A packed house of approximately 100 residents filled the Shawangunk Town Hall meeting room on Saturday morning to provide their input on the future of the hamlet. With the municipality planning to update its comprehensive plan for the first time since 2003 to clear the way for potential zoning changes, the town invited taxpayers to attend a pair of open house sessions on Jan. 26 to give their feedback on the current direction of the town and to provide a vision for its future.
At the first meeting at Town Hall and at a second gathering later that afternoon at the Walker Valley Firehouse, residents rotated between nine stations that allowed them to answer questions about the town’s economic development, their visual preferences of the appearances of upcoming real estate developments, recreation activities and ideas for the mixed use business-commercial zone.
Town Supervisor John Valk began the meeting by explaining that the town was gathering data from residents for its Rezoning Committee to pore over before they produce a draft plan, which is expected to be ready by April.
“I appreciate everybody taking their Saturday and coming here, because this process is very important,” Valk told the attendees. “The town received a grant from Greenway to pay for a portion of our planner to work on this project and update our comprehensive plan.”
Shawangunk Planner Bonnie Franson ran the meeting along with her associates from the Nelson, Pope & Voorhis engineering firm, and noted that the open house was a vital step in the process of revamping the comprehensive plan. “The purpose of this process is to get your input on how the hamlet can be revitalized and about what your vision for the community is,” Franson said during her introduction. “It’s about pursuing economic development, other housing types, it’s about preserving spaces that you think are important. It’s about creating new recreational facilities if that’s what you think is necessary. The whole point of this effort is to hear from you, and this is the perfect opportunity for it.”
Each station included large sheets of paper for taxpayers to write their feedback, and at the station where residents were asked to list their concerns for the future of Wallkill, participants cited the Wallkill Avenue business district, a need for more development and green space at the waterfront and the presence of the First Student bus garage taking up prime real estate in a potential business location.
Resident Ed Darrow said the need for economic development in the hamlet was his main concern. “The issue is that the town is farming out its economic life to the surrounding towns,” he said. “There’s not enough draw to keep people who live in the hamlet from going to Walden or Pine Bush for their services or their needs. We can be a bedroom community if you want to be, but there’s nothing to keep people here. Why do I have to go to Newburgh or Walden for my groceries or for my diesel? Restaurants keep falling out. We have to go to other towns and money is leaving the hamlet and it doesn’t need to.”
Darrow said he would even welcome a fast food establishment such as McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts along Route 208 in the hamlet to spur business growth. “I’ve been advocating that for years,” he said. “I think that they need to move the police station and use whatever available space we have on that main road to draw in businesses that are going to keep the people in town. We’ve lost the hardware store, the restaurant, a bank. C’mon gang, we have to do something. Because I can go out of my driveway and be in Pine Bush just as quick as I can be in Wallkill, and I’d rather be in the township I’m paying taxes in. We don’t have enough economic engine in this town to create monies to do the things that need to be done.”
At one station entitled “A Vision for Wallkill,” a word cloud featuring words used in the 2003 comprehensive plan such as protect, environment and resources was situated on a table and attendees were asked to provide concepts that are important to their idea of the future of the town. Words including riverwalk, green, community and the phrase “walking traffic to businesses” received the most votes on the form.
One business that hopes to thrive in the hamlet in the coming months and years is the new Mexican restaurant that is slated to open soon at the site of the former Countryside Cafe shop at 33 Wallkill Ave. Sy Mujovic, a real estate broker at iRealty in Pine Bush, said that the eatery in the owner-occupied building is hoping to have success in the town.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I just want to let everybody here know that there is a new business coming in. We have plans to go in and do something fun. I’m working directly with the owner, who’s very successful and owns multiple restaurants throughout the area. He has plans to open up an authentic Mexican restaurant.”
Barring a snag, the broker said the restaurant opening is right around the corner. “We’re hoping we can get it done in a few weeks,” Mujovic said. “The Building Department is working with us, and they’re very good to work with. They already told us we’re pretty much good to go.”
As part of the comprehensive plan update, the town has a survey posted on its website for residents to provide additional feedback on the process, and the questionnaire is scheduled to stay up on the site for at least two more weeks so the town can gather more info.
“The Town of Shawangunk in 2003 adopted a comprehensive plan, and that plan had its own vision,” Franson explained to the group. “At that time, the Town Board adopted a series of land use regulations for the hamlet areas, as well as the overall town. Since 2003, and up to 2009 when the zoning laws were adopted, the Town Board has found that people have been coming in to them to say that ‘something’s not working.’ Maybe the vision from 2003 is still appropriate, but how we’re getting there doesn’t seem to be working. So we want to hear from you what you think the opportunities are for the hamlets, what the concerns are and the ideas you have and how you think we can get there.”
In the station asking residents to pick their favorite building design for potential real estate developments, a rendering of townhouses was the most popular pick. At another station, locals listed all of the things they love about Wallkill, with the river, the library and the rail trail listed multiple times.
The Rezoning Committee will use the feedback to craft their plan, which could include potential new land use regulations, but this is just the first step in the public process. “There will be public hearings about our comprehensive plan before it’s adopted and any zoning changes require public hearings, and it’s a long process,” Valk told the residents. “So it isn’t the last time to give your opinion.”
The process of modernizing the comprehensive plan will continue over the next several months. “The next step is that we have the survey online on our website, and we hope the public goes online and fills that out,” Valk said. “Then the firm will come back and gather all of the data and give us a list of what people want. Then we’re going to write the plan and incorporate that into the comprehensive plan. Then we’re going to look at making the zoning changes to reflect that, so it can happen. Then the growth can happen in that direction. It’s a whole process. You have to make zoning changes for what the comprehensive plan calls for. You can’t do it without the plan. So that’s the process, and we hope to have a draft in place for the public to see by April.”
The town administration was thrilled with the volume of residents “The turnout was amazing and the fact that people are interested is fabulous,” Valk said. “I’m just so excited that so many people came out. It’s hard to get people out to a meeting. I don’t think this room has had so many people in it since we built the building.”