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Bethel Planning Board Stirs Passions

By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE — May 15, 2007 — Passions boiled over at the Town of Bethel Board meeting Thursday in Kauneonga Lake.
And it didn’t even have to do with the town board.
Instead, angry words were exchanged over the planning board and chair Leon Smith, whom critics derided as corrupt and supporters praised as a caring, upstanding member of the community.
The conflict stemmed from a contentious planning board meeting the prior Tuesday, where the board chose to approve a 36-home addition to the Chapin Estate but opted not to hold a public hearing beforehand.
While the legality of that decision was not debated, the propriety and wisdom of it were.
Smallwood resident Bob Barrett questioned why the hearing was waived for this one application and not others.
“I never heard that before… and that was kind of disturbing,” he told the town board.
Kauneonga Lake resident Jeffrey Cohen and others called for Smith’s resignation or removal from office, charging him with recklessly shutting down discussion about the merits of the proposal.
Cohen also cited a letter from the state Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) expressing concern over protection of wetlands, streams and bald eagle nesting sites.
Smith remained quiet, head bowed, during the most intense moments of Thursday’s town board meeting, but residents outraged at his treatment defended the planning board chair as a man of principles.
One also referenced the fact that Chapin Estate developers and homeowners have taken great care – and enlisted noted DEC eagle expert Peter Nye – to appropriately respond to the presence of bald eagles.
Supervisor Harold Russell, however, abruptly terminated discussion on the matter.
“I think enough comments have been made along these lines,” he angrily remarked. “Any comments … on Tuesday night’s meeting, the town board will not address it.”
Ironically, another planning board decision from Tuesday did not spur much comment at all.
Planning board members, by a 6-1 vote, asked the town board not to approve a proposed townwide moratorium on major subdivisions and commercial development. However, a subsequent 5-2 vote recommended that the town board only apply the moratorium to new projects, not existing proposals, should it insist on creating a moratorium.
Town board member Dan Sturm expressed his disappointment that the only action on the moratorium for the past 10 weeks had been debate, but fellow board members listened when he advocated for a moratorium limited only to projects not yet past preliminary approval from the planning board.
Board members Andy LaPolt and Bob Blais agreed.
“We have to slow [development] down so we can take a look and see what’s going on,” said Blais.
Russell and board member Dick Crumley also agreed to that amendment to the proposed moratorium, which is scheduled to have a public hearing on June 14 at 7:45 p.m. at the senior center in Kauneonga Lake.
In other Bethel news, Russell said the NYS Dept. of Transportation is collecting data on Route 17B’s traffic to determine capacity needs in the next 25 years. To that end, Russell provided the state a list of actual and proposed developments along the corridor.
Russell and Blais informed the crowd that Bethel Woods has proposed an AM radio channel that would inform drivers of traffic conditions and patterns around the performing arts center. Bethel would be the license-holder.
Highway Superintendent Bernie Cohen reported that the former Buster’s BBQ, now under new management and being renamed Bubba’s BBQ, has donated old tables and chairs to be used for the coming pavilion on Old White Lake Turnpike.
Cohen added that kitchen equipment, including a refrigerator, is among the items.

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