A tide in the affairs of men
It has become increasingly clear that change is coming rapidly to the counties surrounding the Upper Delaware River Valley. There are a couple of different ways we can view this prospect. We can stand about like deer in the headlights as we watch the locomotive of change bear down on us relentlessly. Or, working together, we can take this areas development into our hands and shape it to our liking. If we choose to do the latter, we must act quickly—for the change is coming, either way, and the only question is whether we shall be the master of it, or it of us.
So, given the fact that rapid change is becoming a reality, what can a community do about it?
In fact, largely because of a principle known as home rule, there is a great deal we can do. Home rule means that the power to create rules and laws that govern zoning and land use is not in the hands of the state or the county but is solely in the hands of town governments.
The road map that lays out what kinds of laws and ordinances are permitted in any given locality is known as a comprehensive plan. This is a set of documents describing the standards a municipality sets to make sure that land is used to serve its residents in a way that they all agree is to their benefit.
These comprehensive plans are more than just pretty stories that we tell ourselves. They have legal force, and in case of disputes over land use, the standard the courts use to determine legality is the consistency of any proposal with a towns comprehensive plan. That is why such plans can be a powerful weapon allowing people to control their own destinies in the face of change.
Most towns in this area already have comprehensive plans, but some are years old and could be totally outdated in face of todays new challenges. In fact, the type of sprawl development that we are seeing now, and which many find an inefficient use of land that could damage the unique character of our area, is largely a result of the existing comprehensive plans.
The counties, in contrast, have recently been in the forefront of developing new comprehensive plans. In Sullivan County, Commissioner of Planning William Pammers Sullivan 2020 process should produce a completed plan in about one year. Pike Countys Comprehensive Plan will be finished by May or June, according to Mike Mrozinski, Pike County director of planning. Wayne County has announced that it intends to start its plan very soon.
But because of the home rule principle mentioned above, the county plans by themselves will not be enough to be effective in handling change. For this reason, at a recent forum organized by the Visioning Committee of the Upper Delaware River Corridor, the planners from Sullivan, Orange and Pike Counties urged town governments to revisit their own comprehensive plans and offered to provide technical assistance to help them do so. They urged residents to become familiar with their towns plan and a part of the rewriting process.
As a first step in this direction, Pammer and Mrozinski will meet with local officials on Friday, February 25 at 9:00 a.m. in the Upper Delaware Council building in Narrowsburg. The session will focus on what the counties can do to help towns and townships develop their own plans. Town and township supervisors, town board members, zoning board members, zoning board of appeals members and code enforcement officers are all invited.
As Julius Caesar remarked in Shakespeares play by the same name: There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries. We here today face such a tide, and we need not be swept away by it if we seize the tools at hand to steer our way into the future.
This editorial is reprinted from The River Reporter, an award-winning news source
for the Upper Delaware.