THE RIVER REPORTER CLIMATE CHALLENGE
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The pause that refreshes

In recent years, the local area has been engaged in a race between escalating development pressures on the one hand, and the drive to preserve the open spaces and rural character that make this an extraordinary place to live on the other. Many local municipalities, including Bethel and Tusten in Sullivan County and Lackawaxen and Shohola in Pike, have been hard at work composing comprehensive plans that will channel this development pressure into “smart growth”—growth that preserves and enhances our natural amenities, rather than destroying them.

But when you’re in a hurry and under pressure, it’s easy to get rushed into mistakes. From this point of view, the Town of Bethel’s recent decision to impose a moratorium on the approval of pending development projects makes eminent sense. The town has completed an extensive and fairly detailed comprehensive plan, but has not yet had time to embody the plan in its codes. As a result, prior to the moratorium, the planning board had no choice but to make decisions according to the existing regulations, which do not, in all respects, reflect the priorities and values of the new plan. Decisions made today will have an impact on the land that will last decades, if not centuries; to approve pending proposals before the regulatory i’s are dotted and t’s crossed would have made little sense.

Such a measured approach is particularly reasonable due to the fact that the real estate market in our area, as elsewhere in the country, has slowed down sharply over the past couple of years. That’s a glass that is half empty from one point of view, but half full from another.

The real estate market has always been cyclical. Slumps don’t last forever, and our area, within close driving distance of the New York metropolitan area, is well positioned to take advantage of the recovery when it occurs. In the meantime, the current slowdown gives us a breathing space in which to get our planning ducks in a row, before the next onslaught of housing demand hits.

Moreover, it’s not at all clear that a huge spate of residential construction would be anything but a burden on the market under current conditions. Home sales in Sullivan County during the three-month period ended May 31 were down 16 percent from the year-ago period, according to realtor David Knudsen on his website www.catskill4sale.com. Although year-over-year comparisons have improved since fall of 2006, conditions are still scarcely robust. The current inventory of unsold homes is about 1,200, meaning that at the sales rate of 147 closings in May, it would take about eight months to work it off. That’s a bit better than the nine-month average for the country as a whole, but still nothing to write home about.

How much could that inventory be increased if approvals of pending proposals were rushed through? Well, in Bethel, for one example, there are roughly 3,750 residential units in the existing stock, according to tax assessor Marguerite Brown. According to the Bethel building department, the total of proposed development units already approved or in the wings to be approved is about 800. In other words, residential units in the pipeline are equal to over 20 percent of the total existing stock in Bethel—and equal to roughly two thirds of the entire existing inventory for sale in the county as a whole. Even granting that it would probably take a couple of years for all these units to come onstream after approval, that’s an awfully big increase—especially since many national analysts feel that the housing slowdown is not yet over. Such an increase in supply, if dumped rapidly into a sluggish market, could put disastrous downward pressure on the prices of existing properties all around the area.

Mark Twain once said, “Buy land. They’re not making it any more.” For that reason, the current housing slowdown is no cause for despair. But the fact that land is irreplaceable also underlines the importance of developing it carefully. That means finishing our comprehensive plans, making sure they embody our vision and our values, and then instantiating them in specific, detailed codes that give our planning boards the tools they need to implement the community’s will.

The current pause in the real estate market is an opportunity to get things right. Let’s use it.


Also in this issue:




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Dr. Punnybone



Bass Ackwards

Letters to the Editor

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The River Reporter welcomes letters on all subjects from its readers. They must be signed and include the correspondent's phone number. The correspondent's name and town will appear at the bottom of each letter; titles and affiliations will not, unless the correspondent is writing on behalf of a group.

Letters are printed at the discretion of the editor. It is requested they be limited to 300 words; correspondents may be asked to cut longer letters. Deadline is 1:00 p.m. on Monday.

Letters can be sent by e-mail to editor@riverreporter.com]


Inaccuracies on Luxton Lake

To the editor:

As a 53-year, part-time Luxton Lake resident, I’ve followed, over the years, all submissions to The River Reporter about our saga, i.e. the loss of our “signature” lake and deterioration of our country clubhouse. The full-page coverage in the June 28 issue, “On the Comeback Road,” by Tom Kane, not only had gross errors, but paragraphs four and nine were to the point of insult. Was this ever proofread for mistakes? Why was not a “historian” consulted?

Here are some of the errors:

The article says the community began in the 1800s, which would be 17- something. This does not reflect our development; the 20th century (19-something) would be more accurate.

Nobel Sissle is an African-American, not a Negro—we’ve been culturally self-defined for decades.

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