Town Board and School Board Consult

March 21, 2008
by Christine Yeres

In their joint work session at town hall last Tuesday, March 18, the town board and school board took exactly the hour they had allotted for a friendly and efficient run-down of the subjects that interest them both.  Reader’s Digest was the top agenda item.  [Town Board-Planning Board discuss possible municipal, recreational uses of RD property]. 

One of the great points of difference between the community and the developer during scoping hearings was on the enforceability of the age restrictions on “55 plus” residential units. If authorities fail to enforce the restrictions or owners legally challenge them and prevail, residents fear that the school aged population such housing might draw would be very costly to the school district and thereby to taxpayers. The town board’s consultants, HR & A Advisors, have said as much already in a preliminary study of the finances of the proposed redevelopment.

A list of our own

Taking the position that New Castle must think 15 and 20 years ahead, Supervisor Barbara Gerrard sketched the background of the redevelopment proposal and reported that the town is engaged in its own “generic environmental impact statement,”  or “GEIS,” to brainstorm what alternative uses of the property might benefit the town.  She listed the auditorium, a field or two, perhaps a pool or a basketball court as targets of exploration.  She emphasized the importance now of hearing ideas from residents – including school board members – on what municipal or recreational uses interest them.

School board chair Janet Benton asked whether, if the town acquires some of the Reader’s Digest property, Summit Greenfield might develop the remainder differently.  Gerrard answered that the developer had just recently written to the town asking that he be allowed to take a look at what the town is developing through its GEIS.  In fact, the developer’s representatives attend town board meetings and work sessions to remain informed of board members’ thinking. To help with the GEIS as well as other town issues, Gerrard told members of both boards, the town board intended to hire a town planner for New Castle within the next few weeks. Benton mentioned that eight or nine years ago the school district had negotiated with Reader’s Digest for field space.  Discussions came to nothing, but, she said, the school board’s architect might still have copies of the plans, which might prove useful to the town board.

How are we doing, environmentally?

Gerrard reported New Castle’s eagerness to work with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as well as to cooperate with surrounding towns through ICLEI [] and its formidable proprietary software that will enable subscribers such as New Castle to assess its “carbon footprint.”  The town is also considering offering the premier parking spaces that were once dedicated to the erstwhile electric cars to hybrid cars. Also under consideration by the town board is an expansion of New Castle’s tree ordinance, an attempt to further limit the ability of property owners to remove trees whose shade and screening properties residents value highly.

Walk to school?

Town administrator Jerry Faiella predicted that the pathway through the Greeley Woods to Bell middle school should materialize by the end of this month. The town board informed the school board that they will create another sidewalk similar to the Quaker Road sidewalk between town and Marcourt Drive. The object is to join Old Farm Lake to the intersection of Route 117 and King Street.

Town and gown recycling efforts

Many conservation initiatives are blooming lately.  The school district recently approved a contract with NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Research Group) to perform an energy audit of all our schools and give the district recommendations based on those findings.  Horace Greeley High School’s Silent Earth Club recently appeared before the town board to ask for town legislation that would discourage single-use plastic grocery bags. The school district is moving towards the elimination of Styrofoam and the adoption of napkins that are not bleached.  Members of both boards saw education as the ticket to reduce-reuse-recycle.  [Silent Earth Club: a ban on single use plastic bags?]

Common ground

Lack of field space, the need for more, and care of those we operate were high in board members’ minds.  Working with the Recreation Department to rotate where people play and also rotate goals will help, said school board member Jay Shapiro.  The school board reminded the town board that district-owned field space is rented to town sports groups, with the town playing middleman, at very reasonable rates.  All foresaw a continued increase in demand for field space.

Town board member Michael Wolfensohn sounded out school board members on the artificial turf field concept.  Shapiro answered, “We never said ‘No.’  But it’s not in our agenda or our goals.”  Wolfensohn continued, “If someone said ‘We would pay,’ would you consider it?”  Susan Haberman answered that it was not a simple matter and both boards discussed the complications, including a possible moratorium on artificial turf by New York State based on health and environmental concerns.