NARROWSBURG, NY — Managing conservation and development can be a tricky business, especially in an area like the Upper Delaware River, where development is often tied to the land’s scenic …
NARROWSBURG, NY — Managing conservation and development can be a tricky business, especially in an area like the Upper Delaware River, where development is often tied to the land’s scenic qualities.
The Upper Delaware Council (UDC) convened its project review committee on May 25 to embark on that management, with resources and land use specialist Kerry Engelhardt presenting the UDC’s review of enforcement programs in the corridor for 2021.
There were 126 permits, variances and similar licenses issued during 2021 in 12 of the 13 towns and townships that lie within the UDC’s jurisdiction. Those communities range from Hancock to Deerpark on the New York side of the river and from Damascus to Westfall in PA. (The figure excludes Highland, which had not submitted its numbers by May 25.)
The vast majority of this development took place in three towns: Lackawaxen, Tusten and Damascus.
Lackawaxen Township approved 84 projects in the river corridor throughout 2021. Many of those were minor improvements, said Engelhardt; only four new single family homes were built. Nineteen short-term rentals were approved, as well as 11 sheds, 11 accessory dwellings and 14 decks.
Tusten issued 20 building permits in 2021 in the river corridor, half of them for renovations and/or alterations. It issued four Class II special-use permits in the hamlet of Narrowsburg, the only such permits issued throughout the corridor. Those permits were issued for the conversion of a building from restaurant to retail use, which became the specialty store Tinker and Nidge; operating a gunsmithing home business; installing signage at the Narrowsburg Union; and creating new residential and commercial buildings at 14 and 26 Erie Ave., across from the Narrowsburg Union.
Damascus had 12 projects within the river corridor in 2021. Only one of those was reviewed as a variance. That project aimed to build a new home in the footprint of one destroyed by fire in 2014; it was approved by Damascus and by the UDC, and the National Park Service (NPS) has yet to make a determination.
The UDC also reviewed a proposed set of zoning ordinances from the Town of Tusten, with a particular eye toward the conservation of the viewshed of the Upper Delaware River.
These ordinances had been reviewed by the UDC previously, and had been publicized throughout Tusten at a public hearing held on April 12.
Concern had arisen at that public hearing about the inclusion of commercial camping within the scenic river district, an area of Tusten’s zoning map that adjourns the Delaware River. Speaking with the River Reporter, consultant Peter Manning said that the term “commercial” was used only because a fee could be charged for a campsite, and that the use was low-density, limited to one campsite per five acres.
The UDC largely agreed with Manning’s presentation, suggesting only that the town remove RV parking from its proposal for allowed uses.
The town and the UDC differed over a proposal to allow day care centers within the scenic river district—the UDC suggested limiting such facilities by the number of children served, where the town prefered to leave such projects for review based on their square footage—and over a proposal to include communication towers within the scenic river district.
Tusten proposed including communications towers as a special use within the recreational river district. As the council understood the language of the River Management Plan (RMP), the plan the UDC and the NPS use in their management of the river corridor, communication towers were not encouraged, and projects to include communications towers in the corridor had been opposed by the NPS on previous occasions.
NPS representative Cody Hendrix equivocated concerning the NPS’ policy. On the one hand, said Hendrix, NPS officials could perform a balloon test to see if they could see a proposed tower from the surface of the river. If they couldn’t see it, and it provided a service that helped people, they couldn’t say no.
On the other, they wanted to preserve the integrity of the river viewshed, and would more than likely say no to any communications tower project proposed. “It’s a yes and it’s a no on both sides.”
While the UDC acknowledged the need to protect the integrity of the landscape, it weighed preservation needs against the safety benefits of having a communication tower along the river; cell phone coverage is sketchy along the Delaware River, and having a communications tower to extend coverage could help people contact emergency services.
“Maybe we gotta look at a tower once in a while to keep people safe,” said Deerpark representative Bill Dudko.
The council agreed to have Engelhardt examine the language in the RMP concerning communication towers and to have Hendrix and the project review committee examine whether the UDC and the NPS could establish guidelines for communication tower projects in the river corridor, “factor[ing] in the responsibilities for protecting scenic values and providing public safety.”
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