New Group and Update

As we wrap up the old year 2006, I wish we could know with more certainty what the new 2007 will bring!

Some of you have already read about the creation of two groups to deal with aspects of our community's economic future.

The first, S.W.E.E.T. (Sustainable Wawarsing- Ellenville Economic Taskforce), was formed to focus on the positive ways our village and town can promote greater economic self-sufficiency through a more self-reliant emphasis on local production, local ownership, and local financing of businesses. We have the desire and means to maintain and expand our existing local businesses, and the talent and ability to GROW new local businesses that will meet OUR needs and keep more dollars circulating within the community, instead of leaking to absent owners to import what we can produce and provide for ourselves.

The second, W-E-R-D (Wawarsing-Ellenville for Responsible Growth), was more recently created to address a particular concern rather than have S.W.E.E.T.'s broader purpose get mired in a single issue. That issue, the possible arrival of a Wal-Mart SuperCenter in Napanoch, is still an unknown, and now more so, since the principal owner of the Napanoch Mall has been ORDERED by Wal-Mart and/or his attorney (who happens to be Ellenville's mayor) to not speak to anyone (not even just the media, but ANYONE!) about the pending deal! Yes, here in America, an octogenarian lawyer and developer, who was honored by President Truman for helping the US war effort during the 40s, has been gagged, lest he reveal any more information to a public that would be greatly affected by such a decision.

Is that scary, or what? I tried to speak with Mr. Tso, and begged him to give us some more time to finalize and present a viable plan to re-develop the Napanoch Mall, but he cut me off with the repeated admonition that he was TOLD not to speak with ANYONE. He sounded truly frightened. I tried to explain that in just one day of making calls, I'd already spoken with THREE owners/CEOs of smaller, Ames-sized department stores/chains in NY State, two of whom have, between them, re-opened more than half a dozen closed Ames stores to provide those communities with the appropriately-sized store they wanted and needed; hence, there was a better alternative to letting a huge, and clearly bullying, megacorp control Wawarsing's economic destiny. That's as far as I got. The draft contract that was on his desk was supposed to be signed by the 15th... we still don't know if it has been to date.

I have asked the Wawarsing Town Board to urgently consider passing a 2-6 month moratorium on all planning board applications from big-box retailers, so that it may catch its breath and review whether the current zoning/planning/comprehensive plan protections are strong enough to deal with this never-before-experienced scale of development.

The Board can then see how other communities have dealt with this situation, and decide whether the potential negatives of such a development might outweigh the positives.

I further suggested that they use the time to consider one or more of the following zoning additions:

- an economic & community impact analysis to be triggered by any single construction greater than a certain size (other communities have used figures ranging from 30,000 to 90,000 sq.ft.), to be done by an independent consultant chosen by the Town, paid for by the developer/applicant, with the burden on the applicant to prove that its arrival would not have adverse effects on the jobs, businesses, traffic, pollution, noise, services, etc., of the Town or Village;

- a size cap, or ban on any single retail structure larger than a certain size (again this varies, but many start with 50,000 sq.ft... a Wal-Mart SuperCenter could be between 100,000 - 250,000 sq.ft.), unless a variance is granted by the Town/Planning/Zoning Boards, and the Village Board, if it can be shown that a Town-based store could adversely affect Village businesses;

- a ban on any chain/formula stores beyond a set number, unless it can be shown that no local stores could provide similar products or services (New Paltz has drafted such a ban for chains with more than five stores).

It is critical that the moratorium be initiated BEFORE an application is filed; although legal precedent has allowed such moratoria to be passed after applications have been filed, being pro-active is a safer, less costly strategy, particularly with a deep-pocket corporation that likes to sue or threaten suits to get its way. Please contact the Town Supervisor and members of the Town Board and urge them to pass this emergency moratorium at the next meeting. I provided the Town Attorney with sample documents, as passed by other communities, and hope to have a draft moratorium suitable for passage in time to get on the next meeting's agenda.

I've established two separate sets of online sites, one for S.W.E.E.T. and one for W-E-R-D. Each set has a website, blog, and interactive forum. Both are still being developed, and will have links to useful information provided by others who have been down these roads before. Go to either http://wawarsing.us for S.W.E.E.T. or http://w-e-r-d.org for W-E-R-D and follow the links.

Finally, W-E-R-D is planning its first organizational meeting this Thursday, December 28th, at 7:00 PM in the Village. This is not designed to be a public presentation, but a preliminary step to those. Only those truly interested in being active in this potential campaign are asked to attend. Please contact me for the location and further information. Although we expect to have representation there from local businesses that would be directly affected, plus community activists and labor representatives, our goal is to have a diverse representation from many facets of the community, particularly those who can see how this would have a huge impact on the quality of our lives and the future of our economic well-being.

Wishing you a Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

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