One resident denounced the 495-word draft as an embarrassment to Rosenblum, Woodstock supervisor Jeff Moran, and the town. Another, employing more measured language, voiced concerns about the document in an e-mail exchange with Moran. The Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC) sought to clarify provisions of the Comeau easement, while Rosenblum, in an interview, detailed the process she followed in creating the plan and defended the result. (See several letters to the editor in the Feedback section of this issue for reactions to the plan. The entire text of the plan appeared in the January 27 issue.)
With the understanding that the document was a draft and therefore subject to modification, the board at its January 25 meeting accepted the plan by a vote of 4 to 1 and submitted it to the town’s special counsel for Comeau-related matters, Steven Barshov, for review. An amendment to the Comeau easement required the town to create a stewardship plan for its long-term management of the 76-acre property by May of this year. The WLC, which is responsible for enforcing the easement but has no authority to veto or alter the stewardship plan, is preparing a response to Rosenblum’s draft.
Critics of Rosenblum’s document cited its brevity, comparing it unfavorably with a 40-page plan adopted by the Buffalo suburb of Amherst, N.Y., for that town’s management, under a municipal conservation easement, of a 1,200-acre park; the plan’s allegedly narrow scope; and its provision for an advisory committee that would consider questions and problems pertaining to the use of the Comeau property and submit findings and recommendations to the Town Board.
In a February 2 interview Rosenblum responded to the criticism, including the charge, leveled by resident Jay Cohen in a January 26 e-mail to Rosenblum and Moran, that the draft plan was an embarrassment. Cohen, noting that the plan was produced 14 months after the easement was signed, in November 2009, disparaged the document as “the work of amateurs, having very weak content and poor quality.”
In rebuttal Rosenblum reported that she began work on the stewardship plan around April 2010, having previously corresponded with the WLC and reviewed its recommendations, including a referral to Amherst’s agreement with the Western New York Land Conservancy as a worthy example of a municipal conservation easement. The councilwoman said that she was unable to obtain a copy of that easement, which was unavailable online and could not be obtained from Amherst officials, who failed to respond to two written requests.
Rosenblum said that she discussed another town’s easement with local officials and also had numerous contacts with a state legislator who she described as “deeply involved” in conservation work. “We spent many days talking; it wasn’t just one phone call. She explained the situation in which dual entities are involved — legislators are involved in an easement,” said Rosenblum, who described such circumstances as akin to those she faces as an elected official charged with the management of a property under a conservation easement. The councilwoman declined to identify the individuals or localities that contributed to her research.
While the plan that she presented to the Town Board comprised only a page and a half of text, her original draft exceeded 30 pages, said Rosenblum. “I learned that less is indeed more because every word I added could mean something different to everyone involved and could be misinterpreted,” she said. “I tried to eliminate the fluff and get down to the bare bones. The number of pages was never a concern. I wanted to focus on the essentials. The stewardship plan can also be changed at any time. It’s a place to start from.”
Committee advisory body
Rosenblum’s plan envisions the town’s Safety and Insurance Committee (SIC) as an advisory body that would consider Comeau-related matters as they arise. In addition to elected and appointed town officials who already serve on the committee, a WLC representative would attend the group’s monthly meetings and participate in its deliberations. Members of the public could bring matters to the committee’s attention by requesting a place on the meeting agenda through the supervisor’s office.
The current members of the SIC are the supervisor, deputy supervisor, town clerk, and highway superintendent, who are elected officials, and the building inspector, police chief, and maintenance department supervisor, who are appointed town employees.
Rosenblum brushed aside the concern — expressed by longtime local resident and volunteer Susan Goldman in a recent e-mail to Moran and the other Town Board members (and in a letter that appears in this issue of Woodstock Times) — that the committee lacks a member with a formal background in ecology. Goldman suggested in an e-mail that either a member of the advisory Woodstock Environmental Commission (WEC) or “an at-large appointed expert with a deep background in land/water issues” might fill that role.
“We don’t need an ecology expert on the committee,” said Rosenblum, who also serves as the town’s deputy supervisor. “The town and the WLC together will deal with problems that arise, hiring experts if needed. The fear that we’re doing something nefarious — I can’t deal with that kind of nonsense, which is ridiculous. If the WLC is going to be at the table, why, out of fear, would anyone else be needed? If there is a major violation of the easement, the WLC will know about it because this is a partnership in which our combined job is to maintain the Comeau property according to the terms of the easement.”
‘…not a public meeting’
Only Moran responded to e-mails in which Goldman cited concerns about Rosenblum’s plan, much of which related to the SIC’s composition, authority to make decisions, and meeting procedures including the public posting of meeting dates and times and the publication of minutes from meetings. A printout of the ensuing electronic exchange between the supervisor and Goldman, which ranged from Comeau-related subjects in particular to the function of town government in general, ran to nearly four single-spaced pages. (Goldman, who is a member of the volunteer civic organization Woodstock Our Town, forwarded the correspondence to this reporter at his request).
In his initial response Moran addressed in turn each of the points raised by Goldman, noting, for example, that the monthly SIC session was “intragovernmental in nature and not a public meeting,” as distinct from the meetings of the Town Board and most advisory boards and commissions, which are conducted in public and frequently televised.
The supervisor listed the following ways in which a member of the public can express environmentally based concerns about the Comeau property: contact the supervisor or another Town Board member, sign up to speak during the public comment section of Town Board meetings, or request a spot on the meeting agenda of the Town Board, the WEC, or the SIC, depending on the nature of the concern.++
Hold that line: Opponents seek freeze on Community Center funding
A recent resolution by the Woodstock Town Board to earmark funds for a renovation of the Community Center has encountered opposition from residents who have launched a petition drive aimed at blocking the board’s proposed transfer of up to $50,000 from a building reserve fund to a newly created account.
The board authorized the funds transfer on January 25, subject to a permissive referendum, whereby opponents have 30 days in which to present a petition to the Town Board containing the signatures of a specified minimum number of qualified residents — specifically, 5 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election. In Woodstock that translates to approximately 150 signatures, said Ken Panza, a coordinator of the current petitioning effort.
If a valid petition is presented before the deadline expires, the board’s resolution must be submitted to a townwide vote. The resolution otherwise becomes effective after 30 days. Meanwhile, Panza and other opponents have been circulating copies of their petition by hand at public places around town and by contacting like-minded friends and associates.
If the resolution withstands the petition drive, the funds in question would be applied to architectural fees and other preparatory “soft costs” related to a renovation and expansion of the nearly century-old edifice on Rock City Road, which is reportedly energy inefficient and possibly structurally unstable. Said town supervisor Jeff Moran, alluding to the resolution in a January 31 e-mail, “This is meant to be for a complete set of bidding documents — plans and specifications — so that we can determine the costs involved, initiate fund-raising efforts, and seek grant funding sources.”
The proposal to refurbish the building comes at a time when the town is simultaneously contemplating the renovation of another decrepit building that it owns, Town Hall, which houses three municipal departments in cramped, unsafe quarters. Plans for a scaled-down renovation of Town Hall, at a cost less than the $1.6 million authorized by voters in 2007, are under way.
One likely effect of the Town Hall project would be the displacement of Performing Arts of Woodstock, a longtime tenant of Town Hall’s main room, into which the justice court would expand. In that scenario, PAW would presumably move its theatrical productions to a renovated Community Center, which would also serve other needs, such as providing shelter in inclement weather for participants in the town’s Summer Recreation Camp.
(From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 5, at Town Hall, 76 Tinker Street, councilman Bill McKenna will host a community “open house” at which he will present updated plans for the proposed Town Hall renovation.)
“We’re essentially establishing a debate about the Community Center, the debt for the town, and whether to do anything to the Community Center before renovating Town Hall; the whole subject of what to do with buildings in Woodstock,” said Panza, a community activist who ran unsuccessfully for a Town Board seat in 2009.
Panza said that the petitioners’ goal was to collect about 300 signatures, or twice the minimum number, as a cushion against challenges to the document’s validity. Should the Town Board reject the petition on a “technicality,” he added, the opponents of the resolution are prepared to file an Article 78 lawsuit challenging the measure.
Bond referendum may be needed
Also at the January 25 meeting, the Town Board passed a related resolution that authorized the expenditure, if necessary, of up to $450,000 from the newly created Community Center Capital Project account. The funds would accrue from the sale of bond anticipation notes, bonds or other sources, including private donations. Such an outlay would be subject to a new townwide referendum. The funds involved would be unrelated to the bonding for Town Hall that voters approved in the 2007 referendum.
“Ideally, we will not have to bond for a dime, but can effect this (Community Center) project through grants and donations,” said Moran in the January 31 e-mail. “If we did need to go for a bond to cover all or part of the costs, we would need to craft a very specific bonding resolution and bring it before the voters for approval in a townwide referendum.”++