The last anyone gave lip service to the forsythia and other hedgerow bushes along Mill Hill Road in front of the Woodstock Playhouse property was about a year ago.
At that time, it seemed that the chief sticking point for approval of the Woodstock Commons affordable housing development before the town in recent years would be traffic concerns regarding Playhouse Lane’s intersection with Mill Hill, otherwise known as State Route 212. And Playhouse Executive Director Joan Roberts was saying that as far as her institution’s lawyers were concerned, that hedgerow, and the berm upon which it sat had been grandfathered into being Playhouse property, given that both had been there for about three quarters of a century.
Then the state Department of Transportation came in at 8 a.m. this past Monday, November 2, and took out two thirds of the hedge and its underlying berm.
“They claimed the bushes were on state property from the intersection between 212 and Playhouse Lane headed east for two thirds of their way,” Roberts said this week, still hopping mad about her Monday morning surprise. “They claimed there had been complaints and that the hedge and berm were impeding drivers’ sight lines.”
Roberts added that the actual DOT workers who took out the questioned hedge were perfectly civil, and dug up the bushes with their root systems intact, replanting them along the Playhouse’s Playhouse Lane property line.
But that didn’t stop her from firing off a series of calls and e-mails about the situation, including contact with Playhouse attorneys at Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in New York City, who had advised her about the possibility of a grandfathered situation when possible removal of the hedge first came up earlier this year.
“Well, congratulations to DOT, the Town Board, RUPCO, engineers Brinnier and Larios and everyone else who had a hand in this debacle. You have taken a perfectly safe intersection with decent sight lines and turned it into the worst intersection in town,” was Roberts’ first e-mail to town officials, RUPCO management, state officials and her own board members. “With all the clearing away of the Playhouse berm, you’ve created a de facto parking strip along 212 for all the stores opposite the Playhouse…You now have to pull out onto Route 212 in order to see any on coming traffic — shortly before you get hit, of course! I think I would be worried about law suits…”
Almost immediately Roberts received a reply from Woodstock board member Jay Wenk noting how such parking was illegal, but the town’s police seemed reluctant to do anything about the situation.
“DOT has, with the help of other Boards and Agencies created a situation far worse and more dangerous than whatever they think (if that’s the right word) existed before,” Wenk added.
No parking signs?
The next morning, Rural Ulster Preservation Company Director of Community Development Guy Kempe, point person for the Woodstock Commons’ project, blasted a reply to all Roberts contacted, noting how, “It came as news to me that DOT had scheduled the work to correct the sight distance at this intersection. The last I heard, the Playhouse was collaborating with DOT to find a solution to planning board concerns about traffic safety there… I wonder if the new concerns Joan raises about parallel parking on the north shoulder of Rte 212 could be addressed with ‘no parking’ signs.”
“I’ll have to get back to you about the berm, which was totally the call of the DOT,” noted town supervisor Jeff Moran later Wednesday, when asked fort a comment on the brewing storm.
Roberts said her previous lawyer found through VLA in the city had moved on and she’d have to find new legal counsel. But she had been advised to watch what she said publicly.
“Is it possible this is all in preparation for the RUPCO project,” she then asked.
Roberts said she was unsure what to do next. After all, the hedgerows and berm had been moved. What she’d been fearing, and fighting, had happened.
“Does one really own the property one thinks one owns,” she asked. “Big brother said no.”
Tom Storey, of the DOT, who was in charge of the project, was not available for comment, as he had left work at noon Wednesday. ++