Edward Sanders' Letter from Woodstock #3 -- April 2004

Keeping Woodstock from Being Overrun by Excess Development

and Keeping Great America from being Overrun by Right Wing Sleaze

Cooper Lake Water

This is a strange year. The great nation of America is being threatened by a right wing take-over, and the great town of Woodstock is facing being overrun by excess development.

Woodstockers were stunned not long ago to get their new property assessments in the mail, each accompanied by estimations of how much their taxes will go up. Many property owners saw their property assessments double since the last previous property assessment in 1998. Developers are smiling with joy. People with open space and forests will now face greater pressures to sell to the subdivision crowd, and artists and the creative will have even less reason to settle here.

All is not lost, however, and there are many many energetic Woodstockers who will probably be able to stop much of the open-space-devouring glut. But, just as on the national level this year the sleaze-hurling level is rising very unpleasantly, so too on the local, Woodstock level the year promises a climate of anger and recrimination especially on the issues of inept government, runaway taxes and excess development.

 

Up above the hamlet of Woodstock is beautiful Cooper Lake. It's one of the most thrilling views at dawn or at dusk, with a excellent flowing line of mountains in the background, and joggers and strollers love to trace its sinuous shores along Cooper Lake Road.

Cooper Lake is the water source for Kingston-- and Woodstock, on paper at least, has the right to tap into Cooper Lake's water, which passes through downtown Woodstock in pipes that follow Sawkill Creek.

New York State water regs require that water from lakes be filtered before being consumed by humans. The developers want to crush together a situation where Woodstock will build an expensive filtering plant to tap Coope Lake in order to spur subdivisions along empty meadow lands, particularly along the Bearsville Road corridor. Indeed, if you drive along the Bearsville-Wittenberg Road you'll see large open fields and wooded areas which, with water from Cooper Lake (plus an expanded Woodstock sewer system) could spur hundreds of millions of dollars of growth, and turn Woodstock into south Westchester.

That's why Woodstock activists are viewing with suspicion the drive to tap into the Cooper Lake waterpipe (to supply water for the new proposed HIghway Garage) where it passes near the Highway Garage across the street from the Bearsville Post Office on Route 212.

It could set a precedent. A precedent that not many really want, especially given that the area of the proposed tap-in sits above a pristine and uncontaminated aquifer.

Some Good Signs in Woodstock

In spite of the foam of freedom-crimping right wing nuts and the greed of developers (not to mention the work of those strange personalities called "developer-helpers") there are many good things happening in our great nation and in Woodstock.

Progressives, Democrats, Environmentalists, National Healthcare Advocates, and those who want a more benign and less violent foreign policy are uniting in ways the right wing could not have predicted.

For that, I think we can thank the generation that lived through the un-Constitutional attempts by Richard Nixon and his cohorts not so long ago to overthrow the traditional American democracy.

There was very exciting activity in Woodstock during the run-up to the Democratic Primary, particulary groups that supported Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean. Dean supporters regularly packed a local cafe, and Kuninich partisans held many meetings, a successful fundraiser and put up signs around town.

Julian Lines, very active with the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce and Arts, and the co-owner of a shop in town that sells organic cotton clothing, was one of those leading the Kucinich charge, as were long time activists Jane Van de Bogart and consumer rights legend Esther Nason and her daughter Zena, plus former Woodstock Journal technical consultant David Bruner, and many others.

Speaking of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce and Arts, it's done good work recently in trying to make sure that Woodstock doesn't explode into a mega-burb. Some members were stun-stung by the recent reval, want to keep some of the strong rural flavor of the town, and are not eager to have a bunch of celltower spikes sticking out of one of the premier mountains of New York State.

The Woodstock Progressives

In Woodstock the Democrats have been the majority party since 1984 and in the twenty years since have more than a 2-1 lead in enrollment. There are many Republicans who are clearly against ruinous development in Woodstock, while at the same time there are well-placed Democrats on the Planning Board, the Town Board and other volunteer groups that are eager developer-helpers.

The 2003 Woodstock town elections were strange indeed (see Letters from Woodstock #1 & #2 on this website). As a result of the unpleasant results of the 2003 elections, a new group, the Woodstock Progressives was founded.

As a recent Progressives statement put it, "We wanted a place to discuss pressing town issues and come up with, and implement, plans of action. We want to be better prepared for the next round of local elections so that the progressive perspective will be represented.

"We also wanted to link people dealing with local issues to people dealing with national issues -- especially the perceived need to get rid of Bush and his cohorts and do something about certain political matters that can play out locally as well as nationally. Our national/local concerns include current excesses of the Patriot Act, the favoring of the rich, military aggression, corporate control, and the Bush anti-environment measures. We felt the need of a forum since, due to splits in its ranks, the town's Democratic Committee has for some time been moribund."

Regular meetings have been held at the home of Marta Szabo and Fred Poole in Woodstock. The Progressives now have their own website, and they are co-sponsoring a meeting in Woodstock on Friday, April 23 at the Community Center, to seek a rescinding of the recent creepy property revaluation which has sent future taxes through the roof for many.

The Progressives are also co-sponsoring a talk by Scott Ritter at the Colony Café in Woodstock on April 15.

Assessments

You could almost hear a Jungian pan-soul gasp arising from Woodstock not long ago when property owners opened their new tax assessments. Everybody's assessments doubled, and the proposed tax increases were ghastly. Particularly savagely hit were those who own woods, fields and open spaces. It was if the town government were saying to such open-space owners, "Sell your land, creeps, and make subdivisions! That's what government wants." It mayspur increased pressure to gut the zoining law and to reduce lot size. It may force seniors and those on fixed and modest imcones to sell and get out of town. Many of the modestly moolahed are artists, musicians and the creative.

  • The Golden Keys to Development--
  • The Hunger to Gut the Zoning Law

The goal of the pro-development forces is help make things as economically unpleasant as possible in Woodstock so as to crack the zoning law and allow for new subdivisions on smaller lots, secure the use of water from Cooper Lake, forge some new commercial areas in outlying districts, and run the Woodstock sewer lines hither and yon— all to make a couple of hundred million dollars.

No doubt those who rode to temporary and wobbly victory in last fall's elections felt that the Golden Keys to Personal Glory and Development were handed to them by the voters. Not at all. Woodstock is a fairly complicated place where it is quite in the main stream to be against excessive development.

So, pro-excessive development forces are having to face the harsh reality that most Woodstockers don't want excess development. The town board can't just shout to the developers, "Y'all come on in and build ye some mini-malls and tract houses and pollute the water!" It has to be slowly, indirectly and subtly done ,because there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of us, ready to confound and thwart their schemes.

In Praise of David Menzies

David Menzies is a long-time Woodstocker and videoartist who has for decades videoarchived productions of the Performing Arts of Woodstock theater company. In this alone he has done a greater service to Woodstock than those ill-wills who recently threw him off the Woodstock Planning Board.

Menzies was a duly chosen Democratic candidate for the town board last fall. He lost after a sleazesome campaign that saw key members of the Woodstock Democratic Committee bolt ranks to support Republican pro-excessive-development candidates.

The chair of the Woodstock Planning Board has long hungered to promote excessive development, and was active in foisting the pro-excessive-development town board upon Woodstockers. Right after the election, the chair asked fellow planning board members for ideas on where they'd like to see development in the ttown.

Menzies challenged her, saying that the Planning Board should be guided by the language of the new Comprehensive Plan, the product of a number of years of work by an excellent Woodstock committee.

Did the Town Board stand up and applaud David Menzies and commend him for taking a principled stand? No indeed, these ill-heads tossed Menzies off the planning board. (His term was up, but he was seeking reappointment, normally an automatic affair.)

The truth of it is that David Menzies has done more for Woodstock in his long career here than any of these bulldozer-skulls who tossed him.

And so here's a salute to the long-term good work of David Menzies.

The Cell Tower

There's a perception around Woodstock is that the town needs full or near-to-full cellphone access. For that, they say, the town needs a few cellphone towers.

Those who bring up brain-tumors, health effects of 24-hour microwave bombardment, and the ugliness of towers in a town whose economy is tourist-oriented, and whose mountains are part of its enduring allure, seem, so far, in the minority. A dedicated few, however, according to the famous dictum of Margaret Mead, are what always sets policies-- so we'll see.

There's a guy going around to towns in the Hudson Valley offering to facilitate the construction of cell towers on town-owned properties, in exchange for which he offers to share 50-50 the revenues he derives from renting out dish-space on the towers.

The Supervisor of Woodstock went for the project, and just as so often he flashes his disregard for open space, he has been trying to site the cell tower on a very beautiful wooded Woodstock-owned property on the side of Overlook Mountain. This steep property which borders the State forest is called California Quarry, and contains ancient Native American rock shelters where archaeologists have found relics from many hundreds of years ago.

Several years ago the board tried to carve up a big chunk of the meadows of the Comeau property for development. The rule should be: protect open space in every possible case. But, this particular town government seems to love to violate open space when they can get away with it.

When I chaired the rezoning committee back in 1988-89 we rezoned the large California Quarry parcel to 8 acres, with language describing the district clearly discouraging development.

Concerned Woodstockers have mounted a petition to force the Town to hold a referendum to declare California Quarry a park. They've obtained already much more than enough signatures to force a referendum.

Hatred of Open Space

In these matters, actions often speak more forcefully than words. Some developers will claim they're ardent environmenalists (and some do have environmentalist credentials) for instance, as they eye a forest to cut down or a field to mini-mall. Whenever it can, the current Woodstock Town Board majority makes pro-excessive development decisions, particularly in appointments to the ZBA and the Planning Board.

And slowly they are mutating the zoning law and land use regulations to allow more and more development.

We'll stop them, but get ready for a lot of evenings spent talking at meetings rather than watching Bravo or reading a good book.

 

Motel and Multiple-Moviehouse at the Gateway

Speaking of spot zoning, the Woodstock town board seems to hunger to allow a property owner to tear down an historic old Woodstock building (the old former rooming house and restaurant called Deanie's) to be replaced by a motel and multi-plex movie house.) The problem is the board will have to spot-zone the property. Currently it's located in the Gateway Overlay District, a restricted area located at the entrance to Woodstock at the intersection of Rte 375 with Rte 212 downtown. An arsonist torched the Woodstock Playhouse in 1988, in the Gateway, and it was widely perceived to have been done to accomodate the construction of a large commercial property on the location of the torched theater. In response, the 1989 Town Board created the Gateway District, which allows construction only as related to the arts.

Remember, the spot is in the zone just as the fly is in the honey of money.

The Highway Garage

Every small town in the Catsklls has a good highway garage, except Woodstock. The level of ineptitude locally is so high that the famous liberal town can't even build a highway garage. They promised Woodstockers they'd have something to vote on at an election in June, but they can't even figure out how much it's going to cost.

The outrageous reval and property tax increases will likely doom the highway garage especially if the town proposes one that is a Cadillac instead of a good Ford pickup. Then voters will say no, because the danger to people's ability to continue to live in Woodstock is being threatened as in no other time I can recall. There is a secret and not-so-secret inflation that shows up at the gas pump, at the checkout line at the health food store, and now in the ghastly new taxes the Town Board has brought us.

When the highway garage referendum goes down, I think the Town Board has an obligation to rent a house or apartment near the maintenance garage when the workers can eat lunch and take showers.

 

Alf Evers' Books

For about seven years I've been helping the great American Alf Evers complete his huge book on the history of Kingston. Of course, it's more than about Kingston. It contains very interesting writing on the history of the Hudson Valley, New York State and the United States itself.

Readers will find Evers' writing on the early days in the 17th century fascinating-- dealings with the Esopus (or Munsee) Natives that dwelled in this area; the struggles between the Dutch and the English for local control; the bitter factionalism in the region leading up to the Civil War, and the industrialization of the Hudson River around Kingston during the late 19th century.

Evers at last is near the conclusion of his story of Kingston. Fred Steuding is working with Alf on the extensive footnotes; the Woodstock Guild is cataloging his brilliant collection of history books for inclusion in a new Alf Evers library at Byrdcliffe, and I am helping him with the final corrections to the manuscript and in selecting and scanning the images he will use.

And, now Alf Evers is beginning a new book, at age 99! He has started work on a biography of his friend Hervey White, one of the early movers and shakers in the Woodstock art colony.

Go, Alf, go!

John Kerry and Preventing Election Fraud

  • The new course of treason will not be, as in the Nixon era, tampering with who the Democrats run, but now it will be tampering with the actual ballot box. It seems to me that, just as in the assassinations of the '60s, rogue elements of the military and the intelligence "community" would have to be involved in state-level election fraud in November. Therefore Kerry should take quick steps to make sure he has trustworthy eyes and ears and resources in the military/intelligence community to forestall tampering with voting. There are many many many honest and ethical citizens in that community who will not want to be part of vote-tampering treason.
  • John Kerry has to have computer experts in every county where there are papertrail-less electronic voting machines. This is very very very crucial.
  • He should guard his planes 24 hours a day.
  • To those who are groaning about Kerry's love of hunting and his overall squareness, I think the following consideration is important. He'll get to appoint a couple of Supreme Court Justices, and thus be able to do something about the disgrace of Scalia, Thomas and Rehnquist. And most importantly, Kerry will be someone whom, when you oppose some of his policies, you won't feel that you have to roll in the gutter to locate in order to protest.