In its current, draft form, the plan calls for a WLC official to participate in the monthly meetings of the town’s Safety and Insurance Committee, whose members currently include the supervisor, deputy supervisor, town clerk, highway superintendent, building inspector, police chief, and maintenance department supervisor. Members of the public who wish to bring a Comeau-related matter to the attention of the committee may do so by filing a request with the supervisor’s office for time on the meeting agenda. (See accompanying text of the stewardship plan in its entirety.)
By a vote of 4 to 1, the Town Board at a special meeting on January 25 approved Rosenblum’s draft plan, with the understanding that it could be modified following a review by a town attorney and the WLC, the town’s partner in overseeing a deed of conservation easement governing the use of the Comeau property. Councilman Jay Wenk, who had fashioned a competing proposal for the creation of a stewardship plan, cast the dissenting vote.
WLC officials, including the organization’s executive director, John Winter, and its president, Kevin Smith, attended the meeting. Said Smith in a January 26 interview, “It’s premature to say too much before the Conservancy and our attorney, Jeff Siegel, have had a chance to review the town’s preliminary, draft submission, which it has proffered to us for our comments and suggestions. As with all things pertaining to the Comeau easement, we will endeavor to provide our very best thinking and recommendations. We are appreciative of the community’s involvement and engagement and encourage community members to stay engaged in the process of developing a stewardship plan for the Comeau property.”
Rosenblum was charged with developing the stewardship plan in her capacity as the head of the Town Board’s subcommittee on land use. (She is also Woodstock’s deputy supervisor.) An amendment to the easement agreement, which the town and the WLC adopted in November 2009, stipulated that within 18 months, or by May 2011, the town would create a stewardship plan for its long-term oversight of the property. A protracted lawsuit had delayed the implementation of the easement after voters approved the measure in a 2003 referendum.
Critics, citing Rosenblum’s allegedly tepid support of the easement, expressed doubt as to whether she would either produce a stewardship plan by the May deadline or devise a plan that provided for public input on decisions concerning the Comeau property.
In statements before the January 25 meeting, Rosenblum favored the appointment of a Comeau oversight committee consisting only of elected officials, who, she observed, are directly accountable to taxpayers. In contrast, Wenk’s proposal — which had no official status, as the Town Board never considered it for adoption — posited the specific formation of a committee to develop a stewardship plan. The committee would include members of the public who are regular users of the Comeau property. Such a structure, he maintained, would provide an “interface” between town officials and the public.
Town’s unique position
In the end, Rosenblum’s plan incorporated a vehicle for public participation in Comeau-related matters. In addition, she said in a January 26 interview, an expanded Safety and Insurance Committee should streamline the decision-making process. “Everybody with an interest or responsibility will be present at the same time, so we won’t have to meet over and over. It’s a real-time structure,” she said. “The reason I didn’t accept Jay Wenk’s version is because I couldn’t find anything in the easement or the amendment about a (stewardship) committee, although we could create one in the future, if necessary.” (Indeed, neither the Comeau easement nor the accompanying amendment refers to a stewardship committee.)
By her account, Rosenblum’s development of the draft stewardship plan was largely a solitary effort. Although she had previously consulted with Winter of the WLC on the creation of “protocols” for the referral of Comeau matters to his organization, she did not meet with WLC officials about the stewardship blueprint, beyond calling the Conservancy with routine questions. At the suggestion of the WLC, however, Rosenblum contacted representatives of other land conservancies with experience in conservation easements.
The councilwoman declined to identify those individuals or organizations. “I promised not to name them because they were so open with me,” she said. “I know that it puts me in a poor light, but I don’t want their names in the paper.” In particular, said Rosenblum, she sought guidance from officials who were familiar with what she called Woodstock’s unusual position under the Comeau easement, whereby the town remains the owner and manager of the property, while the WLC is responsible for enforcing the terms of the easement.
Typically, she said, a land conservancy is responsible for both the management of the property governed by an easement and any financing related to the property’s maintenance. In contrast, under the Comeau easement the town is responsible for the costs of maintenance and improvements, such as the planned expansion of the soccer fields on the property. “That’s the position our town is in,” he said. “Woodstock is unique. We need to address the issue of finances, so it’s a different world that we have to work with.”
The councilwoman noted that some problems can be solved through spontaneous action by town officials. Last summer, for example, a resident informed Rosenblum that someone was grilling food for sale to the public, and vending tickets to a soccer game, at the Comeau property. Rosenblum went to the site and informed the individual that his activities were prohibited by the easement. When he persisted, she called the police, who resolved the situation. “That is an example of why you don’t always have to go to a meeting to fix things that you know should not be happening,” she said.
In a related development at the January 25 session, the Town Board scheduled a special meeting for noon on Tuesday, February 8, at the Comeau Drive offices, at which WLC representatives will review the organization’s Baseline Documentation Report (BRD) on the Comeau property with board members. The BDR contains maps, photographs, and other documentation of the current features of the property, thus providing a basis for comparison when future actions are contemplated or executed.
Community Center improvements
The board also passed two resolutions relating to proposed improvements of the Community Center. The first resolution authorized the transfer of up to $50,000 from an existing building capital reserve fund to a capital project fund dedicated specifically to the center, in order to pay architectural fees and other “soft costs” involved in the building’s proposed renovation. The Town Board must approve any such expenditures, which would also be subject to permissive referendum. The second resolution provides for bonding up to $450,000 for the proposed project, which could proceed only with voter approval in a townwide referendum. Board members including Cathy Magarelli emphasized that, for them, a renovation of Town Hall remained a higher priority than improvements to the Community Center. Wenk voted against both resolutions, voicing opposition to the proposed expenditures at a time when, he said, the town is considering cutbacks in employee benefits as a way to save money.++
Editor’s note: Here is the complete text of the draft accepted by the Town Board on January 25.
Town of Woodstock Stewardship Plan
The Town of Woodstock will endeavor to maintain the current status of the Comeau Property, within the fiscal constraints of the annual Town budget. The Town will continue to accommodate the use of the Property, within the constraints established by the Easement, including continuation of the legal use of the Comeau Property by the municipal government, the Woodstock Historical Society, hikers, dog walkers, soccer teams, local farmers, and others.
The Town will continue to perform maintenance on the trails to maintain public safety and minimize erosion damage. The Town will continue to permit a local farmer to maintain and mow the Stan Longyear Meadow, and will continue to allow children to use the Sledding Hill for sledding during the snowy winter months.
Specific uses of, activities on, and maintenance of The Property shall be governed by standards, specific procedures and directives, and other guidance set forth in the Stewardship Plan for the Comeau as stated in the “First Amendment to Deed of Conservation Easement,” Section 5.04. The expenditure of taxpayer money for any reason concerning the Easement can only be approved by the Town Board at a regular, public Town Board meeting. The representative of the Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC) and the representative of the Town of Woodstock have met and agreed on written protocols for submission of all plans to the WLC, in accordance with the Easement. All requests from members of the public concerning impacts or changes to the Comeau property must pick up a form from either the Town Clerk or the Supervisor’s office. It must be completed and submitted to the Supervisor’s office for review and submission to the WLC. At the request of the WLC, all forms must go through this process and the WLC has asked that no one go directly to the WLC with questions or submissions.
The Stewardship Management Plan may be reviewed and updated from time to time. The Supervisor will notify the WLC of all meetings concerning the Stewardship Plan. Meetings shall be called by the Supervisor when there is a reason to meet.
The Stewardship Plan will address the constant and ever changing uses of the Comeau at the monthly meeting of the Town’s Safety and Insurance Committee, the membership of which includes the Town Supervisor, the Deputy Supervisor or alternate, the Town Clerk or alternate, the Superintendent of Highways or alternate, the Building Inspector/Safety Officer/Code Enforcement Officer or alternate, Chief of Police and the head of the Maintenance Department. By weaving together the presence of the WLC and the town at these meetings, both entities will hear requests from members of the public for usage of or changes to the property. Both the Town and the WLC will address the protection of the Comeau at the same meeting, avoiding unnecessary follow-up meetings. The Executive Director for the Woodstock Land Conservancy or a designated WLC alternate will be given timely notice to attend these meetings.