Mouth That Roars

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the "MOUTH THAT ROARS" Column in the Sullivan County Post.

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October 9th, 2014

Agreement Reached Over Bethel’s Smallwood Golf Course

Several weeks ago Bethel Town Supervisor Dan Sturm accused Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson with “fumbling and bungling the Smallwood Golf course property in Bethel.

Sturm charged that he had never been treated in such a “blatant and roughshod manner” as he had by Samuelson and Assistant County Attorney Cheryl McCuasland.

Sturm alleged that McCuasland was “caught lying” in a letter to the DEC, and somehow lost a letter that was brought to the County Attorney’s office in November of 2013 by him personally that she claims was never delivered.

Sturm released a scathing letter attacking Samuelson and McCausland. Samuelson issued his own letter.
Finally thanks to the intervention of several legislators including Cora Edwards who met with Sturm and toured the site, a joint meeting was held between the Sullivan County Legislature and the Town of Bethel Board.

As a result, the Sullivan County Legislature last week passed a new contractual agreement with the Town of Bethel, and the Bethel Local Development Corporation in regards to the former Smallwood Golf Course property. The Town Board also approved the agreement at their meeting last week.

I am glad to see that both sides worked out their differences and there is now a solid agreement.

I asked Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm to explain and give Sullivan County residents the history of the former Smallwood Golf Course that led up to the current events.

Here is what Supervisor Sturm had to say.

“As the Supervisor of Bethel since 2008, and a Town Board member since 2004, I have always believed that the former Smallwood Golf Course and adjacent property is a valuable asset for the community. Over the last ten years, the Town Board has worked hard to promote and understand the uniqueness of this parcel and the great potential that it offers.

For example, the property is in a wellhead protection area, and lies above the aquifer for the seasonal drinking water for Smallwood, a densely developed community made of seasonal and year round cabin type homes on very small lots. This property is unique and environmentally sensitive; it has waterways going through it that feed into the Delaware River. In addition, as stated by Riverkeeper during the Town of Bethel zoning hearings, “The important resources of this site contain economic value in themselves as natural resources that provide protection of human health, water quality and abundance of supply. These economic values need to be recognized and protected”. Recognizing these factors, Town has sought an innovative approach to this property that would take into consideration all of these factors.

Several years ago a developer presented a proposal for a high density housing project (200 Townhouse units), which raised several concerns in the community including the potential impact of such a project on this environmentally sensitive parcel. The project never completed the planning board process nor did it receive any type of approvals due to several factors including a moratorium on major subdivisions, changes in zoning, and lawsuits over the zoning in which the Town prevailed, and ultimately the loss of the property for failure to pay taxes.

In 2009, Sullivan County acquired the property for non-payment of taxes. It had been most recently owned by Upstate Land and Properties, LLC. In 2011, the 190 acre former golf course was purchased from the County by the BLDC for 55,000 dollars. The BLDC has incurred additional costs of over 70,000 dollars with regards to this project. These expenditures included required survey work and extensive legal hours in creating a Conservation easement to protect a portion of this environmentally sensitive property for a public park. Activities would include, but not be limited to such things as outdoor education, hiking, walking, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, and jogging trails.

The Town also worked to resolve an issue of a specific area of the parcel that had been of great concern to adjoining neighbors. This was a 100’ strip that had been used for “access” by the former developer / owner. This parcel was sold to the adjoining property owners per their request, the County’s direction and the Town’s wishes to resolve this long standing controversy.

In addition, the Town also hired a firm to check for the availability of sand on a small parcel of the property for our highway department’s snow removal needs. The BLDC then applied to the DEC for a permit to mine sand. This minor sand operation, strictly for our Town needs, will recoup our investment and save all taxpayers money for years to come. We are anticipating permit approval shortly.

There was a contract prepared for the sales transaction with the County, which states that the Town is authorized and approved for the Conservation easement to be performed. This has been completed. We would also market some of the remaining parcel for taxable residential development. If the homes were not developed in some manner by November 2014, other options would be considered. The County could revert a portion of the property back to itself, or the BLDC could turn the property over to the Town for a governmental purpose. (This has now been done) We have also marketed the property as required to attempt to bring additional tax revenue to the County, Town and school district, and this effort will continue.

As a new contract was signed last week with the County, Town and the BLDC, I would like to thank each member of the County Legislature. Cora Edwards toured the site with me and asked many questions. Cindy Geiger had me on the phone into the late hours with comments and questions. Gene Benson was a vocal advocate at our joint meeting. We had support from Jonathan Rouis and Kathy Labuda from the start of this project years ago. And thanks also to Ira Steingart, Kitty Vitter and Alan Sorenson. I want to also thank our Legislator and Chairman, Scott Samuelson. He and I had disagreements, but he was trying to balance the needs of the whole County as well as the Town of Bethel. He should be commended for getting it all together.

We believe that this project was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and was a viable alternative to the County going to auction and attracting a random developer. This collaboration between the Town, the County and other interested stakeholders in the area brought together with the uniqueness of this site has made this project a scalable model for the Catskill region. This is a project that Bethel and Sullivan County should be proud to boast; a project that will provide for our residents and may also attract new families to our area.”

Thank you Supervisor Dan Sturm for your comments.

It is good to see that things can be worked out between municipalities once people come to the table.

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself on National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the “MOUTH THAT ROARS” Column in THE SULLIVAN COUNTY POST.

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