The need for a master plan
By JOHN LIGRECI
We are fortunate to be living in an area that is the envy of many who can only come up for vacation, then have to head back to the congested cities and heavily populated areas where they live. But living in this beautiful rural area also creates the responsibility to preserve that beauty. In order to make that balance work, we need to make sure that all the towns in Sullivan County update or rewrite their master plan and zoning books.
We must keep in mind that if we do not update comprehensive plans, we may create a void in our zoning and be stuck with a high-rise or tenement building or a heavy industrial building that could seriously impact our area. For instance, the borough of Richmond, Staten Island, was similar to our area, but in the 1960s the Verrazzano Bridge was built. Prior to the building of the bridge, there were times when young children would get lost in the woods and people would have to send search teams to find them. After the bridge was built, the growth rate was about 10 percent plus per year.
Because of the poor planning, Staten Island turned from a rural area into an overbuilt community with dense populations. In the 1980s, after a project was permitted to have 283 units per acre and a half, there was talk of rewriting the master plan. When 1990 came around, Staten Island decided on a moratorium and rewrote the comprehensive plan to protect the community. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. Staten Island will never be the beautiful rural area that it once was.
We need to make sure that Sullivan County is protected from weak planning. In order to do so, we must make sure that our planning and zoning achieve a reasonable balance by: a) protecting our communities, b) keeping the area as open as possible and c) encouraging commercial ventures to provide jobs, restricting them to specific zones.
In our area, it will be very hard to maintain a common area of zoning for all the towns. Each town has different needs. Each town needs to determine how much growth it would like to see, based on the current population.
For instance, the Town of Forestburg has fewer than 1,000 residents. Its growth would be more flexible than the Town of Highland, that has more than 2,000 people, or the Town of Lumberland, with fewer than 2000. Where the houses in Forestburg could have five acres per dwelling, Lumberland would have two to five acres per dwelling and the Town of Mamakating, with a population of over 20,000, would need to build on half an acre to one acre.
This is the reason why we need the towns to update their comprehensive plans and zoning.
We need also to look at areas that are residential and those that are commercial. We must make sure that the commercial businesses are in an area that does not depreciate land value. We also need to give businesses a fair shake because they contribute to a strong tax base and provide jobs. In addition, for each residence that is built in our town, the tax that is collected is less than the tax cost for upkeep of the town, county and school, whereas taxes collected from commercial establishments tend to exceed the cost to the town.
We must keep in mind that we, the towns, not the state or county, have the primary responsibility for developing comprehensive plans and effective zoning.
[John J. LiGreci is the Supervisor of the Town of Lumberland, the Chairman of the Sullivan County Association of Supervisors and the Chairman of the Sullivan County Republican Party.]