Letter from Woodstock #1

Those of you who are reading this and don't live in Woodstock probably know this beautiful bluestone creeked place on the edge of the Catskills as a art/music colony with a flavor of liberality and tolerance. It's true in some ways, but more and more Woodstock is being taken over by those who would transform it into an overdeveloped tourist trap with a faint patina of residual art colony gloss. Its thousands of acres of open space would be converted into subdivisions. There are hundreds of millions of dollars to be made through forging a dense and overdeveloped Woodstock.

The Post-9/11 Climate of Development

Real estate values in the mid-Hudson area zoomed upward after the attack on the World Trade Center. In a way, Osama gave Woodstock property owners about $100,000, because the Hudson River Valley, and particularly the art colony known as Woodstock experienced a big real estate boom after the horror of September of 2001.
There are hundreds and hundreds of beautiful open meadows in the hamlets of Woodstock. Driving out the Bearsville-Wittenburg road toward Wilson State Park one can see how hundreds upon hundreds of tract houses and their attendant service station/minimalls could be built if water supplies and a sewer system were supplied to developers. This was the plan we sniffed out over a year ago, and which will cause great nonviolent battles in Woodstock, we feel, in upcoming years.

Protecting the Aquifer

"Water is the greatest of all things," the ancient poet Pindar once wrote. And it's true. Water is the gold of the next decades. And it's also the gold of the developers. But on the one hand while developers hunger to grab the water, on the other hand they want to prevent laws which protect the water supplies of Woodstockers who already live here.

If you protect your water supplies— really protect them, then you have to control development. My first suspicions about the recent Woodstock town board began when it refused to protect the current downtown aquifer, even when good volunteers such as Jerry Washington did the research on how to do it legally and adequately.

Democrat/Republican Mix

All through the 19th century and through much of the 20th the Republican Party controlled Woodstock. More and more Democrats began to move to Woodstock after the Woodstock Festival of 1969, so that by 1984 the Democrats became the majority. In 2003, there are over 2,200 registered Democrats in Woodstock and well under 1,000 registered Republicans.

Developer forces realize that to win their goal of building hundreds and hundreds of houses plus increased commercial development in Woodstock they have to split the Democrats. They know too they can't do the split in the name of development, so they work relentlessly behind the scenes creating fissures and fractures. They'll all deny it. But the issue is not the issue, the issue is making oodles of money through the taking of open space.

The Patriot Act

The board at first refused in 2003 to take any stance at all against the excessive surveillance aspects of the Patriot Act. Towns all around the U.S. took stances, but Woodstock's Democratic board was sleeping through it. Through the work of local attorneys such as Alan Sussman and Jerry Wapner, plus the research work of Michael Veitch and a few others, a draft resolution against the Patriot Act was presented to the board which, only after an angry meeting with residents, finally passed it. But it didn't want to. Such is the do-nothing nigh onto Know Nothing drift of current times.

Not Allowing a Farmers Market

Are Farmers Markets a Communist plot to prevent cancer through healthy food? You'd think so if you pondered why the Woodstock town board refuses to allow a Farmers Market in Woodstock. Towns up and down the Hudson Valley just love their outdoor Farmers Markets but the neocon Democrats that rule Woodstock have successfully blocked all attempts to have such a market, even on private property downtown.

Farmers Markets are a good source of healthy nonpolluting food, good for warding off cancer researchers say. Perhaps neocon Woodstock leaders don't have friends and family who suffer cancer.

Censorship Regulations for the Public Access Station

The Woodstock board during its 2002-2003 incarnation was known for its lack of getting anything done. When, however, a documentary on AIDS was shown on the public access television station which contained some raw language, it managed, in just a few days, to write censorship regulations for programming.

If only it had shown the same quickness in allowing a Farmers Market, or in protecting the aquifer, or in building a highway garage.

The Beautiful Comeau Property Likely Not to Be Protected

Woodstock voters in November of 2003 voted in a landslide to set aside the downtown Comeau property, a beautiful place of meadows and hiking trails, as forever undeveloped, and to turn over its stewardship to the Woodstock Land Conservancy. Woodstock ultraconservatives view the Land Conservancy as suspect. They hate the type of social planning such a stewardship implies. To the right, it smacks of, shudder shudder, socialism and Franklyn Roosevelt--like meddling in the sacred concepts of laissez-faire economics.

The town was sued by rightwingers in the fall to stop the Comeau referendum, and the town board, which did not want the Comeau set aside (kowtowing to developers who don't want any land set aside) anyway, made a deal BEFORE THE VOTE with those suing which in effect will prevent the protecting of the Comeau for years, maybe forever.

Water, Sewers, Zoning Gutting

Those who want to turn Woodstock into more of a Westchester type suburb need four things to realize their dreams: access to water, access to a sewer system, the gutting of zoning and a compliant town board to pass the laws, tap into Cooper Lake, extend the downtown sewer to the fields of Bearsville toward Wittenburg and up toward Shady, or build a new smaller sewage plant which perhaps could serve as a feeder line into the existing sewer plant on 212 toward Saugerties.

It's a plan which we helped to stall in the summer of 2002 when we got wind of it. A clear perhaps overwhelming majority of Woodstockers don't want the town ruined by excessive development. So the "water/sewers/zoning gutting" scheme won't occur without a huge struggle and a great expenditure of anger, leaflets, rallies and lawsuits.

The 2003 Elections

Election results up and down the Hudson River Valley, from Troy to Woodstock, showed the strength of the right wing pro-development drift of Bush-era America. In Woodstock, a strange amalgam of neocons, would-be gentry, developers, developer-helpers plus friends of those defeated in the August 2003 Democratic caucus helped vote into place a group of board members who seem hellbent on promoting "graceful" development.

The 2004-2005 term of the new Woodstock board will be critical in helping shape what happens to water quality, open space, and the rural/small town mix that a clear majority of Woodstockers cherish.


More and more Democrats are moving to the Hudson Valley from the megapolis to the South. Sometimes a Democrat who's fiercely progressive in a Manhattan block will morph after a few years in the country into a semi- or actual neocon. This process I call neocongenesis.

It hasn't happened too much yet in Woodstock, but I have watched friends swing to the right. One instance happened in the 2003 Woodstock elections, when a person who ought to know better suggested that Michael Veitch and David Menzies (the board candidates selected at the Democratic Caucus) were "ideologues" and therefore unworthy of right thinking voters' votes. Ideologue is a current right wing term you hear on right wing chat shows on Fox and MSNBC denoting fuzzy quasi-pinko environmentalists, Commie promulgators of nationalized banks, peaceniks against Bush's wars, or someone, say, excessively eager to protect the water against the interests of the bulldozer and the onslaught of e-coli.

Drug Dealers

Woodstock has one or two former drug dealers that are somewhat powerful and lurk in the background promoting development. Drug dealers bring a kind of sneaky, querulous mind-set to a small town, especially if they are behind excessive development. And so part of the current unpleasantness in the visually pleasing, still forested town of Woodstock is a ripple effect from such as these.

This is the first of our letters from Woodstock. And we shall exercise our constitutional right now and then to give readers around the nation and world a sense of what's going on in the art/music/writing/second home/216 year old township..