By Dan Hust
WURTSBORO March 2, 2001 If, as some Town of Mamakating residents have claimed, a silent majority favors the towns proposed master plan, they remained largely silent Tuesday at the plans final public hearing at the Mamakating Town Hall in Wurtsboro.
Estimates pegged the capacity crowd at 300 people, crammed so tight into the cavernous meeting room that it nearly induced claustrophobia in several attendees.
Those who came were a cross-section of Mamakating, the largest township in Sullivan County and the closest to the metropolitan areas in and around New York City. Big and small, tall and short, some with animals in tow or cowboy hats cocked appropriately, notepads ready to take down critical information, they were there to make their feelings known on what has become the most controversial issue in the towns recent memory.
The master plan, put together by a local 10-member committee and a planning consulting firm out of Suffern through the course of the past five years to plan for Mamakatings growth, has garnered criticism in several public hearings over the past year.
And the serious looks spoke volumes once again, even before the first of more than a dozen anti-master plan speakers addressed the intent crowd.
Actually, as many said that evening, those voicing opposition were not speaking against the master plan in its entirety, but specifically the sections dealing with zoning changes to allow resort hotel construction in or around Yankee Lake, Wurtsboro Hills and High Point changes that were made to the plan starting in late 1999 when word spread that several developers were looking to situate or revive hotels and even casino gaming establishments in those areas.
At issue is the environmental/ quality-of-life impact of such projects in a town blessed with nationally recognized scenery and few of the crime, pollution and residential sprawl problems in neighboring Orange County.
If you do this, said 30-year Bloomingburg resident Bill Fuchs to the town board (the plans lead agency), youre opening the door to Pandoras Box. The people of this community will suffer.
He was followed by resident after resident and several non-local environmentalists who spoke to the reasons they love Mamakating: the natural beauty, the abundant wildlife, the lack of heavy concentrations of people or industry, the charm of rural life.
Many of the speakers had said the same things at prior public hearings, and board members had increased restrictions on building heights, buffer zones and other design guidelines in a subsequent revision.
But many present stated clearly that items like eight-story hotels instead of ten-story ones, more detailed environmental studies and limitations on how long guests may stay in lodging facilities were just not enough changes to garner their approval.
To those against the plan, nothing short of eliminating the potential for large-scale resorts would be acceptable.
We are stunned by the arrogant disregard of public input that is so glaring, said a representative of the Ramapo-Catskill chapter of the Sierra Club. This [plan] virtually begs developers to pressure the town for their own developments.
I have a problem understanding whats happening here in Mamakating, added 25-year Phillipsport resident Carol Lucas. An overwhelming amount of citizens . . . told you again and again that the PRO [Planned Resort Office] zones were the biggest problem, yet you have chosen to ignore all of us.
She then turned to the audience, much of which had given her several ovations.
Dont give up, she stated, urging people to write to Albany lawmakers. Future generations will thank you.
The Basha Kill Area Association (BKAA), a group focused on preserving the 3,000 acres of nationally recognized wetlands surrounding the Basher Kill in the valley that runs the length of Mamakating, stressed that though they want to work with the town they could not support the current incarnation of the master plan.
The BKAAs many questions and concerns . . . have not been answered thoroughly and genuinely, remarked Maryallison Farley, the groups president. We dont want beliefs and assumptions [referring to the plans repeated use of words like anticipate]. The BKAA wants studies to back up changes. Lets not rush forward with a flawed document.
Though the board remained silent, several people did speak favorably of the plan, including its controversial sections. But often they were met with boos and interruptions from the crowd, which wasted no time in assigning derogatory labels to those speakers.
Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development Executive Director Mike Sullivan got the worst of it, but he nevertheless attempted to make his point clear.
Any wise community needs a good balance of residences and businesses, he said, adding that he too had submitted some changes that were rejected by the board. None of us are going to get everything we want, . . . [but] this is a well-balanced plan.
The total acreage [of areas in which resorts can be built] is 2,433 acres. Thats 3.85 percent of the town, he added. Thats an infinitesimaly small amount of land.
Several other residents agreed with Sullivan, but for the most part, the crowd continued to applaud people who opposed the plan. One person, Ron Cushing of Wurtsboro Hills, likened it to the scene in the film Its a Wonderful Life where Jimmy Stewarts character witnesses a negatively changed town called Pottersville which was once his own pleasant community of Bedford Falls.
People also passed around a petition urging a return to the pre-resort development master plan of 1999, which made no special provisions for the controversial hotels. The petition was created and distributed by the Yankee Lake Preservation Association, but no tally of figures could be learned at press time.
The board made no comments or votes of any kind on Tuesday. Thats coming on March 13, when a final vote on the plan will be taken. The meeting is at 7 p.m. at the town hall in Wurtsboro.