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Master Plan
Under Legal Fire

By Dan Hust
WURTSBORO — July 27, 2001 – Four area organizations have banded together to file suit against the Town of Mamakating for what they believe is a dangerous and incomplete town master plan.
Earlier this week, attorney Alex Smith of the law firm Gurda, Gurda and Smith of Middletown filed the Article 78 proceeding in state Supreme Court in Sullivan County.
According to the preliminary statement Smith provided to the court, the Basha Kill Area Association (BKAA), the Yankee Lake Preservation Association, the Wurtsboro Hills Community Association and the Cragsmoor Association initiated the lawsuit in an attempt to annul the master plan and accompanying zoning law which was approved by the town board on March 27. The approval came after a series of highly contentious meetings about the plan.
“Petitioners contend that the town failed to honor its obligations under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) to take a hard look at and provide a reasoned elaboration for the serious threat posed by its comprehensive plan and zoning local law to three unique and fragile ecosystems: the Basha Kill Wetlands and Wildlife Management Area, the Shawangunk Ridge, and Yankee Lake,” wrote Smith. “Petitioners also contend that the chronology and substance of the three comprehensive plan amendments that imperil these significant ecosystems constitutes illegal spot zoning.”
Spot zoning, according to past court cases, tends to be illegal when the zoned area is significantly different in use than areas surrounding it. Size is usually a consideration, also.
Smith said both the SEQRA and zoning issues are serious enough to warrant the suit, which concerns hotel/condo development now permitted by the master plan on or near the three aforementioned sites.
“They simply gave developers what they wanted,” claimed Smith. “I can’t imagine anything more repugnant to those zoning districts than to smack down a condo or resort hotel [there].”
Specifically, Smith said the master plan – which was changed from its original form to accommodate these new zoning districts – essentially allows developers to conduct their own site plan review, instead of the planning board itself.
“They, in effect, took that power away from the planning board,” he explained. “We’re saying you can’t do that. You’ll have a skewered look at all these environmental issues.”
The involved organizations, said Smith, are extremely concerned that the natural beauty and environmental qualities of Yankee Lake, the Basha Kill and the Shawangunk Ridge will be irrevocably and negatively altered by the presence of large developments. Indeed, several businessmen are interested in constructing hotels or even casinos within the town.
“And I can’t think of a more potential impact on something than casino gaming,” said Smith, who questioned whether town board members and master plan committee members had even truly considered gambling in the plan’s formation.
However, while he feels the suit has great merit, Smith admitted that “even if the judge thought this was a stupid idea, legally he can’t substitute his decision for the board’s.”
Any ruling, said Smith, would likely be made without a hearing (that’s up to the judge, however), though right now, the town has a month to reply.
Mamakating Supervisor Mary Barbuti could not be reached for comment.

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