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Smallwood Residents Shut Out Developers

By Dan Hust
SMALLWOOD — June 5, 2007 — Smallwood Civic Association (CA) members resoundingly sent a message to developers Saturday:
You’re not wanted here.
The 182-47 vote approved an amendment to the CA’s constitution that bars residents of subdivisions with homeowners’ associations or condo/co-op boards from becoming members of the 500-strong CA, a private group open to homeowners in and contiguous to Smallwood.
Presently, no such housing development exists within Smallwood, though the Preserve at Chapin Estate is being built near the hamlet’s southwest corner and a townhouse project is planned for the old Smallwood Golf Course.
The amendment actually allows current CA members to live in such a development and still retain membership – albeit on “an auxiliary, non-voting basis under a new category to be determined by the Board of Directors.”
The grassroots group Preserve Smallwood Country Life (PSCL) – formed in 2006 to advocate for preserving Smallwood’s “country character” – scored its first major success with this vote, having stirred the membership to action on what CA President Bob Barrett said was one of the largest turnouts in recent memory.
But Barrett did not favor the amendment, considering it discriminatory and unnecessary. In an unusual twist, however, 1st Vice President Harold “Hal” Saltzman joined with six other CA board members in approving and encouraging this vote.
Barrett did not participate in the board vote, which would be necessary only in the event of a tie. However, though personally opposed to the vote, he said he sought to remain officially neutral in the matter, taking time as CA president only to argue against the need for the vote (as opposed to urging the casting of a “no” ballot).
The two men are normally stalwart comrades, but this time they found themselves on opposite sides.
Saltzman, the CA’s Lake Committee chairman who led the effort by 23 sponsors and the CA board majority to place the amendment on the ballot, called Barrett’s claim of neutrality “absurd” and said the case for the amendment’s passage had long been clear.
“Smallwood is a hamlet in [the Town of] Bethel comprised exclusively of individually owned cabins and cottages, and it is those homeowners who the Civic Association represents,” said Saltzman.
“If we, the CA, start opening our membership to these massive developments such as the proposed golf course Planned Unit Development [PUD], with their own Homeowners Associations or Condominium Boards, pretty soon – through sheer strength of numbers – the CA will be in THEIR hands.”
Liberty attorney Michael McGuire reviewed the amendment before the vote and supplied PSCL with a legal opinion stating that it does not violate U.S. or NYS law.
“This vote is a resounding mandate,” said Jonathan Hyman, a CA member and spokesman for PSCL. “Smallwood has made it clear that it intends to, and indeed will have, a say in determining its future. Hats off to Mr. Saltzman and attorney Michael McGuire for his well-reasoned and uncontradicted opinion on the discrimination issue, and to the amendment sponsors for clearly and accurately identifying and discussing the issues. We are pleased to have been part of this expression of civic solidarity.”
Saltzman added that the vote was well above the two-thirds majority needed to pass such an amendment.
“The margin would have been far greater had the constitution allowed absentee ballots,” he said. “Dozens of pro-amendment members called wanting to vote in absentia.”
CA rules do not allow absentee votes, but Saltzman was pleased with the results nonetheless.
“The constitutional amendment… keeps the Civic Association in the hands of individual homeowners,” he concluded.
Barrett disagreed, saying two unnamed attorneys who are CA members – plus CA Membership Chair Frank Wolf – told the CA that the amendment opens up the organization to lawsuits.
“I personally felt that it was wrong and was discrimination,” he stated. “… [But] they carried the day with lots of misinformation.”
Barrett said pro-amendment forces overstated beach use, lake use, membership takeovers, and the developer’s marketing of Smallwood Lake for project sales. (Saltzman and Hyman said they did not – rather, they were attempting to illustrate what might happen, not necessarily what will happen.)
Barrett added that many members called and e-mailed their opposition to the amendment, as well, though they too could not cast absentee ballots.
He said internal committee-based measures could have resolved concerns that hundreds of new condo owners would take over the CA, which oversees the operation of and access to Smallwood Lake, its beach, a picnic/park area and a coming pavilion, plus related events. (The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation handles fishing and boating licenses and compliance issues.)
A key fear of the PSCL and supporters was that overcrowding would also result, based on some heavy use last summer and the projection that the golf course development could double those seeking to enjoy Smallwood Lake, the land around which the CA privately owns.
“There were more geese on the lake than boats,” responded Barrett, who observed the area over the course of a picture-perfect Memorial Day weekend.
Barrett said the vote showed a desire to exclude, not include – and to exclude something the area needs: growth. He lamented that people seemed to be focusing on a development that hasn’t even happened yet, rather than seeking ways to bring needed shops and services to the region.
“If we’re going to stay stagnant and not move, those things aren’t going to happen,” he said of new business.
He also felt the developer of the golf course, Robert Van Zandt, had been given an undeserved bad reputation, especially in light of the fact that he promised residents of his development would have access to their own amenities (as would existing Smallwood residents).
Barrett indicated he was impressed with Van Zandt’s approach to building homes in a township fraught with furor over a multitude of development proposals.
“He was open, fair and changeable when necessary,” said Barrett, who saw the subsequent CA vote as an emotional response, not a logical one.
But he’s staying on as president (his term ends next year), and he’s confident CA leaders and members will not let this disagreement get in the way of a busy summer schedule.
“We have a beach to run, a park to run and a pavilion to build,” said Barrett. “… We’re going to go forward.”

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