In a year-end report that incorporated a comprehensive survey of local businesses, a task force on economic development recommended that Woodstock enact a three-point plan in order to enhance the town’s commercial health and enable it to compete with Saugerties and Phoenicia as both a tourist destination and small-business incubator.
Janine Fallon-Mower, the chair of the Economic Development Task Force (EDTF), and Jeff Harrigfeld, a member of the advisory group, presented the report at the Town Board’s December 20 meeting. In addition to conducting the first-of-its-kind business survey, the task force interviewed Woodstock residents and consulted local and county planning officials.
The three-point plan calls for the creation of a partnership between local government and the business community, in the form of a Commission for Economic Sustainability; the adoption of a comprehensive master plan that would balance growth and development with environmental conservation over the next decade; and a revision of zoning and planning regulations that discourage entrepreneurs from setting up shop in Woodstock.
“Woodstock continues to be known in surrounding communities as a place that does not want new entrepreneurial enterprises to explore Woodstock as a place to incubate their business and grow,” said Fallon-Mower. “The health of the business community requires change and turnover in the businesses that rent our storefronts. By making Woodstock’s zoning and planning a more user-friendly process, businesspeople from other areas will be more likely to take a risk and try Woodstock out.”
Harrigfeld summarized the results of the survey, which was distributed to the owners of approximately 250 local businesses and elicited 52 responses. Major findings of the study included the following.
Three-quarters of the responding business owners live in Woodstock, as do most of their employees.
Sixty-three percent of the businesses have from one to five employees; 11 percent have none other than the owner. Most of the businesses plan no change in their staffing levels unless the economy improves.
Sixty-six percent of the businesses are housed in buildings owned by their proprietor, with the remaining 34 percent located in rented buildings.
Woodstock’s strengths as a place for doing business include its international name recognition, desirability as a travel destination, vibrant main street with unique stores, cultural life, proximity to New York City, local history, and natural beauty.
The four biggest obstacles that Woodstock poses to local business owners are Internet-based competition, out-of-town competition, high wages and benefits for employees, and restrictive business regulations. Approximately one-third of responding business owners reported that “issues” with zoning or planning agencies had impeded their business in some way.
The other members of the task force are Craig Barber, Steve Grenadir, and Jenn Harrigfeld. Prior presentations and the minutes of the group’s meetings can be viewed at the EDTF’s blog site, woodstockseconomichealth.blogspot.com.
Task Force reports
Jenny Hellman, the sole member of the Landfill Reclamation Task Force, reported that she is exploring the creation of an organic recycling program at the 88-acre former town landfill on West Saugerties Road. As envisioned, the program would produce organic compost from kitchen scraps supplied by local restaurants and other businesses. The “Woodstock brand” compost might prove marketable, she said. Assisted by the owners of the Cucina and Garden Café restaurants and Sunflower Natural Foods Market, Hellman sought state grant funding for the project, but that effort stalled when she learned that the town would be required to provide matching funds. The program may yet take shape in some form, however, as Hellman seeks to recruit business partners for facets of the operation such as bagging. Meanwhile, Hellman reported that annual tests have revealed steadily decreasing levels of the chemical trichloroethane in groundwater in and around the landfill. Neighboring property owners have reported no adverse effects on their water supply from the presence of the chemical in the soil.
The work of the Comeau Trails Task Force (CTTF) in 2011, reported David Corbett and Jim Hanson, focused on the western portion of the property. The task force achieved a lot in the eastern sector in 2010, Corbett noted, including the installation of a 220-foot ipe (a variety of mahogany) boardwalk. Although heavy rain in the past year hampered the group’s efforts, CTTF volunteers nevertheless forged a new trail that skirts a chronically wet area near the soccer fields, managing not to disturb any of the more than 30 nesting-bird species that inhabit the area. On the CTTF agenda for 2012 is the placement of another stretch of boardwalk planking over a wet area and the construction of bridges on a stretch of trail near the Historical Society of Woodstock building. The task force is negotiating to obtain the bridges at no cost to the town.
Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli updated listeners on the progress of the Town Beautification Task Force in the absence of its chair, Ben Schachter, who could not attend. Of eight beautification projects that the group identified at its inception in April 2010, four have been completed: the installation, led by Woodstock resident Bananas, of a bluestone plaza adjoining a sidewalk near the Village Green; the improvement of the area around the bridge at the intersection of Tinker Street and Tannery Brook Road; a rejuvenation of plantings on the Village Green, thanks largely to the green’s volunteers gardeners, Judith Dagirmanjian, Nancy Kantor, Hilary McKenna, and Karen Walker; and decorative work including gardening at the “triangle” where Routes 212 and 375 meet. Schachter’s company has offered to match, up to a maximum of $25,000, donations from the public to a dedicated account for the continuing work of the task force. For information, contact the town supervisor’s office (679-2113, extension 7).
In another presentation to the board, Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill, who is superintendent of the Onteora Central School District, reviewed plans under consideration by the Board of Education as a response to what McGill called a “perfect storm” facing the district: a pressing need to improve student learning and performance, steadily decreasing enrollment, and financial pressures, including the new state tax cap, that could result in a $7 million budget deficit in five years. For details on the state of the budget and planning options for the district, visit onteora.k12.ny.us.
Other items on the agenda included the following:
Town Hall bids. Beginning on December 27, the town will place advertisements in local newspapers and selected trade publications soliciting contractors’ bids for the renovation of Town Hall. Bids must be submitted to the town clerk’s office before 5 p.m. on February 21, 2012. Plans and specifications for the project can be purchased, with 24 hours’ notice and at a cost of $250, from Catskill Art and Office Supply. The documents were prepared by the project’s architect, Robert Young Associates, and its engineer, Novus Engineering. Voters in a 2007 referendum approved bonding for $1.45 million, toward a total cost of $1.6 million, for the renovation.
Computer services. The board approved the issuance of a request for proposals (RFP) from qualified businesses to provide computer and network support services to the town. The deadline for submission of proposals to the town clerk’s office is January 2, 2012. For information, contact the town clerk (679-2113, extension 4).
Trash removal and recycling. The board also issued an RFP for a qualified provider of trash removal and recycling services. The work entails emptying town-owner litter containers and recycling baskets at various sites in the hamlet. Proposals must be submitted to the town clerk by January 2, 2012.
Varmint abatement. Pending the confirmation of job-related details, the board provisionally agreed to hire A. J. Sloan Pest Control to “remove nuisance wildlife nesting in the justice court, town office building, and supervisor’s cottage.” Woodstock supervisor Jeff Moran explained that the nuisance wildlife in question consist largely of red squirrels, chipmunks, and weasels. The town clerk, Jackie Earley, noted that squirrels enter the so-called Great Room of Eames House, the main town office building on Comeau Drive, through the chimney. A. J. Sloan’s bid for the work includes a set-up fee of $75, a charge of $50 for the removal of each animal, and an hourly rate of $50 to close entrances at each affected building.
Skiing discount. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on January 3, 4, and 5, the town clerk will accept residents’ applications to purchase, for $5, a discount card for skiing at the state-owned Belleayre Mountain facility in Shandaken. Applicants must produce proof of residency in Woodstock. After purchasing the card, residents must appear between 7 a.m. and noon on January 8 at Belleayre, where a Woodstock official will process their paperwork. According to Moran, the card entitles the bearer to a discount of more than 50 percent on Belleayre’s daily rates and a discounted price for guest passes.
Appointments. Moran appointed Sasha Gillman and Iris York to the Emergency Response Task Force, whose current members are James Dougherty and Nancy Butler Ross.
Sludge treatment. Pursuant to a recommendation by councilman Bill McKenna, who chairs the board’s subcommittee on facilities, the board approved a payment of approximately $700 to the town engineer, Brinnier & Larios, to perform survey work related to a proposed sludge treatment program at the sewer treatment plant on Route 212. The funds are available in the Water-Wastewater Department’s budget. The program, similar to one in operation in the town of Lloyd, would employ a field of reed beds to process sludge generated by the plant. According to McKenna, the reed beds would allow Woodstock to discontinue its longtime practice of transporting “decanted” sludge to Saugerties for disposal. McKenna described a reed bed system as environmentally sound and ideally suited to the topography at the site of the plant.++