Route 28 scenic byway plan critics demand a makeover

Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway CMP Draft

Above: The current draft of a plan to apply for state and federal scenic byway designation for a section of Route 28. Members of the Central Catskills Collaborative, a seven-municipality task force that drafted the plan, have agreed to revise it in the wake of criticism from town officials who fear that a scenic byway will impose new regulations on towns and local property owners.

As the process of applying for scenic byway status for a 50-mile stretch of Route 28 gets closer to the finish line, officials from a few of the seven towns and villages involved are getting cold feet.

Of the seven municipalities represented on the Central Catskills Collaborative (CCC), four – the Towns of Middletown and Andes, and the Middletown villages of Margaretville and Fleischmanns – have already passed resolutions endorsing the scenic byway plan. (Andes's resolution was passed today.)

But the three Ulster County towns in the CCC, Shandaken, Olive, and Hurley, have yet to sign off on the plan. In particular, officials and residents in Shandaken and Olive have expressed fears that getting Route 28 designated as a state or federal scenic byway could interfere with home rule by the towns, or impose new land use regulations on local businesses.

Peter Manning, the Catskills regional planner who has been spearheading the scenic byway project for the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, denies that a byway would have any impact on home rule.

“In a nutshell: No home rule will be lost. And in terms of regulations, there will be no new sign regulations inside the Catskill Park, if the byway is designated, than already exist,” said Manning.

Still, Manning said, the members of the CCC have met with local officials, and agreed to re-draft the scenic byway plan to ensure that the language in it doesn't raise red flags for town officials.

“There were some concerns that were voiced by board members in different towns,” he said. “One of the ways that some of that will be fixed is by bolstering or amending language in the plan.”

A scheduled hearing last night on the scenic byway project for the Town of Shandaken turned into a more informal information session, after the CCC decided to re-draft the plan. About 40 people were in attendance.

Supervisor Rob Stanley explained that there had been several meetings between the Town Board the Catskill Collaborative, and with other municipalities. The purpose, Stanley said, was to “shut down the paranoia and make it clearer what the Byway is.”

At the meeting, Manning distributed a supplemental document designed to answer home rule and regulation concerns, and point out some of the potential economic benefits of getting a scenic byway designation. Mentioned in the handout was the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, which spans New York and Pennsylvania, and has brought in $500,000 in grant seed money.

Manning told the audience that a meeting about signage was held in January, at which Bill Rudge of the state Department of Environmental Conservation answered the question of whether the byway would bring more sign regulations with a resounding “no.”

Board member Doris Bartlett, who represents the Shandaken Town Board on the CCC, also denied that a scenic byway would have any impact on land use decisionmaking in Shandaken.

“The Scenic Byway does not affect the right [of municipalities] to exercise home rule,” Bartlett said.

But former Town Board member Al Frisenda, who strongly opposes the scenic byway plan, disagreed.

“Land use regulation, that’s what this is all about,” he said.

Frisenda said that instead of the scenic byway project, the town should focus on making progress on a proposed Catskill Interpretive Center.

Bruce Barry, who is Shandaken's alternate representative on the CCC, said that part of the scenic byway project's mission was to have a trail on maps and GPS which will take people up Route 28, and signage that would bring them into the towns' Main Streets.

Councilman Alfie Higley, Jr., pointed out that on page 88 of the “Proposed Corridor Management Plan” (embedded in full above), there was a mention of “land use regulations” by the Byway.

“That doesn't sound like home rule,” said Higley. (Background: Higley and his father own a farmstand on Route 28 that has run afoul of Shandaken zoning law, and has been the topic of much controversy in the town.)

The section Higley quotes is included in a list of potential ways the CCC could help “improve roadside development” on Route 28:

Undertake a corridor-wide inventory and analysis of current land use regulations, including details such as the elements of site plan review, special use permit standards, and enforcement provisions. Similarities and differences can be compared across communities and districts in an effort to identify which practices might be more effective and could inform enhancement of existing land use tools.This action may be dependent on funding resources.

Manning replied to Higley that the authority for making and enforcing regulations still rests with the towns:

“As we go forward, we will work it out. The Town Boards still have the power to make the rules,” he said.

Robert Selkowitz of the Town of Olive reminded people that “even if the Byway is approved [here], it may take into the next Ice-Age for Albany to approve the Byway. That’s why I say, act as if the Byway already exists.”

Stanley suggested that towns like Shandaken, which straddles a long section of the Byway, should be given more decision-making power on the CCC than villages like Fleischmanns and Margaretville, which comprise short segments.

Manning told the Watershed Post that the fact that local officials are challenging the plan and taking a closer look at it is a positive thing.

“It's good that these local officials are getting into this in more detail, so they have a more thorough understanding,” he said.

It may not be easy for towns to work together, but Manning said that collaboration on a large regional project like a scenic byway sometimes yields unexpected benefits, even beyond any grant funding that the project might draw.

"A scenic byway is a catalyst for intermunicipal cooperation. It's a vehicle to work together,” he said.

The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development (CCCD), which until recently employed Manning as a full-time regional planner, recently eliminated Manning's job. Manning is still working on the byway project as a contractor with the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, through funding from the CCCD.

Correction, Feb. 14, 2012: Due to an editing error, an earlier draft of this story stated that the funding for Peter Manning's contract job on the scenic byway project was being provided by the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce. The funding is from the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development. We apologize for the error.