Planning in the Shawangunks
“I thought it would be helpful to the Planning Board if something like this was done,” said Al Wegener, a landscape consultant to municipalities and executive director of the Shawangunk Mountains Regional Partnership (SMRP).
Wegener presented a guide for planning boards in the Shawangunk Mountains region to the Shawangunk Town Board at their last meeting, explaining it was the culmination of three years of collaboration among himself, LandWorks of Vermont and a bevy of professionals.
“The guide [is] designed to help planning boards in doing the work that lies ahead so that years from now, despite growth and change, it will still be beautiful here,” said Wegener.
Wegener explained that if the towns follow the guide, they will go over the same ground the DEC would if it were lead agency on SEQRA.
Shawangunk Town Supervisor John Valk Jr. stated the guide comes at no cost to the town — or the other towns in the partnership, which includes Crawford, Gardiner and Montgomery — as it was covered by two grants from the Federal Highway Administration (through the NYS Scenic Byways Program) and the NYS Department of Economic Development. The town of Shawangunk sponsored the project and administered the federal funding while the Mohonk Preserve administered the state funding.
Wegener said the hardest part was simplifying the information to make it easy to access. It took at least five drafts before they felt they had succeeded.
“The first draft you would not pick it up and read it,” said Valk. “It would bore you to death.”
Wegener said the final version now contains a lot of material in an organized fashion so that while it is “very comprehensive” the material is presented in a way that will “be useful to the planning board members and not require hours of someone’s time to get something out of it. It should also be extremely useful to developers who will now have some idea of what planning boards are expecting of them.”
Wegener was careful to point out that the guide does not institute any new rules or regulations. Instead it is meant to give planning boards ideas and suggestions to accommodate development while preserving the area’s scenic resources and unique characters.
“The biggest job a planning board has is exercising its judgment using knowledge of the area, people and values of the people. That’s really the job of the planning board — the exercise of judgment,” said Wegener. “The guide recognizes that and that’s why it doesn’t try to make rules and regulations.”
Members of the Town Board stated the guide was well-designed and easy-to-read.
“Before a developer opens his mouth, he should read this,” said Town Councilman Robert Miller. “We should tell them, read this first before you come and meet with us.”
“It’s very concise. It’s not wordy or intimidating, but educational,” said Valk. “I think it’s great.”
Wegener said the guide will be made available online at: www.mtnscenicbyway.org and each town can customize the guide to reflect its own character, personality and way of doing things.
In other business, Valk stated that the sidewalk project in the hamlet of Wallkill—involving seven streets and three new pedestrian crosswalks—may still take place. The project was awarded a grant last spring, however has since been placed on hold as it made its way through another approval process. Valk said the grant, which would cover 80 percent of the costs of the major project, is “still alive.”
The funding for the project, which was estimated to cost $900,000, was coming from the federal Surface Transportation Program (STP) and would cover 80 percent of the cost, with the town paying the remaining 20 percent.
The Town Board also discussed a possible revision of their dog control law as a result of issues arising from fees. The board voted to ask the attorney to draft a revision of the law that would not allow the release of an impounded dog until all fees were paid (separate from any court fees) and proof of licensing had been submitted.
Valk also advised the board that a mix-up occurred in the budget regarding the Walker Valley Fire Department. Between the preliminary and tentative budget, the board decided that the amount for the department was to be decreased by $3,000. The amount was never changed, resulting in extra funds above what was approved by the board. Valk said that amount, as well as an additional $511 overage, would be held in a separate reserve account for the Walker Valley Fire Department until the next budget.
The Town Board will be holding their reorganizational meeting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 3 with their first regular meeting of 2013 to follow at 7:15 p.m.
By RACHEL COLEMAN