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Comments on the East Fishkill Master Plan
for Public Hearing May 23, 2002 - by Rebecca Reese

My name is Rebecca Reese and I have been a resident of East Fishkill for about a year and a half.

If I repeat anything thatís already been said tonight, I apologize. On the other hand, it wonít hurt to get it in the public record another time. Besides, this meeting is about speaking your piece. So thatís what Iím going to do.

To begin with, I want to say I appreciate the huge amount of work that has gone into the MasterPlan. It is a monumental undertaking and really quite an accomplishment.

Iíd also like to say that in theory-- a lot of what is written in this document and in the DGEIS sounds great.

At first.

But when I really read it, I could see that all that lovely prose about preserving open space and being mindful of our agricultrual history was really just a smoke screen.

I write ads for a living so I know how to hide the bad stuff and show off the good stuff. And thatís just whatís happening here.

I feel this masterplan highlights our townís ongoing commitment to developing to the fullest possible extent. It protects the rights of developers without considering the rights of everyday citizens and property owners. It encourages industrial development. Offers no practical incentives to preserving open space. And it tries to cloak this thoroughly pro-development rapid-growth agenda in the guise of a pro-environmental stance.

Iíll start with the DGEIS:

My biggest issue here is that this document considers the environmentmal impacts of townwide development and infrastructure only in comparison to the townís previous masterplans. Not in and of themselves. So, for instance, if there are fewer houses proposed for wetland areas than were proposed in the past, the DEGIS claims the environmental impact is great-- better than before. Which may be true, but doesnít take into account that while less than what was proposed in 1982, the impact will still be devestating.

I request the DGEIS be rewritten to look at the environmental impacts not in comparison to previous master plans, but as they stand today -- as if this was our first master plan ever.

Next, weíll talk a bit about ZONING:

Why does our masterplan allow for 5 industrial zones in a town that has relatively low unemployement, relatively little affordable housing and a whole lot of commuters? The answer Iíve heard is ratables-- that it will help our tax base. But a project, like for instance Meadow Creek, will take 10 years to build, and then still have a 7 year grace period on its taxes. We wonít see a penny for almost 20 years. And weíll have lost irreplaceable land, covered over acres of ground water replenishment with asphalt and threatened at least one endangered species -- not to mention the threat to the people who live near this industrial site.

My request therefore is that you reduce the number of industrial zones. Change the zoning on undeveloped industrial areas. We donít need more "good neighbors" like IBM to poison our water and our air while getting tax break after tax break from town, county and state.

Then there is the wetlands and steep grade fiasco. The MasterPlan rightly points out that wetlands and steep grades over 20% are environmentally delicate areas and therefore shouldnít be developed. But instead of taking the stance that many towns have taken-- namely that they shouldnít be developed at ALL, this masterplan proudly proclaims these sensitve areas can "only" be developed at 50%. Iím not a town historian, but Iíve heard that this is actually an INCREASE over the 0% development that was allowed in the past. So what looks like a great win for the environment is really a tragic loss.

I therefore request that this development standard be changed from 50% allowable density to 0%-- thereby protecting these areas that have been properly designated as unsuitable for development. And I agree with what was mentioned earlier this evening: landownerís taxes should be adjusted accordingly.

This may be a matter of semantics, but when I started reading the master plan I was delighted to see all those areas zoned "agricultural" and "rural use." That sounded great-- but then I realized this doesnít mean agricultural or rural in any normal sense of those words.

For instance, thereís one place in the Plan which says, "Reflecting the rural nature of these agricultural areas, the Plan recommends a maximum density for the active farmland of 1.5 acres per dwelling unit."

Thatís not a farm. Thatís a housing development.

How does a house every acre and a half even begin to constitute an active farm? This is just nonsense. In fact there are areas currently zoned agricultural and rural use that already have huge housing development s on them. Itís very misleading.

My request therefore is that we create zoning that really and truly does protect agricultural and rural areas-- zoning that requires even more acres per house. Youíve made a step in the right direction and played a lot of lip service to slowing development, but I donít think youíve really done enough to stem the tide. Maybe Iím naive and donít understand the repercussions, but I think we should forget R-3 zoning. How about R 10 R 25? Or even higher?

To that end, There is a lot of talk in these documents about protecting the environment, preserving open space and maintaining the agricultural and rural history of the land. And yet I see very vew concrete suggestions in the entire document. Some of them Iíve already addressed, and pointed out how we can strengthen them. Here are a few more:

Youíve proposed that we establish a building setback along the length of the Taconic State Parkway.

Again, doesnít sound bad at first. But a buffer isnít a solution, itís bandaid for the gaping wound in the landscpe. It s facade that hides the blight youíve allowed. Not only that, but youíre proposing a 100 foot buffer. Thatís NOTHING. Thatís the wonderful protective barrier we have around the scenic Gap complex on Rt 84. Regarding Local law J and Local Law N I suggest that your buffer needs to be extended and perhaps should include evergreen trees, planted at the developers' expense.

You mention encouraging land uses such as agriculture, summer camps, and recreation. But nowhere is there a plan on how we can do so. It is an empty promise.

The plan talks about setting aside money for the purchase of development rights and/or the direct acquisition of land. This should be a priority. But there is no real discussion of how much money will be set aside -- and in fact no promise that any will be set aside for these purposes.

I request the town officially earmark a fund of a certain percentage of tax income every year for the purpose of buying land and preserving open space.

The plan talks about soliciting land donations from private organizations and indivuduals. Where is your plan on how to do so? Is there something in place? Or is this another "wouldnít it be nice" kind of language trickery with no action behind it?

The plan mentions that the Board may want to add a chapter to the zoning code to include scenic resource or Conservation Overlays. Have you done so? If so, what kinds of protection do they afford? Is it more empty promises and vague words like "encourage" or does it offer concrete solutions and enforcement to protect our few remaining open spaces?

Jumping to the Farce of the Greenway:

Why did the town even bother joining the Greenway if we are in no way required to adhere to the conservation restrictions the greenway suggests? Like the rest of this masterplan, it seems to simply be a PR ploy so that we can say "look, look were environmentalists. We care about our land weíre not just money grubbing development fiends." And then all the while, we proceed with development after development -- business as usual -- completely heedless of the devastation to the environment and to our quality of life.

And last but not least, there are the bypass roads:

If the purpose is to strengthen our town center-- Iím not sure how removing the shoppers and people from the town will accomplish that goal. Seems like it would actually help hasten the death of our one town center, pushing people to shop in the strip malls and ugly sprawl created on the outskirts.

That being said, if these bypass roads are built, then we must have legislation that is firmly enforced that mandates there can be NO DEVELOPMENT along them. After all, the purpose of the bypass roads is not to expand the commercial space of the hamlet, but to ease up traffic congestion. And if you have commerical developments and driveways along the bypass roads, youíll have the same traffic issues on these new roads as well. Simply put, there should be no bypass roads unless thereís no development along them.

I could go on for another hour or two -- but itís late, and I think Iíve said enough for one night.

And thatís where my last comment comes in. I think we need more time to consider changes to this masterplan. I think the public needs more input. More importantly, I think the public needs more education-- we are not all experts in land use laws. We are not all traffic planners, road builders, architects or contractors. We are not all naturalists, geologists or water experts. We donít fully understand all of the ramifications in this plan-- and from what Iíve read thus far, we canít trust our board enough to understand it for us.

We need a series of public forums besides the very limited workshops already offered by invitation to a small number of townspeople. We need the involvement of everyone who wants their tax dollars properly spent.

And most importantly, until weíve resolved the issues presented here tonight and until we have a master plan that truly reflects the future envisioned by the citizens of East Fishkill, we need to stop the rampant development. Stop the building without a plan. We need to fix the transportation. We need to fix the zoning. We need to address the lack of schools, fire protection and hospitals for our exploding population. And we need to do it before the ground is broken on one more development. Whatís the hurry? Letís do this right. Letís figure out the answers before we create more of a mess than weíre already in. Call a moratorium on further development.

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