I’m at a loss for appropriate civil words

To the Editor:

As one who is seldom at a loss for words, last week’s letters in The Enterprise from Deb Hext, Victoria Vattimo, Maureen Ramirez, and Nick Fahrenkopf, left me searching the thesaurus for appropriate language.

Deb Hext’s comment — “Just to be clear, since many seem confused, the code of the village of Altamont, not the comprehensive plan, is the law that all boards must adhere to. The comprehensive plan is simply a guide” — does leave me at a loss.

While my comments and questions have been pointed, they have been civil and fact-based.

So when the law states: Comprehensive Plan Statutes, Town Law 272-a, Village Law 7-722, General City Law 28-a … Zoning and the Comprehensive Plan Introduction ... New York’s zoning enabling statutes (the state statutes that give cities, towns and villages the power to enact local zoning laws) require zoning laws be adopted in accordance with a comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan should provide the backbone for the local zoning law — and Deb says exactly the opposite “to be clear,” it does leave one searching for appropriate words.

The comprehensive plan defined the zoning for 107-109 Helderberg Ave. as residential.

Deb states, “It is not the ‘United States village of Altamont’s Constitution. Quite frankly I don’t know what that means — there is no such thing.” Maureen Ramirez echoed a similar sentiment.

Cracking open the dictionary, one finds the definition of a constitution as: the system of fundamental principles according to which a nation, state, corporation, or the like, is governed. The document embodying these principles.

And going again to the dictionary: comprehensive planning is a process that determines community goals and aspirations in terms of community development. The result is called a comprehensive plan and both expresses and regulates public policies … etc.

They are one and the same, the intent of the goals and principles by which an entity will be governed and guided. Again, I’m at a loss for appropriate civil words.

It is so exasperating to have the village board, the zoning board of appeals, and the planning board ignore the principle of the comprehensive plan without offering an explanation that stands up to question.

That is one of the issues in this process, where a public hearing is held, then the board discusses and there is no opportunity to challenge and rebut the erroneous conclusions of the board members. Residents literally spent thousands of hours working on the comprehensive plan and all boards have ignored the principle and intent.

They have thwarted the will of the people. Why?

The State Environmental Quality Review Act concludes that the project will have moderate to large impact on the character of the village. Yet all the boards voted for the changes. Why, why, why?  

Commercial diversity is one stated rationale. Diversity is adding businesses that will bring people to Altamont such as an Indian or health-food restaurant, or a bike shop or yoga studio.

Letting Stewart’s add Ding Dongs and Little Debbie Snack cakes to an assortment of Twinkies is not diversity. And what are prepared take-out foods?

Isn’t that making it harder for the Bamboo Garden and the pizza parlors and Hungerford, run by your friends and neighbors, to survive? Instead of patronizing those family businesses, a number of people will go to Stewart’s for similar convenience foods thus taking a percentage away from our family-run businesses, making it harder for them to survive.

If they fail, you have more vacant storefronts. This works to the exact opposite of creating diversity and a healthy commercial business district.

The village can’t tell a business what they can and cannot sell. What the village can do is not give one business special treatment to the detriment of other businesses. Remember, Stewart’s has publicly committed to staying even if it didn’t get its variances.

Plus residents are not getting more parking. Another erroneous rationale. Very exasperating.

Which leads to the whole issue of Ed Cowley’s exasperated comments and cartoon. There is a whole history of exasperated hyperbole dating back to Roman times. Here is the essence of a work titled “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift, of “Gulliver’s Travels” fame.

“A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick,” commonly referred to as “A Modest Proposal,” is a Juvenalian satirical essay written and published anonymously by Swift in 1729. The essay suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food to rich gentlemen and ladies.

This satirical hyperbole mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as British policy toward the Irish in general. In English writing, the phrase “a modest proposal” is now conventionally an allusion to this style of straight-faced satire.

Again the letters The Enterprise published last week do leave one searching for appropriate words if they actually believe that Ed is advocating real violence. I wanted to be sure “A Modest Proposal” was written by Swift and not his contemporary Daniel Defoe, of “Robinson Crusoe” fame, so I looked it up and came across a reference to Tertullian’s Apology. Of course I had to see what that was and reading revealed this little gem:

Tertullian’s Apology: James William Johnson argues that “A Modest Proposal” was largely influenced and inspired by Tertullian’s Apology, a satirical attack against early Roman persecution of Christianity ... Johnson points out the same central theme, that of cannibalism and the eating of babies.

So there’s about a 2,000-year history of this straight-faced satire that apparently has escaped some.  

Harvey Vlahos



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