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An empty cup of tea…

Olive Comp Plan hearing draws civil crowd

by Jonathan Heppner
August 11, 2011 01:41 PM | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Olive citizens await their turns to speak. Photo by Jonathan Heppner.
Olive citizens await their turns to speak. Photo by Jonathan Heppner.
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If they were in attendance, no “Tea Partiers” made it known at the Monday, August 8 Town of Olive public hearing on the creation of a town-wide comprehensive plan. The crowd that overflowed the town meeting hall, leaving many standing throughout the almost three-hour hearing, remained in control despite the occasional truculent remark and disagreeing murmur.

The presence of police, which had been speculated but is an uncommon sight at public meetings in Olive, was apparent, though they never had to move from the back of the hall.

“I think it went very well, I’m glad the ‘Tea Party People’ didn’t come in here en mass. It would of just disrupted the meeting,” said Olive Supervisor Berndt Leifeld on the buzz that had been stirring locally regarding a possible Tea Party protest at the hearing.

At the start of the meeting, Leifeld took blunt aim at other rumors he claimed had spread through the town. Calling the rumors “offensive,” Leifeld said that older citizens were told that a 200 dollar tax would be put on their chimneys, and that people wouldn’t be allowed to cut down a tree 30 feet or higher. Offering that the rumors were “as crazy as it gets,” Leifeld said that “none of this crap is in here. It isn’t even in our zoning.”

Claiming he had been “accused of it,” Peter Friedel, the lone Republican on the town board, denied being associated with any of the Tea Party buzz or endorsing any personal attacks that had circulated prior to the hearing. Friedel did say, however, that he encouraged public involvement in the process.

In the weeks preceding the hearing, an email blast passed through Kingston Tea Party lists accused the plan of complicity with what is called UN Agenda 21, in which, the email claimed, “UN agenda 21 is coming to the Town of Olive in the form of the town’s new comprehensive plan. The plan is not yet passed, and the town. Dems don’t even want to vote on it until after the fall election.”

Political gadfly Mitchell Langbert of West Shokan, who tried to set up an Olive/Shandaken Tea Party branch a year ago, and was recently ejected from a public hearing in Ulster on a local development involving LEED environmental standards, wrote on his blog that “The explicit aim [of UN Agenda 21]is intensive control of society to preserve the natural environment in its current form, including depopulation of rural areas and concentration of population in urban developments.”

Voices Heard…

The Olive town board on July 12 voted to hold the public hearing on Monday’s date for the purpose of receiving public input from town residents, stakeholders, property owners and business owners on the second draft of the comprehensive plan.

By law the town is only required to hold two such public meetings. Monday’s hearing was the second such meeting on the creation of the plan. The first was held on October 2, 2010, with significantly less attendance than this week’s meeting.

Both residents and board members alike were given the opportunity to express their opinions on the current draft of the plan, with a large number of individuals choosing to do so.

In addition to addressing the rumors that concerned him, Leifeld spoke briefly about why the creation of a comprehensive plan is critical to the town’s ability to receive the grants that are necessary for the town’s economic survival.

“The only way there is any extra money is through grants from the federal or state governments,” Leifeld said. “One of the main questions on the front page of most grants is do you have a comprehensive plan — say no and you’re done.”

Some in the crowed voiced the opinion that they felt there was a lack of public knowledge about the creation and the content of the plan. Others offered concern about what a comprehensive plan would mean for their personal livelihood and property interests within the town and how to best obtain a town-wide vision for the future of Olive.

Olive resident Dean McGee said that a survey should have been conducted to combat many of these concerns, saying, “one mass mailing to let everyone know, to make sure everyone knows what going on, and make sure they all have an opportunity to write something — I think it’s a shame that it didn’t happen and I think it should happen moving forward, because even this isn’t enough to have it truly be a shared vision.”

Local business owner Lauri Kennedy, whose family owns the Cracker Mill Hearth and Emporium, asked the board to be thoughtful regarding the importance of local business during the process.

Olive landowner Mike Paccione expressed his concern that Olive was becoming a “one generation community,” in which young people are leaving the area because of a lack of job opportunities. Paccione further offered, “If we want to see this community grow, better yet survive, we better do something in this plan to help businesses.”

At meeting’s end, the future of the comprehensive plan remained unclear, as there is no set deadline for its completion. The town board, in addition to comments received Monday, will accept written comments on the current plan up to August 26. The board, along with hired consultants Rudikoff Associates, will take those comments into consideration while creating a third draft of the plan that, upon completion, will be available to the public prior to another public hearing. Initial funding for the creation of the plan was received in the form of a $50,000 grant from the Catskill Watershed Corporation.

Written comments can be sent to olivesupervisor@hvc.rr.com, or to the town offices by mail. The most updated version of the draft is available on the town’s website, www.town.olive.ny.us/, at the town library and at the town clerk’s office. ++

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