Dan Hust | Democrat
Surrounded by a crowd that exceeded 100 invitees, Sullivan County Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon outlines his vision for Monday’s “charrette” at Bethel Woods.
Visions of county’s future grounded in reality
By Dan Hust
BETHEL Around 100 people selected by county officials gathered at Bethel Woods for nine hours Monday to brainstorm Sullivan County’s future development.
Created by the Sullivan County Division of Planning specifically, its new commissioner, Luiz Aragon the “charrette,” or summit, was designed to envision, prioritize and set goals to be included in a Community and Economic Development Strategy report to be made to legislators in January.
The corporate-style summit was led by Bob Tessier of Dykstra Associates, a consulting firm with offices in Goshen, and utilized sections of the Museum at Bethel Woods to brainstorm. (Bethel Woods, in fact, donated the space and food, and a state grant is being utilized, so there was no local cost.)
An implementation team was also formed, consisting of engineer Wes Illing, media rep. Matt Dorcas, Partnership Board Chair Josh Sommers, Mamakating Councilman Robert Justus, Chamber President Terri Ward, Jeffersonville community coordinator Catherine Scott, Sullivan Renaissance’s Denise Frangipane, Delaware Valley Arts Alliance Executive Director Elaine Giguere, and Forestburgh Planning Board Chair Susan Hawvermale.
Aragon said they’ll meet soon to further refine the recommendations made at Monday’s summit.
Saying he doesn’t want “another report that will go on the shelf,” Aragon added that legislators will be asked to take action on these items next year.
But he also acknowledged that determining where to go is just as difficult as determining the county’s overall identity, and that was the point of Monday’s effort to develop some consensus.
“Maybe what we should do is deal with these issues in a positive way,” he explained. “… Let’s decide what our future is together.”
He began with a few statistics: nearly 40 percent of the county’s households have an income under $35,000, while less than 25 percent of those aged 25 or older have bachelor’s degrees.
And with the economy deeply struggling, those numbers may not change soon.
Aragon, however, made it a point to seek out some of these families over the past few weeks, finding requests for unity, more higher education, and an indoor farmers’ market, among other ideas.
Throughout Monday, groups separated and then reintegrated, discussing tourism & recreation, agriculture & natural resources, manufacturing & construction, and goods & services.
At the end of the day, a series of nine major recommendations and 18 secondary ones were presented. The top nine:
• Market Sullivan County with a focus on communicating its features, themes and amenities to residents and visitors both within and outside the county.
• Create a public-private team as a collaborative effort to implement a needs-assessment and process for sustainable tourism development.
• Sustain and promote agriculture in Sullivan County: promote local; develop distribution & production channels; support diversification & expansion; enhance communication & coordination with agencies.
• Create a processing facility (dairy+meat+kitchen) and indoor farmers’ market+kitchen; plus, have local planning boards meet (as a group) semi-annually; plus, create a comprehensive flood mitigation plan & action.
• Focus development along infrastructure corridors, while maintaining rural character outside these areas.
• Create a one-stop center for business resources, economic development, agriculture, tourism, education for the public (information).
• Develop a countywide plan for existing communication infrastructure with Time-Warner Cable, Verizon and other service providers, towns & villages.
• Develop a countywide wireless & broadband plan/strategy with County Planning, Supervisors’ Association, SC Partnership.
• Create “12701 Pilot Program” with site-specific project workshops that result in community buy-in for development proposals; economic development and natural resource strategies by corridor/region; and develop incentive/training/info programs to encourage small business reinvestment in downtown.
How these ideas might be funded, however, was not discussed at length, even with the county in a deep financial crisis.
But whether any of this is realized, said Aragon, depends upon more than his department and county government.
Playing off the county’s new slogan, “Mountains of Opportunities,” Aragon told the crowd, “Help us move those mountains of opportunities… where they’re visible and easily accessible.”