Maintaining our environment
By STEVEN SHAROFF
There is no doubt that Sullivan County is one of the most beautiful spots in the United States. Despite the population influx of the past decade and the concomitant building, the county, with its numerous lakes and rivers, plentiful forests and magnificent vistas, remains a veritable woodland paradise. The great question for the future is how to maintain this beauty in light of the business expansion that we so desperately need to reduce our ever-increasing tax burden.
The answer is not simple, given the fights we have seen during the past few years over Kohls and Yukiguni Maitake. Right or wrong, many people simply do not want large businesses where they live. Moreover, the controversy over building large plants is very divisive to small communities and makes apparent the socio-economic split of which residents are aware, but that is not often spoken of in public. Therefore, it becomes imperative that the county and each of our townships have an up-to-date master plan and an educated planning board.
The master plans, even as I write this, are being written, finalized and passed by the county legislature and the town boards. With Sullivan 2020 taking the lead, towns have been given a playbook upon which to base their futures. Contained within Sullivan 2020s published documents is a panoply of needed skills and plans for every contingency. Perhaps some of the most important information concerns the town and county planning boards.
Anyone who has followed the Kohls and Yukiguni controversies, as well as the ongoing debates regarding large-home developments, understands the vital importance of the town planning boards. Made up of a wide cross section of townspeople, these boards have fairly broad powers and can approve or halt most building projects. Needless to say, there is a tremendous amount of pressure brought to bear upon planning board members to rule one way or another on a project that may be disputed. Therefore, the members of the planning boards must know what they are doing. Unfortunately, in many cases and through no fault of their own, without any formal training they can only see whats in front of them in terms of any project. In other words, without being trained by professionals, it is difficult at best to ask the right questions of experienced and sometimes sophisticated developers.
It would appear that the lack of training of most planning board members comes not from a deficiency in their desire to glean information from professionals, but rather from a lack of sizeable projects in Sullivan County over a long period of time. (Note that I use the word most here rather than all. It is my understanding that a number of the planning boards and/or their members have been trained.) Clearly, not having large housing or business designs to deal with means that you dont have to know much about them. The fact that they are few and far between means that you can play them by ear as they infrequently appear before you. However, given the huge surge in all kinds of building projects, this is no longer the case.
It is my firm belief that all planning board members should and must be trained by professionals. Training exists on all levels and, in most cases, is free. Their training is invaluable, not only to the planning board members themselves, but to each of us as individuals, as it may well guarantee the future environmental stability of this place we call home.
(Steven Sharoff is currently the Director of Adult and Continuing Education at Sullivan County BOCES, as well as an Associate Professor of History for both the University of Maryland University College and Cayuga Community College in their online education programs. He resides in Forestburgh.)