This year’s Town Supervisor race offers Gardinerites a choice between a veteran of that post and a longtime local resident who would be a newcomer to elected office. The candidates, both 61 years of age, are widely perceived as coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum; but in response to questions from the New Paltz Times, both sought to accentuate the positive aspects of life in Gardiner and in the main, to play down the controversies that have plagued the town in recent years. Perhaps this will turn out to be the election cycle when more common ground will be discovered in Gardiner, whichever of the two is elected.
Carl Zatz is running on the Democratic line, has also been nominated by the Working Families Party and is challenging his opponent for the Independence Party nomination already awarded. A Hunter College graduate whose professional experience has been concentrated in public relations and communications, Zatz served two terms as Gardiner Town Supervisor, from 2003 to 2007. He says that he decided not to run for reelection in 2007 because, “With the economy imploding, I had to get my finances in order…Mostly, I had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with my daughter, now 13, and I didn’t want to pass that by.”
In the intervening years, Zatz has established a couple of Gardiner-based small businesses: Enthusiastic Spirits & Wine Shop, Inc. and Ulster Properties, LLC, while he continues to operate his advertising firm Skydog Creative, LLC. He has remained actively involved in town affairs, frequently attending meetings of the various boards and participating in the organization of Gardiner Day, the Cupcake Festival and the Gardiner Association of Businesses.
Zatz was first elected in the midst of a long-running effort to renovate or replace the aging Town Hall — a project that was finally completed during his tenure. He became supervisor at a time when the town was split by controversy over the massive Awosting Reserve development proposal, polarizing land preservation advocates and defenders of property rights. The public uproar inspired the election of a strongly pro-environment Town Board slate, who initiated measures for open space protection and more restrictive planning and zoning regulations. The Town’s Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 2004; an Open Space Bond passed by only one vote in 2006; and in 2008 a new Zoning Law was passed, aspects of which have since drawn criticism from a number of Gardinerites, including the two current supervisor candidates.
Although Zatz has encountered some delays to his own project to convert part of his home into a bed-and-breakfast due to certain interpretations of the Zoning Law, he demurs from any characterization of the kaw itself as a lightning rod for controversy. “It’s just a regular process,” he says. “How many developers in Gardiner have been turned away by Draconian zoning laws? None. I believe that the provisions of the Zoning Law that preserve open space, natural resources and clean water are sound. They’re supported by Gardiner’s Comprehensive Plan. The other side [of the Zoning Law] has to do with tourism, agriculture, small businesses, the CLI [Commercial/Light Industrial zone, restricted to Steve’s Lane].” He cites opposition by residents of Dusinberre Road to heavy truck traffic passing through their neighborhood en route to Steve’s Lane as an example of a controversial facet of business-related zoning. “Not every aspect is welcoming. There are some ‘use-by-right’ and business zoning provisions that should be revisited. Gardiner will always be looking at them to make the Law more responsive to a growing community.”
Another long-running debate that has divided the town is the question of how to resolve its poor cell phone reception. An initial proposal to build a single cell tower at the town landfill at the end of Steve’s Lane sparked an Article 78 lawsuit by a viewshed protection group called Sensible Wireless for Gardiner, primarily on the grounds that its 160-foot height would violate the terms of the new Zoning Law. The plan was withdrawn, and a second proposal has been put forward that may have resolved the dispute. It sites two somewhat shorter cell towers on town-owned properties: one on the grounds of Town Hall near the center of the hamlet and another behind the Town Highway Garage on South Mountain Road. An opponent of the earlier plan, Zatz says that he won’t fight the current proposal. “I don’t like it, but I can live with it. I particularly don’t like where the two towers are located; I think there are better places in town. But it’s great that we’re going to get a cell tower — we really need it. There’s no town that has ever tried to build a cell tower that hasn’t had delays and debates. This is how long it takes.”
With regard to recent complaints by some Gardinerites that decision-making processes are not always as transparent or inclusive of public input as they might be, Zatz contends that the problems have been exaggerated. “There are only a couple of toxic people in this town,” he avers. “Most people feel that there was a very transparent process for public input in the Library rebuilding project, and there was a remarkably open and welcoming forum and opportunity for debate by the Fire District. Gardiner is the poster town for public debate.”
Zatz says that, in addition to the fact that his daughter is now older, the timing is right for him to be getting back in the game of governing Gardiner. “It’s a good time to be part of watching the town operate and become a good place to live. The town is growing; it’s full of energy; there’s a lot less controversy. All the evidence points to thousands of people thriving and enjoying this place. It has great parks, a great Library, the Cupcake Festival.”
He sees the momentum of this “town on the move” as resting largely in the hands of the incoming Town Board members, who make most of the crucial decisions: “It’s very easy to point to what you think is wrong; the real challenge is to point to what is right and how you can make it better,” says Zatz. “There seems to be a growing culture in this country that people won’t make decisions or have the courage to take a stand. The Town Board members have to have the courage to deliberate the issues and make the decisions. You’re elected to act.”