A look back at what was in the news in 2014.
High heating costs
The year 2014 began in a deep freeze. A cold snap in the Midwest and Northeast lasting several weeks caused natural gas rates to soar, which caused heating and electricity bills to increase 40 percent or more. Central Hudson said it wasn’t making any money on the deal and the increases came directly from suppliers, who said the demand taxed the country’s natural gas infrastructure (not the cheapest or easiest substance to store or transport). That was cold comfort to customers, who found themselves shelling out hundreds of dollars in unforeseen utility costs.
With more successful businesses springing up, foot traffic in the village has increased, as have pedestrian and motor vehicle accidents. Throughout 2013, police were warning of increased incidences of close calls and non-serious accidents, especially at the center of the village. On Thursday, Jan. 30, the worst came to pass when Saugerties resident Robert Carlson, 57, was struck by a truck just south of the Partition and Main intersection. He later died. According to witnesses, Carlson stepped out into the street from the Tango Cafe side to meet someone parked on the opposite side without looking.
That intersection had been a concern for some time because it lacks light-up walk and do not walk signs for pedestrians and the accompanying periods in which traffic in all directions have red lights. Further, traffic turning south onto Partition St. from the Dallas Hot Wieners side of Main St. cannot see pedestrians before entering the intersection.
In response, the state announced the traffic signal would be replaced and equipped with pedestrian signage (sometime in 2015) and Saugerties police stepped up enforcement of related laws, warning then ticketing both motorists and pedestrians — including a sting operation in which an officer posed as a pedestrian and motorists who failed to yield the right-of-way at a crosswalk were later accosted by uniformed police and issued warnings.
There’s nothing like the view of a river below to fast-track a bridge repair. The 1961 bridge carrying Glasco Turnpike over the Esopus Creek, called PVI Bridge by some and Sauer Bridge by the county, was closed from mid-February through September, causing considerable inconvenience for area residents and at least one scare when a CSX train stopped at the intersection, cutting off residents between the closed bridge and the train tracks for several hours. Local officials quickly contacted CSX and created a plan to deal with emergency calls should such an incident happen again (it didn’t). After the bridge was stripped, the piers were judged to be structurally sound. New decking was installed and work was done on the road on either side of the bridge, including making the curve on the west side less sharp, said County Legislator Dean Fabiano.
The most famous Saugertiesian yet took over The Tonight Show in February, an occasion for pride and celebration in Saugerties. Many shared their memories. Even those who don’t watch the show couldn’t deny his success and nice guy image were testaments to Friendly Saugerties. We marked Fallon-fever with an April Fool’s article reporting the town had voted to change its name to Fallonville to increase tourism dollars (which would offset the property tax burden and allow seniors to keep their homes). This was not well received; not because Saugertiesians loved Jimmy Fallon less, but because they loved Saugerties more.
In a quiet year for the Town Board, the main recurring issue was a proposed noise ordinance. At the start of 2014, the town had no such ordinance, and by the end of the year, one could see why. Town officials ultimately decided against pursuing the ordinance due to the number of residents who spoke against it because they were concerned the decibel limits would include everyday activities. Over time, the narrative that such a law was antithetical to the Saugerties spirit began to take hold. As a rural community, people felt they ought to be able to make noise on their own property sometimes without it being a legal matter. If neighbors felt it unreasonable, the neighbors should work it out among themselves, not call the police. The implication was that the people who were complaining about excessive noise had moved to Saugerties from elsewhere looking for peace and quiet and, when their expectations were frustrated, had called the police before attempting to speak with the neighbor.
The Town Board said it would be difficult to set decibel limits that would work for the entire town, which includes dense areas like Barclay Heights and very rural areas. Town Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel said he felt the noise ordinance would be “abused,” presumably meaning neighbors who had other disagreements (or just plain didn’t like each other) would use noise complaints to go after one another.
Was this possible? Perhaps, though according to Police Chief Joseph Sinagra, the village has had a noise ordinance for years and it has never been used by vengeful neighbors.
A quiet year for development
Other than a new building in the old Grand Union plaza and some new townhouses behind Partition St., there wasn’t much new ground broken in 2014. The only project that got much attention was the 42-unit Country Meadows affordable/senior housing development proposed by Premier Development for North St. in the village; not because it is any closer to being built than in previous years in which its approval has been renewed, but because the issue of taxpayer-subsidized affordable housing continues to be controversial.
Realtor and property manager Steve Hubbard said Saugerties already has more affordable housing units than any other community in the county, except Kingston, which he said distorts the market for rentals. Others raised the perennial concerns of cost vs. benefit, saying these developments attract families with children who attend the schools, the single largest recipient of local taxes, while the developments receive large tax breaks, forcing the costs onto existing taxpayers.
Premier Development has not announced whether it received the state subsidies it has been seeking this year.
Gun show at the Kiwanis
If 2013 was the year of the SAFE Act, 2014 was the year of… “We’re still mad about the SAFE Act” (and its corollary, “I can’t believe people got that mad about the SAFE Act”). Those tensions were on display in the run-up to a gun show held at the Kiwanis Ice Arena in June. Some residents, when they learned of this, were incredulous that a gun show would be held so close to the junior/senior high school. But their righteous indignation was no match for the gun-rights crowd, who have a hair trigger about this sort of thing— namely, that a bunch of unloaded weapons on tables and under glass are dangerous and unsavory.
The town did not take a position. When asked if the Town Board had any standing in approving or disapproving a show of this nature in Saugerties, Councilwoman Leeanne Thornton said, “The Kiwanis Arena is a public space available to any organization which wants to rent it.”
A poll on our website showed 82 percent support for the show’s location, and included 130 comments for and against.
Organizers moved forward with the show, which was held without incident.
For years there was talk of holding regular music festivals at Winston Farm, the site of Woodstock ’94, a verdant estate tucked behind the trees at the intersection of routes 212 and 32 near the Thruway. Last July, it finally happened with the Hudson Project, a three-day electronic music festival put together in part by Woodstock promoter Michael Lang.
In some ways, it didn’t live up to the hype. Attendance was several thousand below the anticipated 20,000–25,000. Locals who had braced for an invasion of concert-goers were surprised to see there was no traffic impact whatsoever.
For concert-goers, the big disappointment was the cancellation of the highly anticipated third night following a lightning storm. Around 1,000 cars were mired in the mud well into the next day.
Reviews were mixed. Many who attended Friday and Saturday had nothing but good things to say about the festival’s lineup and atmosphere, though some complained there were too many police officers. Others, especially those who traveled from out of state with single-day passes for Sunday, cursed the festival to no end. A few days later, promoters announced refunds would be issued for Sunday’s cancellation.
Town officials stood by the decision to cancel the third night due to lightning and the tough security, which was a deliberate measure to prevent the deaths which have marred other similar festivals of this variety. The cause is usually a mix of overindulgence in drugs and exhaustion from dancing.
No word yet on whether there will be a Hudson Project in 2015. If so, no parking will be allowed on the grassy areas that became mud pits last year.
Saugerties is known for its festivals; big outdoor occasions, usually free, which don’t make a lot of money and require a lot of work. Most items in a year-end wrap are, like all news, novelties, happenings which deviated from the usual course of events. In the case of festivals we’ll make an exception. Previously established events like the Fourth of July, Car Show, Zombie Crawl, Garlic Festival and Holiday in the Village were held again this year and went off without a hitch.
With no town races and only a judicial race in which the candidates claimed they were barred from speaking of anything of interest, the main races of local interest were Congress and State Senate. Going into the year, expectations were high for Democrat Sean Eldridge. Young, rich, gay, dynamic, burnished by his affiliation with Facebook (his husband was a co-founder), for many liberals he seemed to be the perfect candidate to reclaim Maurice Hinchey’s seat from Republican Chris Gibson.
But it wasn’t to be. Eldridge couldn’t overcome the “carpetbagger” label bestowed upon him for moving to the district and filing to run for Congress only a few months later, as well as the activities of his investment business, which seemed to exist solely as a vehicle for patronage (the businesses and initiatives receiving money inevitably turning up in press releases and campaign speeches). Eldridge’s campaign mostly revolved around national issues like women’s pay equity, abortion and raising the minimum wage. Seeking the votes of Independents and Gibson-Democrats, he tried to portray Gibson as an extremist. But many in the district who may not agree with Gibson have met him and found him likeable and basically moderate. While Eldridge said he wanted to fix the “do-nothing” Congress, his strategy of labeling Gibson as an extremist suggested he wouldn’t be able to work with the other side. How could he find common ground with Republicans if he found one of the most moderate members of that party to be an extremist? He lost by 30 points.
In the State Senate race, Republican George Amedore defeated Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk by ten points. The race was very negative, and both sides gave as good as they got. There was little of truth in the claims of the ads. Tkaczyk squeaked by Amedore in 2012, and wasn’t affiliated with any unpopular laws during her term. The result seemed to be a consequence of mid-term turnout (vs. presidential year) and the Republican wave.
DSS warrant checks
In October, it was reported that Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum had begun screening visitors to Ulster County Social Services for outstanding warrants. “This is either going to stop you from getting free benefits, or you’re going to clear up your stuff,” said the sheriff.
The ensuing debate split into two familiar camps. For supporters, the measure made sense because it asked those who would receive public benefits to deal with their legal issues. It could be deduced that people who couldn’t keep a clean record probably were not able to keep it together enough to get a job, so public assistance would be throwing good money after bad. If they had to clean up their record to get benefits, perhaps they’d be more likely to get a job, at which point they wouldn’t need the benefits.
Opponents were not interested in those arguments. For them, it was simply a case of profiling the poor as criminals. The policy was unacceptable unless it was applied to all visitors to county buildings.
The sheriff stood by the policy, often citing the safety of the DSS employees and claiming there were no complaints by visitors. But when legislator Tracey Bartels threatened to replace deputies with outside security at DSS, Van Blarcum relented.
Historical oversight shakeup
In the fall, the Village Board offered a plan to merge the Historic Review and Planning boards. The goal, said the mayor and trustees, was efficiency. Businesses and residents in the village’s two historic districts (business and southside vicinity of East Bridge St.) must appear before the Review Board when making structural changes to their buildings or signage. The Review Board checks plans for faithfulness to the village’s historic character. As with applicants in the rest of the village, these applicants also must appear before the Planning Board, which checks plans against the zoning law and other regulations. A combined board could evaluate plans by all those criteria in one sitting, which would cut down on the time and expense of the review process. That was the plan.
But many residents saw the measure as simply removing diligent history-minded people from the review process to make things easier for businesspeople who may or may not be interested in maintaining the village’s historic character. Mayor William Murphy’s statements supported the interpretation that the change was being suggested at the request of businesspeople. “I’m friendly to our businesses and friendly to our business owners,” Murphy said. “I’ve had more than a dozen business owners complain about the Historic Review Board. We need to value our business owners because people come here for our businesses.”
Most speakers at the Dec. 1 public hearing on the law opposed the plan, asking the board to address complaints about the Review Board with that board and make it better rather than scrapping it. The following week, the Village Board announced it would drop the merger plan.
But as of now, another historic preservation-related law is still set to move forward — the adoption of a zoning map that would once and for all exclude the homes at 40 and 42 Partition St. from the Historic Business District. A plan by Sawyer Savings to purchase and demolish the home at 40 Partition St. to expand the parking lot of its Market St. building and construct a drive-up ATM, and the question of whether the Review Board had jurisdiction, was on the table just as the village was presenting its merger proposal. Village officials say this was a coincidence; that the merger had been in the works for awhile. But the perception was that the Review Board was being brushed aside because members had asserted the home was in the historic district and that, as a historic late-19th century home, they would not allow it to be demolished. According to the village, the home is just outside the border of the historic district. Sawyer Savings later dropped the plan, citing public feedback.