Planning will be the key to our town’s survival and success

To the Editor:

Before the coronavirus presented challenges to our town, the town board had begun to identify and prioritize the incumbent and emerging issues facing our municipality. Many legacy, unfulfilled issues such as municipal water, hydrofracking, municipal parks and recreation, industrial land use, and commercial business to name a few have made the list.

At the same time, other external initiatives have appeared on our horizon, such as new large-scale solar, wind, and other “green” mandates as part of the the governor’s energy plan (which have begun to erode home rule in its implementation), the infrastructure challenges of full telecommunication coverage with 4G, support and management for 5G and 6G, support and management of wired and wireless technologies in support of broadband and media to the door, and many others.

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

All of these issues have two things in common: They must be planned or planned for, and those plans must be in harmony with the values and character of the town of Berne.

In the past, the town has been slow to respond to rapidly evolving external influences. Just saying “NO!” is not a plan.

Every day, the residents of Berne pass by a 100-foot high chromium monument, compliments of the county, to remind us, of what happens when we, as a municipality, are unwilling; unprepared; or, to put it a different way, un-planned to deal with these issues.

Imagine (granted that no one predicts disaster) if the town had approached the roll-out of broadband technology differently, what effect would that have had for our children and residents now?

The Berne Town Board has placed the responsibility for the overhauling of our antiquated comprehensive plan with the planning board.

According to New York’s Department of State, “The comprehensive plan is the culmination of a planning process that establishes the official land use policy of a community and presents goals and a vision for the future that guides official decision making” and, “A comprehensive plan that is kept current is necessary before a local government can lawfully adopt or amend zoning.”

The character of our town continues to rapidly change. I have personally been called out in a public meeting for only residing in town for four years but there are many more like myself who have spent less than a generation here.

Crafted in the early 2000s and adopted nearly a decade ago, the timely updating of this document is crucial to the implementation and mitigation of many of our legacy issues and fulfills the requirement that zoning be in accordance with a comprehensive plan that fairly and equitably represents the 2,000-plus residence of our town.

This effort also shapes the strategic plan for the town and prepares it for the next 20 years. This document is the key to creating the appropriate zoning, redefining outdated areas, and streamlining complex or burdensome regulations, which, when periodically reviewed and consistently applied over time, enhances the growth and success of the town and its residents.

This is no small feat; it will take great resources and the contributions of many individuals. Time is of the essence.

I would anticipate an updated document ready for public review and comment to be presented not later than one year from today. Some of the issues I have mentioned will take years, and all will require the intimate attention of a planning board composed of highly motivated members focused on bringing these and all of the other issues to successful completion.

The formation of a water district, and the development and operation of a reservoir alone will involve county, state, and federal oversight. Other long-term issues such as the zoning and use cases for the town’s municipal lands and park areas, must be constantly reviewed to provide for the widest possible variety of opportunities for recreation and the enjoyment of our residents.

At the same time, the planning board must navigate the successful integration of the spirit and vision of our residents with commercial challenges associated with zoning and land use by those who would seek to invest in our small but busy town.

Many of the things I have mentioned here would be nice to have; many things are necessary and some are mandatory but one thing is certain: No one can tell us the full extent of all of the effects the coronavirus event will have on our community.

Planning will be the key to our town’s survival and success. We can no longer plan for unsustainable growth, economic development that may not materialize, or new infrastructure that we can’t afford to maintain, and we can’t just “wing it” and expect success.

The world, our county, state, and town have not stopped moving during this disaster. Adapting successfully means being smarter about how we spend our resources by planning, prioritizing, and constantly reevaluating relevance and need.

But, the requirement for this town to move forward has not changed. It means making the most of our current resources and investments. And, it means constantly engaging the members of our community to build on a common vision.

Dr. David Mathews, President of the Kettering Foundation, in summarizing the findings of the foundation’s research on community politics, writes:

“What stands out in the high-achieving community is not so much the characteristics of the leaders as their number … The high-achieving community had ten times more people providing leadership than communities of comparable size. This [high-achieving] community is ‘leaderful’; that is, nearly everyone provides some measure of initiative. And its leaders function not as gatekeepers but as door openers, bent on widening participation.”

There is no more appropriate place for us to follow this wisdom than with the planning board. Our town’s success in good times and bad depends on leadership. It is the responsibility of this town board to provide it and to provide for it.

This draft law recognizes that leadership is not confined to a few elected officials. Rather, successful leadership requires mobilizing the knowledge, talents, and perspectives of every segment of our community.

In the coming days, the town will be holding a public hearing on this draft. The requirements that we must follow to accomplish this will require everyone’s patience, but I am looking forward to your comments and participation.

Mathew Harris



Editor’s note: See related story.

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