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Planning Officials
Like Pa. Planner

Editor’s Note: This is the continuation of a story published Tuesday about planning consultant Tom Shepstone.

By Dan Hust

SULLIVAN COUNTY — December 16, 2005 – Talk to most of the planning leaders of Sullivan County’s townships and villages, and you’ll hear nothing but praise for Honesdale, Pa.-based planning consultant Tom Shepstone.
“I think very highly of him,” said Herman Bressler, the Town of Bethel’s Planning Board chair for much of the latter half of the 20th century.
Bressler, who left the position this year, worked for seven years with Shepstone and Shepstone’s business – Shepstone Management Company – on master plan issues and zoning rewrites for the town, not to mention the township’s interests regarding the large-scale Bethel Woods Center for the Arts project at the Woodstock site.
“Everything went well,” said Bressler.
That thought was echoed by Bethel Supervisor Vicky Vassmer-Simpson.
“I can only say good things about Tom Shepstone,” she remarked of the town’s official planner. “He’s been nothing but helpful.
“. . . He’s a professional planner who knows the law inside and outside.”
He also seems to know what’s going on with “every piece of real estate, figuratively speaking,” said Town of Cochecton Supervisor Sal Indelicato.
Indelicato, who’s worked with Shepstone on zoning and master plan matters (mostly through grants, he added), attributed the planner’s knowledge to his presence as a consultant in virtually every Sullivan County municipality – and many surrounding municipalities.
He admitted that sometimes they disagreed, however.
“Would I have done it differently? Probably,” he said of unspecified issues. “Could I have done it better? Probably not.
“I think he’s been good,” concluded Indelicato. “We have a very good rapport.”
Indeed, it’s Shepstone’s people skills that officials compliment almost as much as his breadth of knowledge.
“He has a great way of dealing with the public,” said Village of Liberty Code Enforcement Officer Pam Winters. “He’s always been very patient in answering questions.”
Winters was speaking more of her experiences with Shepstone when she was with the Town of Liberty, but thanks to her, Shepstone was recently hired by the village to update its circa-1967 zoning laws.
“I asked to work with him,” she recalled. “I have no qualms about using him.”
“He’s easy to work with,” seconded Town of Highland Supervisor Allan Schadt. “It’s not something like, ‘You’ve got to use this.’”
For the past four years, said Schadt, Shepstone has assisted Highland in reviewing and sometimes rewriting virtually every town law, along with the master plan.
“We almost had him on retainer,” he said. “And he’s helped us with at least five UDC [Upper Delaware Council] grants.”
That kind of close work demands a balance between residents’ and officials’ concerns, and that’s an area where Shepstone shines, according to Highland’s neighbor to the north.
“He’s a good mediator,” explained Town of Rockland Supervisor Pat Pomeroy. “He sees through things and puts them together in an agreeable [package].”
Those mediation skills may never be more necessary than now in Rockland, which has hired Shepstone to work on the massive hotel/housing developments Andrew Krieger has proposed in his hometown of Livingston Manor.
That job is actually being funded by Krieger through an escrow account, according to Pomeroy, but Shepstone is beholden to Rockland, which he has served for quite some time.
“Tom was here working with the town as a consultant when I [came to office] in January 2000,” recalled Pomeroy. “We now have a big development proposed.”
And that means a lot of work for unpaid board members, she added – work that she feels can be made less taxing with the help of a professional planner.
“Planning boards are all-volunteer, and there’s a lot of responsibility placed on members’ shoulders,” she explained. “This makes it a little easier to make decisions.”
And that is why so many towns and villages in Sullivan County have used Shepstone.
“He’s an asset to any town that needs guidance and planning,” remarked Town of Lumberland Supervisor John LiGreci, who’s utilized Shepstone’s services for mandatory training sessions and setback guidelines in local zoning. “He’s been instrumental, and that’s the reason why he is trusted.”
“He knows his business,” added Town of Mamakating Supervisor Charles Penna, who keeps Shepstone on call for legal matters. “He’s like a think tank.”
“He’s very good,” confirmed Town of Fremont Planning Board Chair Leonard Bauer, “although he’s too busy!”
Bauer’s complaint of the man who guided Fremont through a major subdivision of a Tennanah Lake housing development is rooted more in affection than anger, as the two are distantly related.
Plus, said Bauer, “I’m an old farmboy, and he’s an old farmboy too. He’s a good guy.”
Bauer said he just wished Shepstone, being the one-man company that he is, would take on a few less projects and thus be more available when Fremont came calling.
That doesn’t seem likely to happen soon – and in reality, many local officials like the fact that Shepstone has worked all over the area.
“We get to share in some of the other towns’ experience,” said Gerry Euker, the Town of Delaware’s Planning Board chair. “He’s so widely used, it adds quite a bit to the process.”
Shepstone has had long experience with Delaware in particular, as the town was one of his first clients in the late ‘70s, and he’s now the planning board’s full-time consultant.
“Technically, he’s the secretary to the board,” explained Euker, adding, “I’ve known Tom for a very long time. He’s a top-notch planner . . . he’s not a shoot-from-the-hip guy.”
Word of that has evidently gotten around.
“Tom is involved in so many communities. . . . He’s got a handle on planning in and around Sullivan County,” commented Town of Liberty Supervisor Frank DeMayo, who has found Shepstone’s services of use both in the township and as a member of the Sullivan 2020 Steering Committee. “He’s a sharp guy, . . . [and] I think he realizes there are transition points between towns.”
“We now tend to all have some commonality, which is excellent,” agreed Pomeroy of Rockland, who also was a part of the Sullivan 2020 project. “He has a really good breadth of knowledge.”
Indeed, Shepstone right now is working on an intermunicipal plan for managing ridgeline development in some of the towns that sit along the Delaware River. It’s being funded through a grant from the UDC.
“It seems like he’s had a good relationship with the towns,” remarked Anthony Ritter, chair of the Town of Tusten’s Zoning Board of Appeals, which will be impacted by Shepstone’s recommendations. “I’m pleased – he’s attentive, intelligent.”
And he offers something evidently hard to find locally.
“It seems like there are few planners in this area,” said Ritter. “It’s always nice to have a professional nearby.”
And the praise keeps coming.
“I love Tom,” said Village of Jeffersonville Mayor Ed Justus, who has worked with Shepstone on village matters for nearly a decade. “The guy’s a professional.”
“He was very professional,” agreed Danette Mall, a member of the Town of Callicoon Planning Board, which brought Shepstone on board to help write zoning for cell towers.
“I thought he did a great job,” added Village of Woodridge Clerk Diane Garritt, referencing Shepstone’s recent rewrite of the village’s zoning code.
“He helped us on the last comprehensive plan,” said Town of Fallsburg Building Inspector Allen Frishman, who used to do the same for Woodridge. “We worked well together. I’ve had good experiences working with him.”
Then perhaps not surprisingly, every town and village that worked with him in the past had an official who said they’d likely work with him again.
Proffered Mamakating’s Penna: “Because he’s been right.”
On Tuesday: Find out what some of Shepstone’s colleagues – and critics – have to say about him.

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