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Smart Growth Proposed by Marbletown’s Hamlet Task Force

Marbletown officials held a public workshop Saturday, April 2nd at the High Meadow Performing Arts Center, to present the Draft Hamlet Strategic Plan. Over a hundred people packed the auditorium during the two-hour session, which generated questions from residents focusing their concerns about residential sprawl.

Part of the economic development planning initiative for Marbletown, the draft plan attempts to address challenges to stimulate local economics, improve community life, “while fostering a harmonious balance of preservation and growth,” according to the Marbletown Sustainable Economic Development Task Force’s overview.

“For hamlet retail and service businesses to thrive they need more customers,” reads the draft plan. “That means attracting more residents, especially year‐round residents, to the hamlets. It means strengthening Stone Ridge and High Falls as appealing destinations for local shoppers and visitors.” The entire fifty-page draft is available online at www.marbletown.net.

Town supervisor Brooke Pickering-Cole gave background on the project, introducing the task force members who created the draft. The 16-member task force is chaired by Will Husta, as an offshoot of the planning & zoning committee. Husta furthermore serves as the town’s ZBA chairman. The other members of the task force are all active members of the community, including three town councilpersons.

During the workshop, task force consultant Peter Fairweather spoke briefly about economic trends which affect small towns and hamlets. Next, resident and former town board member Tim Sweeney gave a walk-through of the plan’s major recommendations. Sweeney is also involved in the Rondout Valley Business Association and sits on the task force. Supervisor Pickering-Cole wrapped up the presentation with a discussion of next steps for the plan.

The draft suggests fostering a business model environment; branding and marketing; infrastructure investments such as park & rides, water & sewer improvements; and smart land use / growth planning for the hamlets. While generally progressive in nature, eyebrows were raised by the draft’s “hamlet potential vision map,” which offered a color-coded zone along Routes 213 & 209, labeled as “hamlet housing opportunity.”

A 450-unit residential development named “Marbletown Green” was proposed in 2007, to be built atop the Stone Ridge Orchard, which failed due to widespread community opposition. The memory of this recent threat to Marbetown’s rural character was the primary worry at Saturday’s workshop.

Architect and Marbletown resident Michael McDonnough said “the draft plan is an attempt to move the town into the 21st century.” In large part, he said, it is sort of an inventory of what the town has, and a list of its hopes and aspirations in terms of where it might go. “One of the things that’s controversial in that context,” explained McDonnough, “the town’s been struggling with how to look at housing as we go forward with this. Avoiding sprawl is absolutely critical to what they want to do.”

Marcy London, chair of the town environmental committee, would like to see more fine tuning of the draft before approval. “Although there are laudable concepts included, the large housing development provisions have many concerned,” she remarked. “The [draft] plan appears to promote zoning for high density housing development, without adequate analysis of costs to the community — such as increased taxes and traffic, loss of rural character, and environmental degradation.”

Pickering-Cole acknowledged the draft is slated for possible approval sometime soon. “The town board members were all there in the audience,” she commented, “definitely the intention is for the town board to have a discussion on the draft beginning in May, and have it in front of them for approval.” However, Pickering-Cole added, “We like to do a public hearing, even though this is not a formal adoption into the comprehensive plan at this time.” The draft doesn’t represent any changes to law, there’s no requirement for a hearing, “but it’s a practice that we like to honor.”

The supervisor stressed that “any recommendations in the plan, anything that requires the spending of money will be discussed later down the road by the town board, anything that involves zoning reviews, there’s a whole process that goes into those things. In a way this is just kind of a beginning.”

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