The Woodstock Town Board unsealed bids of four consultants proposing to help revise the Comprehensive Plan and selected a committee to choose among them, but one councilman thinks the job can be done cheaper in-house and with volunteer work.
The Comprehensive Plan will address current and future needs and will analyze areas such as demographics, economics and infrastructure. The town has already helped the process along by putting together an inventory of property, answering the question, “Where are we now?” The town has purposely left open the question “Where do we want to be?” seeking help from the consultants to get that answer.
The Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 1962 and despite a few attempts, has never been officially updated, according to Supervisor Jeremy Wilber. The first effort to update it was made in the 1980s, but was never adopted. Another try in the 1990s met a similar fate.
Behan Planning and Design of New City came in the lowest at $65,285, followed by Liverpool, NY-based Barton & Loguidice at $79,000, BFJ Planning of NYC at $90,090 and Ferrandino & Associates of Elmsford, NY at $125,000.
Supervisor Jeremy Wilber pointed out it’s not as simple as picking the lowest bidder. The committee will recommend the most qualified firm. The committee members are John LaValle, Jill Fisher, Mike Stock, Barry Price, Paul Vanwagenen, Kirk Ritchey and Sasha Gillman.
A selection committee is necessary because state funding requires a consulting firm to be chosen by those who are not elected to town office.
Councilman Jay Wenk initially voted “no,” meaning the resolution to pass the proposals along to the selection committee would have failed, given there were only three Town Board members present at the early afternoon meeting on September 6 — Wenk, Wilber and Bill McKenna.
Wenk was opposed because he believes it can be done much cheaper, in-house and with “local smarts.”
McKenna said he understood Wenk’s concerns, but asked him to reconsider, because the handling of the proposals and appointment of the selection committee could not move forward without his vote. McKenna suggested asking the selection committee to also consider whether it is in the best interests of the town to update the Comprehensive Plan with its own resources.
With that addition, Wenk changed his vote and the motion passed. The committee will now be asked to either recommend to the Town Board one of the four firms or the option to do the work in-house. They are expected to complete a report by November.
Wenk further asked the public for help in volunteering their expertise to either assist the town in updating the Comprehensive Plan or in assisting the chosen consulting firm, which may then lower its fees. Those interested may contact Town Clerk Jackie Earley at (845) 679-2113, ext. 14, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wilber said he was concerned, given people’s busy schedules, that volunteers may not be able to find the time to commit to such an endeavor. Some members of the selection committee have said they only have time to choose a qualified firm and little else.
The double-edged sword of the shared economy
Regardless of how the Comprehensive Plan update is done, it is expected to address the impact of what is being called the shared economy, particularly short-term rentals through brokerage websites such as Airbnb. The rentals have skyrocketed in popularity, bringing with it a boom in tourism, but also some problems, such as strained parking availability, a reduction in affordable housing and quality-of-life issues such as loud partying.
Many of these short-term rentals are through homeowners who are looking to supplement their income or help pay their mortgage, but the problems mount when the owners are not home to tell renters to behave.
When the owner is not home, it fits the definition of a hotel, which is illegal in most parts of town. However, it is difficult to enforce.
“It is having more and more of an impact on our community,” said Wilber, who suggested the problem can only be tackled by someone with expertise in shared economies.