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Charting the Future
Of Forestburgh

By Dan Hust
FORESTBURGH — October 4, 2005 – Retiring Forestburgh Supervisor John J. “Bill” Sipos found himself Thursday on the firing side of a group of concerned, sometimes angry, residents upset over proposed changes to the township’s comprehensive (aka master) plan.
So he fired right back at them.
“Something needs to get put in place. This has gone on and on and on,” he insisted at the public hearing for the plan inside the town hall in Forestburgh. “This board got stuck on the fine points [while development continued].”
Problem is, the planning board didn’t sign off on the changes.
Members had submitted their revision of the 18-year-old plan to the town board, which then gave it to town planning consultant Tom Shepstone to review.
Shepstone, head of Shepstone Management Company out of Honesdale, Pa., decided to delete what he felt were redundant passages or ones that “editorialized” – passages which residents felt were crucial to the preservation of the town’s rural nature.
Shepstone was given the power by the town board when he was hired 10 years ago to advise on and revise the master plan. But that didn’t sit well with some Thursday night.
“It’s a slap in the face to the planning board to say anything they put into the plan was ‘editorializing,’” remarked a visibly upset Roy Gunther, who left shortly thereafter.
“These omissions . . . are a threat to me as a homeowner here,” said Shirley Blabey.
“I support the work of the planning board,” added Sandra Schultz, who said in agreement with Roger O’Dell that it was a mystery to her how more than three pages’ worth of deletions were made – without a public process – after the planning board submitted the comprehensive plan to the town board.
She expressed concerns that the changes in the plan would lead to unnecessary development in one of Sullivan County’s most rural and sparsely populated townships. Indeed, she and other residents were intent on keeping the area as pristinely natural as possible.
“To put it simply,” said Schultz, “Forestburgh should remain Forestburgh.”
Even town board members Ken Schultz and Gene Raponi felt the planning board’s version was superior, echoing residents’ concerns over the loss of language protecting environmentally sensitive areas and inhibiting future business growth and development.
“I don’t know why you’d take that out,” Schultz said to Shepstone.
“He can do that?” asked one resident.
“He’s the planner,” said Sipos.
“The part that bothers me,” explained Raponi, “is that Shepstone worked with the planning board for many years. . . . I think we kind of took a little flop here.”
Planning Board Chair Anthony Griffin attended the hearing but avoided intensifying the already tense atmosphere.
“We do encourage working together with the town board,” he said.
When contacted yesterday, Griffin said the boards continue to have a good, cooperative relationship, but the planning board insists its version better protects the town.
“There were a few changes made [by Shepstone] at the last minute that should have been aired out more thoroughly before the hearing,” said Griffin. “We feel very strongly that these [deleted/changed] items should be included.”
He said the plan was basically good and expected the omitted items to be reincorporated – possibly when a new supervisor is sworn in next January.
Sipos and others have been working to revise the old master plan for the past decade – indeed, that’s why Sipos felt the squabbling should stop, so that a new plan could be put in place.
“We all love this town,” he remarked. “We all are protecting it.”
But, as residents pointed out, that doesn’t mean there’s consensus. In fact, several said they were expecting the apparently common 3-2 split on this revised plan – Sipos and board members Danielle Mack and John Galligan in favor, and Ken Schultz and Gene Raponi against.
“So why vote?” asked a frustrated Judith Colombo.
But the supervisor had expected issues, and so he read a letter from Sullivan County Division of Planning and Community Development Commissioner William Pammer, who had been asked to review the revised plan.
Calling it “well-evaluated,” Pammer recommended the plan include the identification of important natural resources, stormwater standards, steep slope regulations and training for board members in land use.
Sipos then asked Shepstone what he’d recommend changing.
Shepstone responded that he would include a reference to Pammer’s Sullivan 2020 visioning plan and perhaps stream corridor management language.
“The other things I think have been addressed,” he explained, referencing items like land conservation with subdivisions.
What’s next?
Sipos said he wouldn’t say whether or not the town board would sign off on more or less changes (or none at all), but he did indicate action possibly by the next board meeting this Thursday at 6 p.m.
“We have worked diligently to protect this town,” said Sipos. “I am absolutely in favor of seeing this plan get into position.”
He added that although he’s not running for re-election to his post this November, he will remain a resident.
“I’m living here and not leaving here,” he said.

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