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Westerlo comp plan committee has $5K grant suspended but will cruise ahead 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Councilman Joseph Boone, left, sits with Town Clerk Kathleen Spinnatto and Supervisor William Bichteman at a Westerlo Town Board meeting in 2019.

WESTERLO — Among the casualties of the coronavirus pandemic is a $5,000 grant awarded to Westerlo through Hudson River Valley Greenway, a government organization that aims to preserve the aesthetics of the Hudson Valley, but Supervisor William Bichteman suggested that the town has no choice but to cover that cost. 

The grant was awarded in December, Bichteman told the town board at its regular meeting on May 19. But, because of the state’s budget shakeup, that money is “on hold for now,” according to Scott Keller, director of the Hudson River Valley Greenway.

“The Hudson River Valley Greenway remains deeply committed to the grants we have awarded,” Keller told The Enterprise. “The state is facing a $13 billion hole this year, and $61 billion over the next several years, created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need the federal government to provide New York State with the resources to address our pandemic-related revenue loss, and any category where the state doesn’t reduce spending will simply mean deeper cuts in another.”

was established by the state legislature in 1991 to create a process for voluntary regional cooperation among 279 active Greenway Communities within 14 counties that border the Hudson River.

Comprehensive plans are the guiding star for municipalities, whose various boards refer to the plan when casting votes about decisions regarding use of the town’s land and resources. Westerlo’s first comprehensive plan, adopted six years ago, was insufficient and never codified into zoning law. 

The town took steps toward a new plan last year when it formed a nine-member committee that has been meeting since September.

Also in September, Westerlo’s grant writer, Nicole Ambrosio, announced during a town board meeting that the committee was eligible for a $25,000 grant, which the board then decided would be used to pay consultant Chuck Voss, of Barton and Loguidice. However, that grant never materialized, though neither Bichteman, Voss, nor Ambrosio could be reached for an explanation as to why.

“As I see it now,” Bichteman told the town board in the May 19 meeting, “we don’t have choices here. We’re committed to the plan so we’re going to have to pull money from someplace else.”

The money, Bichteman said, could come from two solar farm renewals, at $2,500 each, which would cover the $5,000 gap. Otherwise, there’s interest accrued on invested funds along with a technical grant in the works that would help reduce the cost of developing maps and other such aspects of the process. 

The committee decided at its last meeting, on May 13, to start holding meetings with the public once a week through July 8 to work out areas of concern, namely: agriculture, development, environment, planning and zoning, Lake Onderdonk, and the hamlet. 

“The concern is that, in order to get moving and going forward and trying to get this thing done in a timely manner,” committee Chairman David Lendrum said at the May 13 meeting, “we have to try and find a way to communicate with the community.”

With the coronavirus forcing meetings to be held remotely anyway, residents will now be able to contribute input through videoconferencing. 

Time is of the essence, Bichteman told the town board on May 19, because Westerlo needs a comprehensive plan before it can lift its solar moratorium, which is set to expire this August but will need to be renewed. 

“The recent moratorium is in place to establish guidelines for the alternative energy sources that were proposed to come to town,” Bichteman said. 

“In order to effectively make those zoning changes prior to August of 2021,” Bichteman said later, “the town board has to have this plan in its hands sometime around December of this year … You have to spend that much time to carefully review the document, to make sure the language is right.” 

Currently, the committee is working on putting out a survey that will reach every resident, within reason, and ask them how they feel about certain situations, the results of which will be published as part of the plan. 

In Knox, survey results for its comprehensive plan were critical in a decision to reject Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis’s proposed multi-recreational use district last year. Residents had variously supported and opposed the alteration of zoning to accommodate more businesses in the area. 

 

New member

In addition to the budget transfers, which will be decided on at Westerlo’s next town board meeting on May 28, the town board has to appoint a new member to the comprehensive plan committee to fill a space left by Sue Fancher, who Bichteman said had to leave for personal reasons. 

Lendrum’s suggestions to Bichteman for a replacement were resident Barbara Russell and zoning board of appeals member Guy Weidman. 

Russell, Bichteman said, was selected to be on the committee back when it was formed, but she withdrew her name. 

“She had some personal issues,” Bichteman said, “but she stayed active in the process.” 

The difference between the two, Bichteman said, is that Weidman is more business-oriented while Russell has an agricultural background, adding that they’re both “well-qualified to do the job.” 

Discussion stalled at the May 13 meeting with Councilman Matthew Kryzak unable to participate, since he was not on the town board until Jan. 1 of this year. Bichteman and Councilman Joseph Boone were unable to choose between the two. After the meeting, Amie Burnside told The Enterprise that her preference is Weidman, because she “has a better feel for him as far as how he handles people,” and explained that public interaction is an important aspect of the job.

The board decided to vote on an appointment on May 28 to allow Kryzak time to reach out to the candidates and form an opinion. 

 

More Hilltowns News

  • At its May 28 special meeting, Supervisor William Bichteman broke down the money Westerlo can save from either laying off, furloughing, or reducing the hours of between one and four town employees. 

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