Sparks fly at Town of Bethel meeting
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO May 2, 2008 The Bethel Town Board’s unanimous approval of another six-month major subdivision (five or more residential lots) moratorium garnered naught but two comments last Thursday and both were supportive.
But another vote later in the board meeting elicited an angry exchange of words.
With Woodstone Development founder Steve Dubrovsky watching quietly in the background, Smallwood residents took the board to task for approving an agreement with Woodstone to let the development company take over Town Road 62.
Supervisor Dan Sturm and Councilman Richard Crumley had approached Dubrovsky and other company officials earlier this year to resurrect the idea of handing TR62 over to Woodstone.
At less than a mile, the unpaved road serves a handful of wooded properties and terminates at Woodstone’s upscale Chapin Estate. Its only other use had been to provide public and utility access to the Toronto Reservoir’s dam, but Woodstone citing liability concerns ultimately gated the private portion of the road.
Attorneys for Woodstone, Smallwood residents and reservoir owner Alliance Energy Renewables were scheduled to be in appeals court this past Tuesday to wrangle over the access issue.
Though a decision is not expected for a week or two, the court could mandate that Woodstone ensure access via TR62.
In the meantime, four town board members voted to approve the agreement (Councilman Ted Yeomans, seeking to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, abstained due to his longtime association with Dubrovsky).
Sturm signed the agreement on Friday, and since Woodstone CEO Howard Schoor had already affixed his signature, TR62 is now a private road owned by Woodstone.
What’s the town getting in return?
According to Sturm and Crumley, Woodstone will have to bring the road up to town standards, even if it stays closed to the public.
And, the supervisor added, taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill to rehabilitate a road that serves a tiny portion of the populace.
Starting next week, the town highway department will gain unfettered access for three years to Woodstone’s gravel pit off Pine Grove Road for material needed to repair any portion of Pine Grove, which is heavily used by Woodstone in the construction of its next development, Swinging Bridge at Chapin Estate.
Woodstone will also pay to widen a 1,475-foot section of Pine Grove to match the rest of that street’s width.
Finally, contractors working on Woodstone’s 179 lots inside Swinging Bridge will have to pay $1,000 per building permit, which will go into the highway fund to be utilized for any highway department expenses townwide.
“This agreement, I believe, is in the best interests of all the residents of the town as we go forward,” said Sturm, adding it remedied longtime safety and maintenance issues.
Right now, said Crumley, the former TR62 “is a hazard” but will be fixed by Woodstone, rather than Bethel’s taxpayers, some of whom don’t even know or care that “the road that goes nowhere” exists, he added.
“We negotiated a very good deal for all interested and uninterested parties,” Crumley remarked, calling it “a great savings to Town of Bethel residents.”
Several Smallwood residents didn’t see it that way.
Bob Barrett, who has led a five-year battle to ensure a right-of-way to the federally-required public access on the eastern end of the Toronto Reservoir, called the agreement “odorous.”
“It stinks,” he bluntly offered. “... Why are you in such a rush tonight to adopt this?”
When contacted earlier this week about the agreement, Barrett continued to avoid mincing words.
“I believe it’s a shell game,” he said, recalling a prior TR62 “agreement” with Woodstone that went nowhere. “Giving public property to a private individual has the smell of possible fraud involved.”
His concerns include whether the exchange of goods and services (i.e., the gravel pit) is legal and equitable, and how it will impact the ongoing court case.
“All these things were dismissed quickly,” he said of the board’s response on Thursday. “. . . [It was] a precipitous charge to make it quickly done.”
Though Barrett is cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the lawsuit, he is firmly convinced Woodstone will not reopen access to Toronto and laments the fact that Bethel leaders have now allowed even more of the traditional route to be closed.
“They gave something that I feel is inappropriate,” he said. “The town has injected itself into this issue.”
Woodstone had no comment, but Sturm said this week that, while the talks did involve some give-and-take, he did not lose sight of the public access issue.
“There’s a passion for that access that I didn’t want to ignore in the negotiations,” he remarked.
As for the ongoing lawsuit, Sturm refrained from picking sides, simply affirming that the township will support “whatever the court decides.”