By Matt Youngfrau
WHITE LAKE June 28, 2002 Due to September 11, White Lake business owner Michael Zaccari is expanding on an idea he had been working on for more than a year.
Zaccari had been working on a Veterans Memorial Park at his gas station/convenience store on Route 17B east of White Lake, across from the entrance to Smallwood. In the last year, he had statues made in the likeness of an eagle and prisoners of war. Since 9/11, Zaccari has expanded the park to include tributes to the brave firefighters, police officers, and EMS workers who were lost that day.
But he has had some difficulties with town officials. Zaccari claims that those problems go back six years, when he first opened his store.
"They just don't like me. It has been an issue since day one," Zaccari remarked. "Nothing has changed in six years. I came back after six months in Florida, and I am still the bad guy that has to be run out of town."
Despite his disagreements with the town, Zaccari has been moving his project forward. To date, there are statues of two prisoners of war in cages connected by an eagle, three firefighters with the American flag, and a Swan Lake fire engine that will be converted to a New York City truck.
In the future, Zaccari wants to add statues of EMS workers, Holocaust survivors, Jesus Christ, Moses, and others. Zaccari also has in mind a waterfall and all the amenities of a park, including trees, a playground, and a pavilion. In fact, he has an application to build a pavilion that is scheduled to go before the Town of Bethel Planning Board on July 9.
Most of these plans were news to town officials. Town Supervisor Allan Scott and Building Inspector Timothy Dexter claim that no plans have been filed and are not certain what Zaccari has in mind.
"The town board supports the concept of the park," Scott stated. "It still has to go before the Planning Board. We do not know what he is doing."
"I don't need permission to build a park," Zaccari responded, admitting that no plans have been filed because he is not even sure what he wants to do. "They do not want me to do the project. They are trying to hang their hats on the rules. It's not about the rules, it is about who is doing it."
Zaccari has several letters of support for the project, including ones from United States Congressman Benjamin Gilman, New York State Assemblyman Jake Gunther, Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini, and Sullivan County Veterans Service Agency Director Eric Nystrom.
"I am very supportive of the project," Sullivan County District 1 Legislator Chris Cunningham said. Cunningham represents Bethel and is the chair of the Legislature's Veterans Committee. "I know there are some issues [between the two sides]. I am sure those issues can be worked out. The concept is good. Anything to do with recognizing our veterans is important."
While waiting to see what happens, Zaccari continues to move forward. He has had artist Ted Walker continue to work on the statues. Zaccari has also asked Walker to work on the new statues.
"All of the pieces were God-inspired," Walker commented. "Zach and I talked about each statue before I started it. We have been working on this since last summer."
Zaccari swears that he will complete the park, one way or another. Town officials continue to state that they are not opposed they would just like to see some plans to make sure all codes are adhered to. The next step will be at the Planning Board meeting on Tuesday, July 9.