro were the first speakers. Gregorius, prefacing his remarks by stating that as an elected official it should be expected he take a stand, declared that the project’s negatives outweigh the positives, citing increased taxes and the uncertainty of the lottery providing housing to Woodstock residents, and asking rhetorically, “Why can’t we do this ourselves?” Shapiro, first describing the substandard housing he was forced to inhabit when he first came to town, then reminded the planning board of the town’s continued dearth of affordable housing and described RUPCO as a willing partner in addressing environmental concerns. “Work with RUPCO to make this the best project possible.”

Neighbors speaking against the project, or having statements read in their absence, included Iris York, Andrea Winston, Michael and Robin Kramer, Dot Wright, Terry Breitenstein, Judith Emily, Dolores Lynch. Jean White, Barbara Duncan and a Ms Story. All the statements addressed issues in the DEIS and found them deficient. A young man who used to play in the wetlands adjacent the proposed project, and whose family, he stated, had been forced to move from Woodstock because of taxes, also spoke against the project.

Breitenstein, one of SAGE’s more prominent spokesmen, in an eloquent statement described RUPCO as a “fine outfit,” but went on to say that “impacts can’t be predicted.” In response to some voices in the community charging him and his neighbors with less than savory motives for opposing the project, he said, “We are not bad people, we are your neighbors with very deep concerns.”

Other speakers against the project included Peter Remler, saying the project “serves RUPCO, not Woodstock” and described the proposal as “immoral.” Gerri and Laura Ricci, local landlords, thought not enough protection was given to bears, thought the project too large and that there was not enough guarantee locals would inhabit the units. Edgar Rosenblum considered the project to be further assault on a property that never should have seen the development of the Bradley Meadows shopping center in the first place (which had occurred in the late 1960s), let alone the proposed additional project behind it. Tom Jenkins thought that the Town’s failure to adopt an updated comprehensive growth plan led to the proposed project, which he thought unfortunate. Hattie Iles felt “insulted by RUPCO’s stated purpose to bring diversity” to Woodstock, feeling the town was diverse enough. Marge Farnet also spoke against it.

Christine Flomez, identifying herself as a wildlife rehabilitator, objected to the proposed paths and walking trails through the property’s wetlands, but describing herself as “shocked” by rentals in Woodstock she advised the planning board “to make housing happen, but take care of the wildlife.” Allison Gerson expressed concerns relating to water and traffic.

Speakers for the project included Lisa Williams (“I look forward to living in Woodstock Commons”), Steve Yoda (“Providing affordable housing is a matter of social justice”), Clarice Buller (“We’ve paid enough money to slum lords; This is a gift to Woodstock”), Carol Buske (“This project is a win-win”), former chair of the Woodstock commission for civic design Jill Fisher (“You might consider an additional access-egress through Elwyn Lane”), and Nadia Steinzor (“This is a model of ‘green’ design’”). Martin Feinberg read a letter from Susan Goldman expressing strong support.

Tom Collins, who had served on Woodstock affordable housing committees dating back more than 20 years, and Sasha Gillman, former chair of the planning board, spoke in support. Both took current planning board chairman Mark Peritz to task for making public statements that appeared to be against the project and thereby compromised his objectivity, and each made the prediction that once the project was approved that the “controversy will subside” as it has regarding other contentious land use decisions in the past (CVS, highway garage, Woodstock Meadows, cell tower, etc.). Tamara Cooper, Family of Woodstock director, spoke in support, citing her experiences as a single mother striving to find decent, affordable housing when raising her children, and hoping such would be available should her children ever decided to come back and reside in the area.

Jonathan Drapkin, President & CEO of Pattern for Progress, a non-profit, public policy research and planning institute with the stated mission to "preserve and promote the social, economic and natural environments of the Hudson Valley region by building consensus for a pattern of growth that will insure a high quality of life,” spoke for the project, claiming “To the credit of the planning board and the community this is one of the most reviewed projects in the region.”

Pat Courtney, coordinator for the Mid-Hudson Energy Smart/ New York State Energy Research and Development Agency and Woodstock resident praised the environmental features of the project and noted, “Thirty years have gone by and we haven’t done it [provided affordable housing] ourselves.”

Woodstock resident Matthew Rudikoff, a professional planner, dismissed the significance of the environmental concerns raised by opponents, reminded the planning board of its responsibility to administer the zoning law as it is written and not make decisions based on personal tastes, and added that the planning board could establish conditions in the project approval that would make the lottery result in the greater likelihood of Woodstock residents getting to live in one of the 53 units.

At 10:50 the hearing was recessed and will be resumed at 6:00 PM on February 12 at the Community Center

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Woodstock Town Board Special Meeting February 2

This article appeared in the Townsman, February 5 edition

Woodstock, February 2, 2009

A special meeting of the Woodstock town board called to consider supervisor Jeff Moran's motion to solicit architectural services to help determine the costs of renovating the Elna Ferrite building for municipal purposes ended after discussion marked by sarcasm, insults, extreme changes in prior positions, and a 2-2 vote that failed to carry the motion. Councilman Chris Collins was absent.

In 2008 the town board engaged the services of architect Robert Young, who for a total of $4700 had consulted with town officials and department heads to devise a floor plan for the soon to be empty building located on the Bearsville Flats just west of the town center. At a December 2008 meeting departments heads representing most of the Town services, including emergency dispatch, police, justice court, assessor, and town clerk expressed enthusiastic approval of the Young floor plan, and urged the board to take action with respect to determining the cost of effecting the renovation.

The Town cannot offer up a bonding resolution without first knowing an approximate cost. At a December 30, 2008 meeting the town board, in the supervisor's absence, moved unanimously to take steps toward evaluating the Town's facilities. The notice published in two editions of the Town's official newspapers seeking architectural services attracted only two responders. It was the supervisor's hope that his refined proposal would attract more.

It now appears the councilman Jay Wenk has an extremely low opinion of Young's work, claiming that the proposed office space in the Elna building is too large. He also thought the Town should investigate the now-empty Overlook Press facility located near the Elna Ferrite building.

Councilpersons Terrie Rosenblum and Liz Simonson, in their only area of agreement, both thought the Overlook Press facility was "not appropriate."

Simonson became particularly caustic and self-contradictory, at one point suggesting that the board forget Young's product and "get someone who really knows what he's doing," but later asking, "Who in their right mind would go out an study a building he doesn't even own?"

The owner of the Elna Ferrite building, Diane Legier, has offered to sell the building for its assessed value. Because of the vagaries of the equalization rate this could mean anywhere from $840,000 to $1.1 million.

In a report made in 2008 Moran suggested that even at the higher purchase price, the cost of buying the building and renovating it would be cheaper than the proposed Town Hall renovation, which came in at $2 million dollars once the bids were opened, and which would do nothing to improve the extremely tiny and unsafe onsite parking situation. The Elna Ferrite facility has ample parking. For the last eleven months Moran has tried to coax the board toward engaging professional services to help determine a responsible estimate of the total cost of purchase and renovation. He has stressed that such determination would not necessarily constitute a decision, but only serve as an alternative to the Town Hall renovation to consider.

All this seemed to have been forgotten, Wenk expressing that "I feel I am being pushed to Elna, and I don't like that," and Simonson rolling her eyes and directing sarcasm at of all of 2008's work on the matter. Moran and Rosenblum voted for the resolution, Simonson and Wenk against it.

The 4:00 PM meeting had begun with the unanimous vote to advertise for a new animal control officer, and ended abruptly at 4:50 subsequent the failed motion.

Groundhog Day 2/5 edition

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, February 5 edition

I'm sure, like me, you're sore as hell at Punxsutawney Phil, the "seer of seers and prognosticator of prognosticators," the groundhog resident of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It appears that this fat cousin of the rat saw his shadow on February 2nd, and has doomed us to six more weeks of this wretched winter. Every snow plower in the county must be ecstatic. I haven't checked, but I bet the stock price of home fuel companies have hit the ceiling. Lucky Belleayre; unlucky us.

How did this rodent attain such power over the elements? Explanations vary, but research does indicate collusion involving the Punxsutawney Chamber of Commerce. Back in the 1880s one of its members, a Miss Witherspoon, purveyor of lady's sundries, looked out upon the dismal, empty Punxsutawney main street and wondered if the town council couldn't do more to attract business to the area. This was just after the Panic of '87 and just before the Blizzard of '88, an interregnum of potent significance, as you shall see. Punxsutawney Mayor Boing had just issued the sad report that the Town's moneys invested with a Rupert Runoff had been siphoned off into the dark cloud of the Panic of '87, never to be felt again. All the town had left was a mangy, old groundhog named Phil living under the library, and a recipe for groundhog stew. Miss Witherspoon — who at sixty years old maintained a dignity and demeanor implying all the truth of her honorific — had made a career of turning sows' ears into silk purses, and she suggested that Punxsutawney re-invent itself as the Colony of the Weather Prognosticator, and employ the mangy, hibernating rodent for good purpose. It so happened her suggestion also solved the scruple people have with eating animals they have named. Humans have eaten many a cow, but not one 'Elsie,' and of all the world's stewed groundhogs not one has been a 'Phil.'
And thus Groundhog Day was invented.

There was, of course, much skepticism at first. Up to that point in the entire history of Man the rodent had been perceived as inconspicuous of merit, if not in fact a complete bane on the human enterprise. But as profoundly Noah's ark building would find sad justification in the eyes of his dubious neighbors, thus would Miss Witherspoon's vision raise joyous admiration from her doubting fellow Chamber members, when Punxsutawney Phil on February 2, 1888 saw his shadow, and on the following March 12 the American east coast felt the Blizzard of '88.

It marked the end of Science in America, and the miracles of air-travel, cell phones and high definition television came quick on its heels. We hear of such things as 'El Nino' and the 'jet stream' to explain weather phenomena, but even the most cursory inspection of the town of Punxsutawney website informs us of what utter nonsense they are.

So yes, Punxsutawney Phil is responsible for the extension of this dreadful winter, and I am expecting the town board to do something about it.

* * *

Some stories are just too weird. Take this one for instance; viewers in Tucson, Arizona were interrupted while watching the Super Bowl this last Sunday by a twelve second broadcast of pornographic material that apparently had "bled in" from a cable signal meant for an "adult content" channel (is it just me or is there something oxymoronic about "adult content" when considering the puerile subject matter). According to the report, "The interruption came just after the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald scored on a long touchdown reception during the final minutes of the game." Nice score, Larry. But seriously, this is the first instance of a Super Bowl—porn connection since the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders last appeared in the championship game.

Two cable companies, Comcast and Cox, apparently serve Tucson. Guess which one broadcast the inappropriate material?

WRONG! It was Comcast.

"Comcast spokeswoman Tracy Bumgarter confirmed that the company's standard feed was interrupted during the Super Bowl, although she said its high definition feed was not." That’s a quote from — I swear -— Fox News.

The report goes on to say, "Joel Hilander of Tucson told The Associated Press that he and his young children saw the clip. 'I couldn't believe it. And I couldn't believe that my children were watching it either,' Hilander said."

Could have been worse, kiddies, you could have watched it in high definition.
Naturally, Cox Cable had to get in on the act.

"We have received no evidence that any inappropriate material was broadcast on any of our channels during the Super Bowl," said Cox spokesman. "The alleged incident appears to be isolated to the Comcast territory. We will offer our support to all appropriate organizations to help them determine what happened."

Just me, or do you also hear the sound of chirping?

In any case, I forecast a lawsuit against Comcast. Nowadays people sue at the drop of a g string.

Woodstock Democrats Go To primary 2/5 edition

This article appeared in the Townsman, February 5 edition

The January meeting of the Woodstock Democratic Party Committee saw the unanimous approval for going to the primary system for selecting candidates for local elective office in the upcoming 2009 election, thereby foregoing the traditional caucus method.

Democratic Party caucuses in recent years have attracted an increasing number of participants. In 2003, a do-over for the position of town supervisor saw over three hundred participants, many of whom waited hours to vote by paper ballot, and most of whom could not fit into the Community Center to hear the candidates' speeches given prior. Many of the 500-plus participants in the 2005 caucus were so disenchanted with the process and its outcome that most of the incumbent Democratic Party Committee members were tossed from their seats in the next committee election. The 2007 caucus saw more than 600 participants, and although it appeared to run smoothly as a result of some procedural changes, some feared it was a result of dumb luck.

By going to a primary system candidates for the Democratic nomination for town offices must acquire approximately 150 signatures of Party members in order to appear on the ballot. The signatures must be collected during the petition process, which opens in June and ends in July. The election will be on Tuesday, September 8 between the hours of noon to 9:00 PM. The following positions are affected: Supervisor, Councilperson, Justice, Clerk, and Highway Superintendent.

Currently Jeff Moran, supervisor, Liz Simonson and Chris Collins, councilpersons, Richard Husted, town justice, Jackie Earley, town clerk and Michael Reynolds, highway superintendent, fill these positions. Councilpersons Terrie Rosenblum and Jay Wenk, and town justice Frank Engel are serving terms that do not expire until the end of 2011.

Woodstock Democratic Party chairman, Sam Magarelli, in a statement to party members said, "The overwhelming benefit of having a primary instead of a caucus is that the primary process will enable more Democrats to participate in the selection of their candidates."

Bill West, chairman of the Woodstock Republican Party saw good reason for the shift. "Going to a primary will certainly give more rank and file Democrats in Woodstock the opportunity to participate," he said, noting the growing number of Democrats. According to West local Republicans will decide later this year on whether to go to primary or maintain the traditional caucus, adding that to this point there had been no discussion on the subject.

The primary will be overseen and conducted by the Ulster County Board of Elections, which will be responsible for setting up voting machines, hiring custodians and election inspectors and other tasks associated with holding an election. The cost for such service will be charged back to the taxpayers of the Town of Woodstock. How much this will cost will depend on whether all nine election districts will be polled, or if the districts can be consolidated into one polling place, say for instance the Community Center.

A political calendar with precise information with regard to petition dates and the number of signatures required in order to be placed on the ballot will be issued by the Democratic Committee in the near future.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Globish and the Towering Inferno

This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, January 29 edition

I recently came across an alarming report from the BBC.

It discusses the chagrin of some cultures around the world, particularly the French, to see their languages relegated to second (or worse) class by English.

It seems the promiscuity of English and its quick embrace of any new word from any source, foreign or domestic, and its willingness to stretch its dictionary to accommodate the new inhabitant has made it the global language. Look how quickly English has waged jihad, googled you, emailed a friend, went viral, emoticoned, watched a krunk DVD, spammed a frenemy, well, you get it. A guy in Hooters drunk on seven appletinis is less likely than is English to be caught en flagrante with some new sweetie, er um, predicate or noun.

In the words of linguist James D Nicoll, "We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."

Not all English's conquests, of course, are foreign; English will take any frumpy, old word and tummy-tuck and botox it until it emerges with a smashing new meaning. Witness 'text.' Some of us have texted or are texting so much that the world is suddenly populated with six billions cell phones. Whew! What text lives some of us have.

Apparently French, Spanish and Samoan are bashful, and therefore are just "walling it" while English waltzes around the world with a full dance card.

Any language so easily infatuated and used can expect to be quickly dissipated, and English is no exception. Great Britain and North America (excepting Quebec and Wall Street brokerages) might do their best to understand English, respect its nuances, cater to its tastes, yes, take it home to meet mother and love it tomorrow, but to the rest of the world English is just a tosspot picked up for a quick jolly and then pushed out the door before the light of glosnost.

And so English, full of macho and prancing with joie de vivre, lustily and blindly slouches toward… Globish!

Globish is the spare undergarment of English words and grammar that the world keeps after shucking the rest of English's suits, spats, gaiters and top hats, which are seen as too complicated to wear.

According to the BBC report, "Globish has only 1,500 words and users must avoid humor, metaphor, abbreviation and anything else that can cause cross-cultural confusion. [Globish speakers] must speak slowly and in short sentences… the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat [is] an excellent exponent [of Globish]."

So that's what he spoke! It gives you a perfect idea of where English has toddled off to, doesn't it. The language of the High Tea is now the diction used for global fatwahs, apparatchaks and bureaucratic diktats from Brussels.

Needless to say, Americans must fight Globish or we will lose our Mom and Apple Pie to hausfrau and sauerkraut. The best way to defeat Globish is to surfeit it with news words until it's just as fat as English and falls through the ice in some fjord and is never seen again. The Townsman reader is invited to join the effort I now begin with the following entries:

Collinize, vb. To populate an area of concern with the sterile aim to please everybody: "Collinizing the comprehensive plan ensured its extinction."

Morandize, v. To sup at a very mean table: "With so little wit, grace, intelligence or meaning for his company, he morandized and dreamed of better company."

RUPCO, v. To resurrect the belief in witches and warlocks: "Enough letters to the editor will certainly rupco the community."

Rosenblum, n. The futility of a minority: "Such was her status that even her motion to adjourn resulted in a rosenblum."

Simonsoninity, n. The blanket of platitudes used to cover but not warm the cold reality of a complete reversal of one's former position: "With perfect simonsoninity she led the led the charge to make sure Overlook would always have a 300 foot tower."

Wenken, v. To enfeeble, debilitate, undermine, sap, cripple, disable a moral principle with one's own moral turpitude: "The councilman's call for rectitude was wenkened by the financial shenanigans involved with his political campaign."

Wetlandish, adj. Of doubtful merit since there is a wetland within one hundred miles: "Building the doghouse in the back yard was considered a wetlandish proposal."

Zonism, n. The belief that the same law allowing one to do whatever he wants with his property also prevents the neighbor from doing anything he wants with his: "In a fit of zonism he drove from his 18,000 square feet mansion to the ZBA hearing to denounce his neighbor's wetlandish idea to build a doghouse."

Get the idea?

* * *

You can't make this stuff up: Councilwoman Liz Simonson complaining that Jeff Staley, the fellow who manages the Town's municipal tower on California Quarry, the tower that Simonson tried to foil every step of the way, even to the extent of conspiring with litigants against the Town to throw a monkey wrench into the project at the last moment, yes that Liz Simonson who now leads the charge to put a cell antenna on top of the three hundred foot tower on Overlook Mountain, complaining at the January 26 town board meeting that Jeff Staley won't return her phone calls.

Town Board Special Meetings, Jan 26 & 27

This article appeared in the Townsman, January 29 edition

Woodstock, January 26 & 27

Councilwoman Liz Simonson's effort to expand cell phone service in Woodstock by permitting an antenna on the 300-foot tower on Overlook Mountain (the so-called RNN tower, although RNN no longer uses it for broadcasting a signal) was met with resistance at the special meeting of the Woodstock town board. As far as supervisor Jeff Moran is concerned, the town boards primary objective "is to get service to the areas of the town not currently served, "not to jump ahead based on non-professional opinion to "legalize" the RNN tower with merely a hope that it will produce the intended result.

Simonson, who had led the charge eleven years ago to craft an amendment to the zoning law that prohibits personal wireless (cell phone) service towers and antenna in certain areas of the town, including Overlook, admitted that her current position was a complete turn around. Aiding her new position was George ("Jerry") Washington, the retired IBMer, who in the past has given town boards Power Point presentations on matters ranging from traffic to buried fuel tanks. Washington provided a 21-page report to the town, which he claimed showed conclusively that the RNN tower would fill many gaps in cell service. Washington also claimed that as a "commercial pilot" he appreciated the red warning light that beams from the tower.

In a sharp turn around for Washington, his latest report indicates that the two-year old cell tower on California Quarry provided a "rich" signal for the business district and areas of the town east of the Bear Café. Washington in conjunction with Simonson and others had issued a report in 2004 that claimed the Quarry site would provide the hamlet business district with "limited in-building service." The fact that people can now make cell phone calls from the hamlet's basements perhaps is what cooled supervisor Moran to Washington's latest science.

Simonson, perhaps in anticipation of the town board's charging ahead with her proposal to permit a cell installation on the RNN tower, invited the Town's land-use attorney, Drayton Grant, to the meeting to help unravel the zoning knot Simonson had tied eleven years previous.

Not only does the current law prohibit cell towers on Overlook, according to a memo sent by Grant to the town board in 2008,the RNN tower "is no longer a legal non-conforming use." In 1984 the Woodstock Zoning Board of Appeals, in what was then an extremely controversial decision, granted utility status to the RNN tower because it would be a television broadcasting facility, a decision that permitted the tower's construction. The tower ceased broadcasting a television signal in 2004, but now supports several other radio antenna serving Ulster County 911, ham radio, New York State Electric and Gas, and a relay dish for RNN. Technically, the Town if it so wished could begin steps to see the tower dismantled, in the opinion of some.

That seems unlikely, especially since emergency response providers are using it. But it added enough confusion to the matter that Simonson at one point turned to Grant and asked her to "tell us where to go." Grant, careful to avoid making policy for the Town, responded, "Tell me the destination and I will figure out the route." She went on to advise the board that if it has a serious interest in preserving the tower that "maybe we should build a more secure legal foundation" for it, further stating that at present the tower stands in a "legal penumbra."

Grant's 2008 memo also advised, "First, the town board should investigate to make sure of the facts," before it goes through the legal expense of changing the zoning law to accommodate a cell service antenna on the tower. Councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum thought it would be wise to see if adding height to the California Quarry tower might help expand service to any appreciable degree, an idea loathe to councilman Chris Collins, who recalled the bitter battle with the neighbors over that tower.

Ed Zellefrow, a qualified radio engineer visiting from the neighboring town of Olive, politely suggested to the town board that rather than depend on Washington's expertise that it contact carriers such as ATT and Verizon and have their professionals test the RNN tower site before making any decisions. That appears to be the direction the board will take, despite grumblings from Simonson that her attempts by phone and email to get contacts for those companies from Jeff Staley, the manager of Woodstock's municipal tower in California Quarry, have gone unanswered.

* * *

The January 27 special meeting of the town board to receive a status report from councilman Chris Collins on his three-year endeavor to enact a comprehensive plan for the Town of Woodstock made a desultory five-page progress into the 23-page document. Collins began the meeting by stating his hope for "tweaking without major surgery" the executive summary of the 160-page report written toward the end of 1999 and delivered to the town board after a three-year delay.

Previous town board members found the document too poorly written to attach their names to it. Although many of its recommendations had been enacted over the years, the document itself gathered dust. In 2005 Collins won a seat on the town board after identifying the un-adopted comprehensive plan as a major issue, and has labored over it since January 2006. In 2008 the town board unanimously decided to chuck the wordy tome, and adopt the more concise executive summary, but only after some tinkering. Even this severe curtailment has offered no fast track, as Collins admitted at the meeting to reviewing only its first ten pages.

On page three the board unanimously agreed to language concerning sustaining the "cultural and economic vitality of the community" by maintaining connections with "arts communities and entrepreneurs throughout the region," the idea being that such connection would bring more people to the town. Later in the discussion councilman Jay Wenk felt the plan should suggest the control of population, expressing his feeling that there were too many people around here. He offered no guidance for how that suggestion should read.

The meeting, which had begun at four-thirty, ended promptly at 6:00 PM so that the board could enter into an executive session to interview a candidate to replace Patrick Tripp on the Board of Assessment Review, and to discuss a "personnel matter pertaining to animal control."