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Open Space Institute issues report on development

By Fritz Mayer
April 14, 2011

While development in the Catskills is often controversial, a new report from the Open Space Institute (OSI) says there is room for substantial development in the region without causing negative impacts to the environment.

The report, called “Private Lands, Public Benefits,” was discussed at a meeting of the Sullivan County Legislature on April 7. Alan Scott, president of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, said of the report, “What it specifically does is to identify 500,000 acres in the Catskills which could be developed without any negative impact on farmlands and other open space resources.”

He said the report is a “great marketing tool” that can be used to try to attract development to the region and specifically Sullivan County.

The report covers Sullivan, Delaware, Ulster and Greene counties, and says that Sullivan has the greatest opportunity for “preferred growth.” The study shows that, “A full 83% of Sullivan County’s open space resources are in private ownership. The county also contains the greatest percentage (30%) of preferred growth area in the region, much of it concentrated in the center of the county, alongside existing infrastructure, like schools, roads, water and sewer services and emergency facilities.”

A press release about the study quoted Sullivan County planning commissioner Luiz Aragon, who said, “OSI’s study will serve as a blueprint as we consider how to direct sustainable growth in Sullivan County.”

But the study also shows that the county and the region face substantial obstacles in maintaining sustainable development. For instance, the number of people in Sullivan County younger than 60 years of age is expected to decrease by eight percent between 2005 and 2035. The study says, “Population predictions indicate that the region will experience a steep loss of the workforce-aged population (–13%), putting a premium on job creation and retention.”

On the other side of the population ledger, the number of people older than 60 in the county is expected to increase by 44%. The study says, “Developers currently anticipate that need for ‘empty-nester’ and affordable housing for the elderly will drive growth on the fringes of existing urban centers in Ulster and Sullivan counties.”