I was a secretary for a year once, in my one and only stint at working in an office. Technically I was the “administrative assistant” to a few art directors in the Art Dept. at Simon & Schuster. I worked in Rockefeller Center (30 Rock, yo! Though that wasn’t my address.) and loved everything about the job except for working in an office. I loved filing and organizing and talking to designers and my weird and crazy co-workers. It wasn’t a career job (I was in cooking school by night), so I had no pressure to succeed. Except for the existential horror of waking up at 7 AM and taking the bus into the city with all the Orthodox Jews and walking through Times Square and being confined in that suffocating suffocating building for 8 hours a day, it was fine. After a year I had saved up enough to pay off my cooking school tuition and I left the world of offices forever. However, working for and mostly by myself sometimes leaves me with a wistfulness for (this is vaguely humiliating to admit) meetings. My job (which I adore, don’t get me wrong) is super messy and unstructured and can easily dissolve into chaos. A meeting is a cool contrast to dirty aprons and endless hand washing: stacks of tidy papers, pens, clocks, quiet voices (not shouting over the exhaust fan): structure. Ideally. When I’m at meetings, I revert to my time as a secretary and take notes. It calms my brain and stops me from wondering why people are wearing the clothes they are wearing.
It is in this spirit that I present to you my notes from last night’s New Paltz Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee meeting. Exciting stuff!! No one seems to care about the Comp. Plan, but it sort of determines everything about New Paltz—it is supposed to be the master document that everyone refers to when deciding to grant approval to developments, etc. The Comprehensive Plan is supposed to be a document that tells us what New Paltz is and what it should become. I’m determined to have a say in it, and you should be too (unless you disagree with my say, that is [hey, I’m not a politician! I can say shit like that!]).
Let’s jump in:
The meeting began informally at 6:45 and formally at 7. I got there promptly at 6:30, when the meeting was scheduled to begin, and Margaret Human (a Planning Board member, Green, and the only other person in the “audience” with me) and Toni Hokanson (Town Supervisor) where the only ones there. Yes, I’m that annoying person who is on time to every single meeting I’ve ever been to, and I’m not above pointing it out. Love of meetings not withstanding, my time is valuable, and it utterly infuriates me when meetings start late.
I brought my computer technically so I could answer emails, but ended up taking notes. I probably should have organized these notes chronologically, instead of by member of this Steering Committee. They are a little bit messy because of that, as well as fairly incomplete, but I am a secretary no more!
(Also, here are Margaret Human’s notes to my notes:
Notes from Margaret:
Paul Brown is no longer a member, replaced by Lynn Bowdery.
What we have been seeing as the hole in the middle of the Town where the village including SUNY is probably comes from the fact that the Town can not zone in that area. However the committee agrees that village/SUNY facts totlly affect Town planning, budgeting, and legislating and the planners will be instructed to consider the whole Town including the Village/SUNY
The Town and Village together own the Rail Trail, although it is administered by the Association, so that has to be correctly stated in the inventory.)
As you most likely do not recall, Toni picked the members of this Steering Committee, and I was hoping to be one of them, though I am admittedly not as knowledgeable about local issues as most of the people she picked. (Would I have been on time to all the meetings and have done the readings and have cogent notes though? YES.). My first impression of the cast of characters: all SC members seem like mainstream environmentalists. A solidly liberal, if decidedly non-radical, group. Could be worse!
My overall impression of the meeting: the meeting would have been a lot less necessary if the stupid out-of-town consulting firm (Peter J. Smith Consultants) wasn’t hired in the first place—the bulk of the meeting was spent pointing out how very little the consultants understood the town and how this contributed to making the report (a draft of the Comprehensive Plan- PDF here) so incomplete and shoddy (no one overtly said the report was shoddy, but it seemed awfully shoddy—nay, shitty—to me.)
Toni – “We only have one item on our agenda: to go through all the comments and see what we want to include in the Plan.” The meeting consisted of everyone going through a booklet of the Plan thus far and offering recommendations for improvement.
“We’re waiting for the consultants before we go through goals and objectives–that will be the next meeting.”
Here’s the cast of characters & their recommendations for improvement:
Cara Lee – Former (or current? I’m not sure) director of The Nature Conservancy’s Shawangunk Ridge Program. Seems like an A+ solid environmentalist and old school townie.
Use terminology consistent with the Open Space Plan when possible.
Reference what neighborhood/hamlet they are talking about when discussing it, rather than calling it “hamlet,” etc. (I didn’t have a copy of the draft plan they all were referring to—um, WTF with the lack of WIFI at Town Hall? I was hoping to download it and follow along—so if you don’t know what they are talking about, neither do I.) Be more specific when describing neighborhoods/hamlets.
“A lot of towns are looking at historic hamlets as locations for future development. It’s something we should be aware of.”
Good to name wetland on p. 5 and indicate its’ size as well as that it is a federally designated wetland. Report is dismissive of the values to the community of this resource.
“I think what they are trying to do is point out what amenities are lacking in various districts, but they are doing is overlooking what is already there.”
If a place has a designation from the state or federal gov’t, that should be acknowledged in the report. (in response to Toni saying that they couldn’t “write a dissertation” on each aspect of town)
In describing the floodplain of the Wallkill, the report said: “the landscape is minimal.” Discussion of how dumb this statement is and how it should be deleted. Toni pointed out this is where some of the most incredible views are located, and that should be noted.
Rail Trail is apparently only acknowledged once. General discussion of how dumb this is.
Discussion of the Rail Trail and trails generally and the lack of mention of them in the report.
Pointed out that the Gunks were pretty much dismissed in the report. Discussion of how idiotique this is and recommendations for pointing out to the idiotique consultants that the Gunks are, like, dudes, the whole heart of the whole damn town. Damn! (All swear words and value judgements are, of course, my own.)
Existing land-use patterns:
19.6% of NP is identified as “vacant.”
11.7% is identified as “wild” (should be called “conservation.”)
These terms are unprofessional and should not be used, alternative terms were discussed. i.e., much of the areas identified as “vacant” are constrained: floodplain, slopes, etc.
“Abandoned land” also identified–what does this mean? Former farms? Kitty asked how these numbers have changed since the last Master Plan.
Floodplain district: zoning of the district and its area was described, Cara would like to see numbers on the “likelihood and severity of future flooding.” Jane would like to see a discussion of if there has been increased flooding since the last Master Plan. Cara pointed out that NYS is remapping the flood plains b/c they are seeing changes.
Toni pointed out that they need to redo a statement that says “all development that occurs in this area is strictly regulated.” Cara would like to see discussion of the importance of the ecosystem of the flood plains and its importance in preventing future flooding.
Build-out analysis: where new development would be most likely to occur based on current zoning. Their analysis: west of the Wallkill at the foot of the Gunks is where most development would/could (?) occur b/c that is where most of the develop-able acres are. OBVS, their analysis is RIDIC as this is the area is the area that most needs / wants to be protected as open space in NP.
Their findings are that nearly 1/5 of the town’s land is open land—this is misleading, as most of that is land that is open spaced out, yo.
Housing: data seems old.
“Second homes” are described as “vacant” — should be changed. Discussion of the significance of calling a house vacant. Will ask the consultants why these are designated as such at the next meeting.
Lyle Nolan – Planning Board member. Said a few things, but I couldn’t really hear him.
Paul Brown – former chair of the Planning Board: not in attendance.
Jane Ann Williams – Town Board member, knowledgeable on everything.
Caption each photo.
Pointed out that the Ohioville hamlet is the only hamlet in the Village to have sewer service. Toni suggested that the minutes show that it “is served by municipal sewer.”
Wetland mentioned by Cara on P. 5 is land-locked.
Section 2: None of the maps include the Rail Trail, this is bothersome. Recommendation to add it in.
Toni Hokanson – Town Supervisor (“Hi Lagusta! Are you going to be blogging tonight? How’s Brittany?” I continue to like Toni personally, though it seems with every day that passes that a large number of her concerns and priorities are not in line with mine. It’s tragic.)
Mention and name land trust (on Plutarch?).
There should also be a mention of Black Creek tributary in the discussion of the Plutarch wetland.
Access to the area west of the river that floods needs to be mentioned more.
The Village was skipped over and not talked about at all in the report (I mean SERIOUSLY. This report is so wack!). Recommendation to add the village and SUNY (!!!!!!). Discussion of how even though this is a plan for the town, the village is apart of the town, and needs to be acknowledged.
Pointed out an error re: the Rail Trail I didn’t quite get. It is listed as “not Town-bound.” ?
Kitty Brown – Town Board member. Took notes for the meeting.
Suggested looking at the Gardiner Master Plan, which is online and refers to many of the reasons the NP plan needs to be updated–there are many complaints in Gardiner (or NP? I couldn’t hear) that many of the components of their Master Plan have not been implemented.
“What I want to see is: given our MP of 1995, has our growth and development been in the spirit of that MP, and if not, what needs to be changed?” Affordable housing is one of the areas to look at. The need to think regionally: how does affordable housing in NP compare to the region?
Mention that Ohioville hamlet has been recommended as a historical district.
Flooding west of the river needs to be mentioned more (or at all?).
The report says that “streets are adequate,” she thinks 299 is “desperately, dangerously inadequate for bicycles” and that this should be addressed. Recommendation that it mention that it is heavily used by bicycles and is very inadequate for this use. Toni recommended mentioning that “there are no curbs or shoulders, despite heavy bicycle use.”
Agriculture: would like them to mention how many CSAs there are: 4 in the Town of NP, as well as many new farms that are not CSAs. Would like a mention of the fact that “in the last 10 years, 8-10 new farms have started.” Toni didn’t see the point. “Since the last plan, when we were so concerned about losing farms, land that could have gone to subdivisions has been returned to farms.” Toni didn’t know if that is an accurate statement–we should hold off mentioning it until the numbers have been looked at. (I don’t think it is either.)
Housing: data seems old, from 2000. Data is “estimated for 2007.” Report said there were no reported deaths in NP (in what period? I missed that.). Toni pointed out that those numbers would include pregnancy terminations and there was a discussion of taking that sentence out.
There is no comparison data for the area: for example, how do the patterns of migration compare with neighboring towns and cities? We do not know if the numbers for migration are high, low, or average.
Lynn Boudery – Planning Board member
Contributed generally to the meeting.
Called the stoop kids “the vagrants” and that raised my hackles.
Joe Bernstein – DEC (I believe he was there as a NP citizen, not a DEC rep?)
Did not say one word until 7:37. Not that this is bad, I’m just pointing it out because I’m an annoying pedant. Pointed out that all the tables and figures should be compared with the former Master Plan. Liked Kitty’s comment about comparing data with last MP. I liked the stripey dress shirt he had on.
My computer died at around 8:30 and I left around 8:45, when the meeting appeared to be wrapping up. A few extremely disjointed notes I took on paper:
Economic viability: Jane Ann asked how many affordable housing units we have in NP according to the Ulster Country Affordable Housing Study and in comparison with the area generally. The draft report says there is not much affordable housing, Jane is not sure about that—is the data based on the 2000 census? Section 8 housing doesn’t appear to be included?
Kitty: The report seems to be steering us toward rewards for greater density, “I’m not sure if this is what we need/want.” [My take: YES, this is what we need and want–the village must become more dense if we are going to have open space in the Town. It is also better for the environment to have greater density in one area rather than spread-out McMansions dotting the landscape.] Anyway, Toni disagreed that that was where the report was going.
Toni objected to a statement that our property taxes are not higher than the rest of Ulster Cty–apparently this is not correct.
Cara talked about locally-owned businesses and how they should be included as sources of jobs, income, etc. Good facts about how locally-owned small businesses keep more $ in communities.
General agreement that the Economic Overview section needed to be redone as it was rife with inaccuracies and did not include enough info.
Toni: “If they are going to say that it’s an impediment to us that we do not have a bond rating, they should also note that we have no debt.”
Kitty: That SUNY is at least partially at fault for our high rate of taxation should be noted.
Toni: “The ball and chain that prevents us from [I think, from encouraging more local businesses in town, as Cora suggested] is lack of municipal water and sewer.”
Toni: The findings should mention that people come to NP for recreation, rock climbing, etc.
Cara: “This is a narrow view of economic initiatives and needs to be amended.” Restaurants, farms, ecotourism, heritage tourism, b&bs, rock climbing, and more need to be mentioned.