April 16, 2008: Make or break

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To the Editor:

The Town of Middletown has a once-in-a-century opportunity to turn around its struggling economy and improve the quality of life of every household in the town.  But to do so, the town must take its planning responsibilities seriously. The town last adopted a plan 20 years ago.  Attempts in 1996 and 2001 to update it were abandoned.  Two years ago, towns and villages in the NYC Watershed were each awarded $18,000 to update their comprehensive plans. It was hard enough for the Village of Margaretville to find a certified planner to guide the process (only one applied).  For a large town with three hamlets and two villages and lots of problems and possibilities, the $17,000 budget attracted only one bid last year.  When that planner concluded the budget needed to be doubled, the town planning board issued a new call for bids with a narrower scope—no one bid.  The one firm who I arm-twisted into sending a letter of future interest considers $25,000 the bare minimum for a plan for a small municipality.  Others said $30-50,000.

A minimal effort may be acceptable in ordinary times, but these are extraordinary times. The town is at a crossroads in its fortunes.  It can continue to allow global forces to whipsaw its aging population and hope second home owners and visitors are not deterred by high gas prices and empty storefronts.  Or the town can mobilize all available resources in support of remarkable private initiatives that defy regional trends and hold the promise of a vibrant community in which to live, work and visit. 

My husband, Brian Ketcham, a traffic engineer, and I, an environmental planner, propose to augment the town’s resources with funds we would raise to enable the town planning board to hire an extraordinary planner, Alan Sorenson, whose miracles in Sullivan County have been featured in national journals.  The enhanced plan would provide a coordinated strategy for facilitating critical projects.  The most immediate is a plan to qualify the town and two villages for their share of a $500,000 set aside in the agreement on the Belleayre expansion and resort to make the Route 28 corridor more inviting and functional. No plan; no funds, same tawdry road.

We are blessed with entrepreneurs who are bringing about the rebirth of The Commons, a beautifully rebuilt supermarket, a movie theatre and a new hotel in Margaretville and a community swimming pool and Water Discovery Center in Arkville, topped off by the world class Belleayre Crossroads Resort and Ski Center expansion.  We can either rely on their individual persistence to make these happen or capitalize on their synergy by executing them in a coordinated way with supportive measures in an enhanced Town plan.

Without an enhanced comprehensive plan, no one will tackle our needs, to name a few: acute shortage of affordable housing; demands of an aging population; burdens of being a NYC watershed town; under assessment of property acquisitions by NYC; constraints of flooding and flood regulations; lack of accessible development sites; limited public access to waterways and protected land; paucity of activities for young people, especially teenagers; loss of 18 to 35 year olds as residents; high cost of energy and gas; dependence on unreliable second home owners and tourists; uninviting visual quality of Route 28 and village portals; future of Margaretville Memorial Hospital; and the amorphous identity of the Town of Middletown.

This is not the time to think small. It’s our make or break chance for the town to thrive or barely survive. Let’s not blow it because “we haven’t done it that way before,”

Carolyn Konheim, Margaretville