Shandaken planners fear NYC's new flood buyout plan
By Jay Braman Jr.
The Shandaken Planning Board is expected to take a long-hard look at the details of a controversial plan to allow the City of New York to buy homes and businesses in local hamlets and villages.
At the June meeting of the planning board, rookie member Alan Shiner brought the matter up after reading about it in the Catskill Mountain News earlier that same day. “I think this is going to be very dangerous for our area,” Shiner warned.
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) program, Shiner said, has earmarked a minimum of $15 million dollars to acquire properties from willing sellers whose homes are currently located in dangerous flood zones in the Catskill and Delaware watersheds, a vast territory covering parts of Ulster, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie and Sullivan counties. What it buys, the city will offer localities the opportunity to take over and own as long as they only be utilized as green space or recreational lands from then on.
This program will not compete with FEMA buyout programs. Properties that don’t fit into the FEMA buyout would be eligible under the city’s buyout.
But the buyouts will proceed only with local municipal support, Shiner noted, and that’s where the planning board comes in.
Shiner, the only planner familiar with the plan, wants the board to review it at their July 2 session.
He said that, using a rough estimate of the average home going for $200,000 these days, the City has enough cash right now to pick up about 75 dwellings.
“These will be taken off the tax rolls, converted to grass and totally upset any planning that we would have, say, in the hamlet of Pine Hill,” he said. “If there’s anybody that sells out, your next door neighbor’s gonna be gone.”
Most of the board vaguely recalled the 1997 Memorandum of Agreement between the City and Watershed dwellers; a deal that spelled out where and where not the City could buy property. Details of that arrangement where important to Watershed folk at the time, with local officials pointing to the massive land grabs made by the City in the early to mid 20th Century.
Fearing nothing less than complete depopulation of the region, locals forced the City to agree to only purchase vacant land in parcels larger than 10 acres and only from willing sellers. The deal also identified borders, prepared by local officials, surrounding hamlets in which anything inside was declared hands off to the City no matter what.
But this new flood buyout program, said planner Joanne Kalb, appears to allow the City entry into those “no buy zones” and seems to violate the spirit of that 1997 agreement.
With that in mind, Board Chair Don Brewer, agreed they should weigh in. “As a planning board let’s look into this,” he said.
After review, the planners will develop an official opinion as to whether the Town of Shandaken should participate in the program or not and submit it to the town board, which ultimately makes the decision.