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PLANNING CONSULTANT TOM Shepstone’s Honesdale, Pa., office is fairly small as offices go, but it’s crammed with files on his enormous array of past and present projects.

Planning Is Tom
Shepstone's Business

By Dan Hust
HONESDALE, PA — December 13, 2005 – You might never have heard of Tom Shepstone, but chances are you’ve heard of his work.
Even better are the chances that you’ve been directly affected by that work.
“There are lots of projects I’m involved in,” said the 54-year-old.
That’s actually an understatement.
Shepstone’s rewritten zoning/subdivision laws in the townships of Bethel, Callicoon, Cochecton, Fremont, Highland, Lumberland, Rockland, Tusten and the villages of Jeffersonville, Liberty and Woodridge.
He’s put together parts of or entire master/comprehensive plans in the towns of Bethel, Cochecton, Fallsburg, Forestburgh, Highland, Liberty, Thompson and the Village of Monticello.
He serves as the regular planning consultant for Bethel, Delaware and Rockland, present at many planning board meetings and public hearings. On a per diem basis, he can be found doing the same in Fremont, Highland, Liberty and Lumberland.
He’s been engaged in such high-profile efforts as the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the hotel/spa/housing project proposed by Andrew Krieger in Livingston Manor, and the ridgeline development plan being formulated for Delaware River townships through a grant by the Upper Delaware Council.
In Mamakating, Shepstone’s helped write the town’s steep slope law and provided information necessary to defending a lawsuit brought by residents unhappy with the moratorium on mobile homes.
In Lumberland, he’s taught mandatory zoning and planning classes to local officials.
In Callicoon, he worked on zoning laws regarding cell towers.
In Monticello, Shepstone helped revise the village’s signage law.
In Fremont, he’s guided the enactment of regulations pertaining to the Lake Florence golf course/housing development near Tennanah Lake, cooperating with Rockland in the process (which has rights to the top 18 inches of Florence as a water supply).
And, working with the Sullivan County Department of Planning and Community Development, he led focus groups and collected data for the Sullivan 2020 plan for the entire county.
In fact, he’s done some sort of work for every municipality in Sullivan County except the Town of Neversink and the villages of Bloomingburg and Wurtsboro.
And he doesn’t even live in the county – never has.
Local Roots
But he is a local boy, born in the old hospital in the hamlet of Callicoon and raised right across the Delaware River on a farm in Damascus, Pa.
He now lives in Honesdale, Pa., where he operates his planning consultancy, Shepstone Management Company.
“I like it here,” he said inside a small, sunny office with books on resort development lying on the desk and photos of family – along with “one of my heroes” and fellow horse-lover Ronald Reagan – lining the walls.
“My family’s here, my roots are in Damascus.”
Husband to Mary, he has four children – Daniel, Maureen, Patrick and Kelly – and two grandchildren, Rance and Graham.
He’s a longtime member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and has dozens of active clients, but his choice of workspace is surprisingly modest. He shares his offices with a multitude of other Honesdale businesses in a large former warehouse next to the railroad tracks. He employs just one person, his secretary Joyce Nyberg, and has to walk down the building’s main public hallway to hand paperwork to her.
Outside, his business has a simple, unassumingly small listing amongst all the others on the front door of the massive white warehouse.
But then again, he doesn’t need to advertise. Word-of-mouth praise has garnered him jobs all over northern Pennsylvania and upstate New York, not to mention in communities as far away as Wisconsin and North Carolina.
The Creation of Success
He started early, too. As a young man in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, Shepstone was a youth agent with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service in Carbon, Pike and Monroe counties, where he worked with a variety of youth organizations to initiate community projects.
By 1973, he was Wayne County, Pa.’s planner, and in 1977 he made the jump to self-employment, almost immediately finding a niche through the National Park Service’s burgeoning interest in the area.
“The whole Upper Delaware [Scenic and Recreational River] was just starting,” he recalled. “It was necessary to be working with the other side of the river.”
And there was talk of Conrail abandoning the old Erie tracks running through western Sullivan County and northern Pike County, Pa.
“Everybody’s future was linked,” he said.
Shepstone saw an opportunity to be a bridge between those communities, and a successful consulting firm was born.
“One of my very first clients was Ed Curtis and the Town of Delaware in 1977,” he said.
Offering planning services to such a rural town – the smallest township in Sullivan County – was unheard of then, and to this day there’s a dearth of planners in the area, especially ones willing to take on small-scale projects.
“I build my business on working with towns no one wants to work with,” he explained.
Plus, he said, “counties aren’t really well-suited to helping towns [on a long-term] basis.”
Not that he doesn’t work with them – he’s shared his services with former Sullivan County Planning Commissioner Alan Sorensen (now Mamakating’s planner, among others) and current Commish Bill Pammer.
So what do people like Sorensen, Pammer and other officials and residents think of Shepstone?
The answers may surprise you.
To be continued Friday

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