Hamlet expansion may slow DEP land purchases

By Jay Braman Jr.
Hamlets throughout the Catskills have the chance of expanding their boundaries now that the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has informed the Coalition of Watershed Towns (CWT) of the opportunity.
The DEP’s land acquisition program is not allowed to solicit land within hamlets and is now willing to expand those hamlet areas designated in the 1997 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) by up to one-half mile in every direction.
During the creation of the Watershed’s MOA, which was signed in 1997, local watershed representatives feared the DEP would simply buy the watershed and remove the population to protect water quality. The hamlet designation was a local idea designed to keep the lands within hamlets off limits to the DEP.
At a recent special session on the subject, Shandaken Supervisor Peter DiSclafani said DEP is apparently also amenable to the designation of entirely new hamlet areas within towns, and thus far at least, without any initial preconditions or limitations.
A wide-ranging discussion followed, as people began to ponder what this might mean for planning and zoning and a range of issues…even though DiSclafani was quick to clarify that no such impacts were intended, foreseen, or even possible. All it would mean, he said, is that within these “no-buy” zones, the city would be prohibited from purchasing additional land.

A series of audience comments followed, some relating how the agency had often stretched or strayed from the guidelines restricting it from acquiring lands within the ’97 designated hamlets, thus removing them as future development sites in a bid to protect its water quality.
In the past, such designations have been intensely scrutinized, since any “hamlet” designation could potentially impact planning issues such as zoning, density, setbacks, and access to future municipal services. And although DiSclafani was clear that according to CWT this would only affect future city land purchases, many uncertainties appear to be raised by the possible new precedent.
Most in attendance however, appeared pleased at the new prospect, characterizing the apparent opening a last opportunity to protect such land from future purchase by the city. Some suspect DEP’s rationale for revisiting the issue was that its land acquisition permit was being questioned.
Senior town planner Beth Waterman immediately requested a map showing the six currently designated hamlets, along with new ones showing what they’d look like a hypothetical one-mile-wider. A quick, collaborative, post-meeting read of DEP’s official hamlet map pulled from the supervisor’s office suggested two likely new uber-hamlets in the making, one stretching from Mt.Tremper and Mt. Pleasant through Phoenicia and north to Chichester, another nearly joining Pine Hill, Big Indian, and Shandaken.
In the end, DiSclafani said he’d like to put together a committee to look at the issue in detail and make recommendations to the board. He asked anyone interested in serving to call his office at 688-7165.