By Eli Ruiz
WURTSBORO The nearly 300 folks who packed the Town of Mamakating Hall to watch the board vote on controversial modifications to four Planned Office (PO) Zones in the town, instead watched furiously as the vote was tabled for the next scheduled board meeting.
The modifications to the four parcels of land in question include such uses as gas stations, convenience stores, storage yards for contractors, vehicle garages, tavern, retail stores and more.
The proposals were born out of a request by local developer and Burlingham Woods LLC principal, Duane Roe, who owns one of the tracts of land which lies on Burlingham Road, plans to build a car/truck stop on the parcel.
An attempt early on by Town of Mamakating Supervisor Harold Baird to reschedule the meeting due to a “fire hazard” was met by fierce opposition from the vocal crowd. The board then huddled and decided to instead accommodate the large crowd by removing all of the tables from the meeting room.
More than 20 people spoke against the proposed PO zone changes with many even asking for Councilman Russell Wood and Town Attorney Richard Stoloff to recuse themselves from the vote due to alleged conflicts of interest.
Even board members Regina Saunders and John Moul got into the act speaking out against the proposed PO Zone changes.
“I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the residents of Mamakating,” said Moul. “I had felt that the proposed benefits to our community and to our tax base were self-evident.… I did not realize the concern and fears this change generated in some of our residents and after speaking to a number of our citizens I realize the town board did a really poor job in explaining the benefits of the proposed changes . . .”
“I don’t see how changing the zone or adding to it helps the people who already live within these zones… the zoning changes do not fit in our master plan,” said Saunders.
Saunders called on residents to form an advisory “diverse” committee made up not only of folks living near the parcels in question but also people from “the other parts of the town.”
A recently formed group calling itself the Rural Community Coalition, headed up by Mamakating residents Holly Roche, Bill Hermann and Teddy Brebbia and representing the views of the residents of Bloomingburg and Mamakating, arrived with an attorney in tow, for the express purpose of bringing an Article 78 suit against the town if the zoning changes were passed.
The attorney, Jeffrey Baker, with Young/Sommer LLC out of Albany, also called for Russell Wood to recuse himself from the vote.
“We believe there are conflicts of interest affecting the consideration of this zoning,” said Baker. “This zoning was initiated upon a petition by Burlingham Woods LLC, and it is our understanding that Mr. Roe [Duane Roe] is a principal in that company and that board member Mr. Wood regularly works for and with Mr. Roe and has a clear financial interest in his [Roe’s] business and there is an appearance of a conflict of interest, if not an outright conflict of interest, and we respectfully request that Mr. Wood recuse himself from any deliberations on this matter and, of course, including any vote.”
Others, like Greg Ercolino called for Wood to outright resign the board. Ercolino questioned Wood and Supervisor Baird regarding some prior approvals they’d put forth for Roe. When neither would answer, Ercolino said, “See, they [Wood and Baird] don’t answer, well, the answer is yes!”
“Then again,” said Ercolino again addressing Wood, “you and your wife don’t know conflict of interest when it comes to this project do you, because you know you’re gonna make your money on the sewer plant down there, right?”
Again Wood had no response, however, when later asked by the Democrat if he intended to recuse himself from the PO Zone vote, Wood said, “At this time sir . . . no.”
When it came time for Roche to speak she handed the board a petition with more than 1,300 signatures in opposition to the zoning modifications. Roche said, “We are here today as residents of this town and we believe that our wishes and concerns are being ignored… because of past actions of the board and individuals, the same individuals as in the past, this zoning law has created an atmosphere of total distrust.”
Addressing Town Attorney Richard Stoloff and Wood, Roche continued, “Mr. Stoloff… believing that you are ethical does not make you ethical… Mr. Russ Wood . . . there is a conflict of interest you need to recuse yourself.” As Roche spoke, various attendees yelled “step down.”
“What you are doing for a few favors a few over many,” added Roche. “The actions you are taking are going to degrade the biggest investments we as home and land owners have made while you are increasing the values for those same select few.… We have found it necessary to create a grass-roots organization and the majority of the people you are looking at are members of this organization, and it was necessary because you [the board] left us out of the process.”
Baker, the attorney, called for a full environmental review of the zoning modifications to assess as he said, “the impact on the residential communities.”
The board is set to meet again on August 7.
For more information on the Rural Community Coalition group, go to www.ruralcommunitycoalition.com.