Public workshops on New Scotland plans for Rt 85

To the Editor:

I felt compelled to address several inaccuracies in Tyler Murphy’s article regarding New Scotland’s planning grants for the intersection of routes 85 and 85A. I understand that Mr. Murphy was not around in 2009 during the Bender melon farm controversy. However, his assertion that “town citizens petitioned to keep the area rural by collecting more than 2,400 New Scotland residents’ signatures to support a moratorium on large-scale commercial development” is a serious rewrite of recent history.

While there are those in town who have voiced their preference to preserve intact the agricultural lands in the town’s main commercial zone, including the editor of your newspaper, the vast majority of citizens who signed NS4SED petitions had no intent regarding the fate of this area other than to hold off on allowing construction of a big-box mall until we all came to a better understanding of whether this style of commercial development was appropriate and beneficial for our community. The New Scotland hamlet area is not rural and no one signed any petition to “keep it” that way.

I also must question why I am again credited with writing the first Capital District Transportation Committee Linkage Program grant, despite repeatedly correcting both [Councilman Daniel] Mackay and Enterprise reporters. Liz Kormos was, in fact, the author, while I assisted mostly with technical data and coordinating the grant once it was obtained.

Similarly, the New Scotland Hamlet Study Final Report is repeatedly credited to the Study Advisory Committee. Mr. Murphy writes, “the advisory committee presented its 58-page finalized plan to the town board in November.” In fact, it was Behan Planning and Design that presented the plan it was hired to produce while the Study Advisory Committee merely offered guidance and commentary.

The committee did not generate the ideas or maps for the initial concept plans, an over sight by the planner, in my opinion, as many of the large landowners were shocked to find their commercial property largely slated for conservation or agricultural preservation. The committee was not allowed to express its ideas at the workshops held to assess public opinion, but rather was relegated to observing other participants.

The committee was also never afforded an opportunity to comment, let alone vote on whether it agreed with the recommendations of the final plan submitted by Behan Planning, and therefore it is probably inappropriate to refer to this plan as being generated by the Study Advisory Committee.

It has been emphasized that responsible and beneficial municipal planning succeeds when the planning process includes the public in addition to government and town officials. However, an important component of public participation is inclusion of the private sector, the investors, the stakeholders.

Although much energy was expended convincing several of the area’s large landowners to partake in what would surely be a valuable, meaningful, and truly inclusive exercise, many of them walked away feeling disillusioned. Area landowners convened, were ready to participate and maybe even compromise; they should have been allowed to generate the initial concepts and maps for public discussion.

Instead the public workshops primarily documented the same old ideas from the usual suspects (minus those with the most to lose) and inclusion of any specific focus groups fell by the wayside. Explaining that the purpose of the study was more generic, and not meant to b a specific master plan, the planning consultant insisted that “pie in the sky” should be on the table. Several times we expressed higher expectations for the study and were told “Frankly, you didn’t pay for that …”

I still believe that much good came out of New Scotland’s first planning grant. CDTC staff did a fantastic job of writing the initial Existing Conditions Report, documenting both assets that could be capitalized on and problems that should be solved. The proposed linkages and pedestrian improvements are crucial to the hamlet.

Hopefully, New Scotland’s next planning exercise will make a much bigger effort to win back the considerable damage done and ground lost regarding inclusion of the stakeholders, a subsection of the general public critical to successfully planning the town’s future.

Katy O’Rourke

New Scotland

Editor’s note: See related story.

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