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Looking Ahead
In Sullivan County

By Jeanne Sager
CALLICOON —November 04, 2005— For the first time in 30 years, there’s a clear plan for the future of Sullivan County.
Tuesday night, the Sullivan County Department of Planning and Community Development gave the public its first glance at the new 2020 strategic plan – a name that plays off the concept of clear vision as much as it looks to the years ahead.
The plan devised by a steering committee of more than 30 residents from communities around the county, with the help of the county’s planning department, is what Planning Commissioner Dr. Bill Pammer calls a “living, breathing document.”
Using data from a countywide survey done last year, along with studies done by other agencies and the brainstorming of the committee, a “toolbox” was developed which will be available to every resident and municipality in the county to consult for planning purposes.
And as more information is available, more studies are completed, more residents submit their comments, the 2020 plan will change.
That toolbox identifies where the county and 15 townships can work together, where the county can take over some services to take the financial burden off of the towns, where the people of Sullivan County want to see their communities in 15 years.
The county hadn’t revised its comprehensive plan since the 1970s, Pammer said, and that’s a problem.
“The comprehensive plan is absolutely key for the direction you’re going to take your town in the future,” Pammer said.
He recommends the smaller towns of Sullivan County update their plans every six or seven years, the larger towns should do it even more often.
But keeping an eye on development, taking advantage of advance planning, is the responsibility of the residents as much as it is the government, Pammer said.
“It all starts at the election box,” he said. “How do we motivate our boards to look at planning and zoning? It all starts with your registered voters.”
An educated public, concerned about mapping out a future that they’d be comfortable living in, is what it will take, he noted.
That’s why Pammer, along with two members of the steering committee from the western side of Sullivan County and a few members of his staff, were at the Delaware Youth Center in Callicoon Tuesday evening.
With 50 CDs on hand of the toolbox, Pammer asked every member of the public to review the document and send in their comments.
Then, he said, take your comments and concerns to the streets.
“Really just build a dialogue in your community on what’s important to you,” Pammer said.
“What emerged from the data were specific issues and themes that concerned the county,” he said, citing as an example the concern with open space across the six to eight towns in the Agricultural District.
“Look at what’s relevant to your area,” Pammer advised. “There’s certainly things that may not pertain to the Town of Delaware perhaps, or the Town of Tusten, but there’s a wide range of issues.”
Included are ways to deal with those issues – what Cochecton resident Sharron Cardone called the “hammer and nails” of the toolbox.
Cardone was in attendance to find out how the planning department is planning to deal with the buyers rushing up from the city to find “cheap” homes because, as she said, in Orange County “they’ve overpriced themselves.”
“You have to be very careful . . . you’ll tax yourselves out of the area,” Cardone warned.
“That’s already happened,” piped up Ginny Andkjar of Callicoon.
The problem, she said, is that there’s a lot of ignorance – people don’t know much about planning and zoning.
Tess McBeath, town clerk in the Town of Delaware, concurred.
She wants to see the plan in the hands of every zoning board and planning board member in the county.
“These people walk in with no experience and no knowledge, and I think they’re floundering a little,” McBeath said.
Community Development and Grants Supervisor Joe Czajka said the county’s seen that as a challenge to planning – and they’re working to set up training sessions to educate the volunteers who step up to the plate to serve their communities on the various boards.
Gerry Foundation spokesperson Glenn Pontier, a resident of the Town of Delaware, said the strategic plan is going to be incredibly valuable in and of itself.
“This tool, by itself, will educate the public, will educate board members, is an incredibly valuable way to present the issues that affect us,” Pontier said. “By the time a mushroom plant comes to a town like Mamakating or a housing development comes to a town like Fallsburg . . . you’ve already crossed a critical point.
“What this toolbox is is not hostile to local government, it’s the tool by which your local government can decide how to approach major development before it arrives,” Pontier continued.
Czajka said it’s time to be ready – there are sophisticated developers with deep pockets who want to “cookie cutter” the communities of Sullivan County.
If planning and zoning boards aren’t well-versed in the laws, they’re going to get steamrolled, he warned.
“As we sprawl, we overwhelm the budgets in addition to losing our aesthetics,” added Jeff Moore of Callicoon.
Pammer, who grew up in Sullivan County, said the problem really lies in the past.
“Growing up in a rural county, we didn’t have to worry about infrastructure for years,” he explained. “The county needs to be thinking more in terms of long-term capital planning, as do the larger towns.”
And there needs to be an emphasis on diversification, he added.
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket with casinos.”
The plan itself does not come down on either side of the casinos issue – Pammer said the goal was to be apolitical.
It’s also a suggested tool; there is no requirement that a municipality in Sullivan County follow the 2020 plan to the letter.
“The towns have the home rule authority,” Pammer said. “We didn’t want to give the impression that this is big brother, because it’s really not.
“This has to start on the grassroots level – that’s the beauty and frustration of American politics.”
What the planning process has done is provide information town governments can use if they choose – information like a cost of service analysis that found farmland and open space are the least draining on local town budgets.
For every $1 generated, farmland and open space costs 35 to 40 cents in services, Pammer said. The number is 55 to 60 cents on the dollar for commercial properties and anywhere from $1.24 to $1.40 for residential development.
By the same token, the mushroom plant proposed in Mamakating has given the county a heads-up on what information they DON’T have readily available, Pammer said.
The concerns over water for Maitake mushrooms prompted a large section of the toolbox be devoted to water resources.
Other concerns that come from the public review of the toolbox will be incorporated as well – the steering committee is expected to meet quarterly next year to update the 2020 plan.
Copies of the plan were expected to be available on the county Website, by today. They will also be made available to residents who contact the Department of Planning and Community Development at 794-3000, ext. 5028.
The next forum on the issue will be held Monday, November 14, at the Mamakating Senior Center in Wurtsboro.
Other question-and-answer sessions planned include a Nov. 21 meeting at Cornell Cooperative Extension on Ferndale-Loomis Road in Liberty; a Nov. 29 meeting at the Thompson Town Hall in Monticello; and a Nov. 30 meeting at the Highland Town Hall in Eldred.
Each meeting will begin at 7 p.m. with a presentation, followed by a question-and-answer period.

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