Communities seeking best way to spend $500,000 in local "smart growth" money

Funds are targeted to improvements along Route 28

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Catskill Center for Conservation and Devel-opment is trying to form a new alliance between several communities along the Route 28 corridor to hash out ideas for how to use a $500,000 state-fund earmarked for the area.
Catskill Center representative Peter Manning said Monday that the state has committed to providing $500,000 for a Central Catskill Mountains Smart Growth Program to support improvement projects that retain the vibrancy of the hamlets, villages, and town centers along the Route 28 corridor, specifically in the towns of Andes, Middletown, Olive and Shandaken, and the villages of Fleischmanns and Mar-garetville.
Manning said the Catskill Center is not in charge of the money, but wishes to convene a group made up of representatives from these communities and facilitate a regional dialogue. He said the communities might want to discuss possible methods to leverage the funds and put them to the best use. The funds, he said, are under the control of the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
“Our organization has no control how the state is going to handle those moneys,” he said.
The smart growth fund is identified in the Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park Agreement in Principle as one of the commitments to the region that will be made by the state. With or without the Catskill Center, any local group, organization, business or government can apply for money from the fund, which would be handed out by the DEC in the form of grants.
The agreement states that the projects eligible for such grants include streetscape amenities, Main Street improvements, landscaping, affordable housing and enforcement of sign regulations.
Manning believes the state will pay more attention to an application for use of the funds that is prepared by a group of municipalities rather than individual governments competing against one another for the funds.
The connection between all these entities, manning said, is the highway.
“New York State Route 28 is the major thoroughfare of the central Catskill Mountains offering the traveler a unique experience of mountain scenery and clear waterways, complemented by historic hamlets – and it is the combination of resources that gives the region much of its scenic and community character and is vital to the region’s economy,” he said.
He said that Route 28 passes through the heart of Catskill park, a resource created by an act of the state legislature in 1904 and now encompassing approximately 700,000 acres, about half of which are lands of the forest preserve and held in the public trust.
“These six Central Catskills municipalities share many of the region’s unique resources and can mutually benefit by exploring cooperative ap-proaches, engaging in intermunicipal discussions and identifying collective strategies and actions that support and enhance such shared resources,” Manning said.
He hopes that all government representatives consider joining what he called the “Central Catskills Col-laborative” to work together through a bottom-up process that builds on local goals and objectives and engages in a regional dialogue focused on protecting and promoting the scenic, cultural, historic, and economic well-being of the Route 28 Corridor and the Central Catskills.