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THE MOST RECENT Town of Bethel board meeting drew the usual overflow crowd at the White Lake Firehouse on August 24.

A Surprising Gift
For Town Of Bethel

By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE — By the time the Bethel Town Board had wended its way through three public hearings in the course of two hours Thursday, August 24, half the audience at the White Lake Firehouse had said their piece and left.
And so they missed the most momentous announcement of the evening, a result of a visit town officials recently paid to NYS Senator John Bonacic.
Supervisor Harold Russell said he and other Bethel representatives walked into the senator’s Orange County office to talk about the town’s Youth Commission and its need of a new pavilion . . . and they walked out with a guarantee of $20,000 in state aid.
Russell interrupted the applause from the audience to add that since Alan Gerry promised to match any funds raised for the pavilion, that means $40,000 is headed Bethel’s way.
But wait . . . there’s more.
A fundraiser earlier this month at Friends Restaurant in Smallwood garnered more than $4,500, and Gerry said he’d match that, too.
That’s turned a once-unfunded dream into a nearly $50,000 reality, and more fund raising is planned.
However, kids in this summer’s youth programs weren’t baking in the hot sun. The Gerry Foundation provided a tent – for free – at the site next to the town pool where the pavilion ultimately will be erected.
The board plans on sending a thank-you letter to Gerry, and Youth Commission member Bill Burns thanked the town board and the public for its support.

The Future of Bethel

The more mundane topic of local laws took on an unusually earnest tone Thursday, when the board opened three public hearings to let the public discuss the comprehensive plan’s revamp, the related change in zoning, and the rates for the new sewer extension running from White Lake to Bethel.
While the rates hearing concerned a minor correction to what was published and discussed several months ago, the comprehensive plan and the zoning modifications along the Route 17B corridor brought out as many ideas from residents as questions.
Some asked for more public parking, others for lake conservation districts, still more for minimum 2-acre lots and no cluster development.
All recognized that Bethel is considered the fastest-growing township in New York State – one of the reasons the board recently hired a full-time code enforcement officer.
“Bethel is on the urban edge,” explained town planning consultant Tom Shepstone, who pointed out that Bethel’s population growth in the 1990s outpaced the county and state’s three times over. “It’s growing unusually fast.”
“Without a comprehensive plan, people could come and do just what they wanted to do,” added Councilman Bob Blais.
“We need to get a handle on what our town will look like 50 years from now,” agreed Russell. “This is a benchmark.”
Town officials said the comprehensive plan – the creation of which was covered by a grant – is within a month or two of completion. While it is not a legally binding document, it incorporates suggestions for a public beach, an improved town hall, additional sewage capacity, new sidewalks and better highway capital planning in its role as a guidebook for the large township.
Part of the plan also includes the distinction of five major zoning districts along Route 17B – the east-west artery that not only links four of the township’s major hamlets but provides a key transportation route to much of western Sullivan County.
During that hearing, citizens recommended a firmer policy on cutting trees along roadways and looking beyond just the 17B corridor.
The zoning does focus mostly on 17B, encouraging more rural and agricultural uses on the west end and more commercial and residential development uses in the east.
Thursday’s multitude of remarks convinced the town board of the need for another public hearing on the plan, which will be set at the next board meeting on September 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Senior Center in Kauneonga Lake.

In Other Business

Also of interest that evening was the lifting of a boil-water requirement at the Senior Center and Justice Court, which had to install a UV filter to fix the water quality. The state agreed that it had been resolved, although one last test will be required.
The street running past the Senior Center and Justice Court will be renamed in honor of Sgt. Catalin Dima, who was the first Sullivan County resident to be killed in the Iraq war.
Russell announced that the Sullivan County ATV Association will hold its annual poker run, benefitting local ill children, on September 9. ATVs will be visible on several area roadways, but officials expressed satisfaction with the way the association handles such traffic.
Russell also thanked Bethel First, the local Sullivan Renaissance group, for its efforts in beautifying the town.
Toward the end of the meeting, Russell read a letter from Smallwood resident June Barrett criticizing Councilman Daniel Sturm for publicly critiquing Highway Superintendent Bernie Cohen’s performance at the prior meeting.
Sturm responded that he would continue to feel free to judge a public official’s conduct at any town board meeting and did not back away from his earlier statements.
Cohen, intimating politics played a role in his comments, stood up and said Sturm should be saying such things to him personally, adding that he was “tired of this crap.”
Cohen, himself a Smallwood resident, has been under intense scrutiny for his handling of his 13-man department and Bethel’s highways, many of which are in great need of repair. While financial difficulties and other certain issues are holdovers from the prior highway administrations, residents have both praised and criticized Cohen for his responses to the multitude of matters.

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