The proposal of a 400-unit planned-use development (PUD) in a total of 100 buildings on Feagles Lake has caused a bit of a stir in the Town of Tusten. In a town that currently boasts approximately 1,000 residential units, according to Tusten assessor Ken Baim, this represents an awfully big change in population density in a short period of time, even if most of the purchasers were second-home owners. In a recent survey taken to help develop a comprehensive plan, the most popular reason listed for living in Tusten was its small-town atmosphere, followed by open space and scenery. It could be argued that a plan to build a concentrated community of residences on the shores of a body of water that currently forms an unspoiled natural view from Route 97?the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway?runs counter to that interest.
This newspaper has gone on record repeatedly in emphasizing the economic, ecological and aesthetic importance of open space and rural character. But we also recognize that no growth is simply not a viable position in todays world. We have to be for smart growth, and that means giving serious consideration to any development plan that attempts to take account of environmental concerns. This means abandoning a take-it-or-leave-it, my-way-or-the-highway approach and creating a dialogue between the town and the developer to come up with a way to develop the land that will create the optimum value for all parties.
A development with all the specific parameters proposed by Steve Adler, who owns the lake, at the October 8 meeting of the Tusten Town Board might not be, at present, in the best interests of the town, but it certainly contains interesting provisions that are worth considering further. The basic idea of concentrating residences in smaller areas rather than spreading them out over previously unspoiled land is the only viable alternative to aesthetically and ecologically destructive suburban sprawl. According to Adlers plan, 80 percent of the 380-acre parcel, including the far side of the lake from Route 97 and the ridgeline, would be preserved forever undeveloped (one presumes he is considering a conservation easement). This would minimize the impact both on the viewshed and on the ecological value of the land.
What we have here, in short, is at the very least the starting point of a negotiation. Perhaps 100 buildings are too many. Is there some number that would be acceptable? How about 60 or 40? Would it be possible to build some public trails on the land left undeveloped, as an attraction to tourists and an amenity for the town residents? There is a critical shortage of affordable housing in this area. Would it be possible to grant the proposal on the condition that, say, 20 or 30 percent of the units be designated as affordable housing units? Such a possibility might open up new vistas in terms of the Narrowsburg Central School, closed because of a declining school-aged population.
The approach we are suggesting is not completely new; for the past couple of decades, institutions, such as the Land Use Law Center at Pace Law School, have been developing techniques for conflict resolution in land-use cases, recognizing that the competing interests of developers, construction firms, environmentalists and others can produce counterproductive (even, in the worst case, violent) results. Through its many programs, the center offers lawyers, land use professionals, citizens and developers assistance that enables them to achieve sustainable development at the local and regional level.
If the town does not agree to the plan or change zoning to allow for planned-use developments (PUDs), Adler says he will go back to the drawing board and come up with a standard subdivision proposal. The town would be left with nothing to negotiate and every possibility, except suburban sprawl, eliminated.
Townspeoples objections to the development should not be ignored, but they can be taken into a dialogue whose purpose is to produce a result that provides the broadest benefits to all parties. This type of approach, not only here in Tusten but elsewhere in the area where land-use disputes are becoming increasingly common, could help us handle this precious finite resource in a way that preserves its health and beauty while serving the needs of a growing population.
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As representatives of a nonpartisan governmental advisory board for Sullivan County Public Health Services, we are writing in support of the bipartisan legislation to expand the States Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) that was vetoed on October 3 by President Bush.
Our advisory board is dedicated to ensuring health care for all children, and realize that another vote in the House of Representatives is likely to come during the week of October 15, in its attempt to override the Presidents veto. The Senate already has enough votes, 67, to defeat the veto, so at this time we are appealing to the community to contact Congress to support the renewal of the highly successful State Childrens Health Insurance Program.