Three vie for two seats on Woodstock Town Board

Woodstock Democratic voters will decide in the party primary June 25 which two of three candidates will run for election to the two available Town Board seats.

Incumbent Reggie Earls and Planning Board member Conor Wenk are running together and incumbent Laura Ricci is seeking re-election. New York has combined state, local and federal primaries into the June date. The town board race is the only one on the ballot in Woodstock. Only Democratic Party registrants may vote. 

Here are the candidates:

Reggie Earls, 37, is seeking his first full four-year term. Having served as deputy supervisor, he was appointed in 2018 to replace the late Jay Wenk, then elected in November to complete the remaining year of Wenk’s term. Earls wants a full term so he can focus on the issues instead of the whirlwind campaign seasons.

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“What I’m asking for is four years and not having to deal with campaigns,” he said.

Earls was born and raised in Portsmouth, Virginia and moved to Woodstock about 13 years ago. He is staff development specialist at the Omega Institute and has worked with many organizations including Mental Health Association of Ulster County, Angel Food East and Family of Woodstock. He is the organist at the Dutch Reformed Church.

As the only renter on the board, the big issue for Earls is affordable housing. 

“Young people, seniors. It’s affecting people across the board,” Earls said.

He proposes a tax incentive for landlords who provide long-term housing instead of short-term rentals. “It doesn’t have to be a large number. Even if we had a number like 20 (rentals), if we had some sort of tax break,” he said. The next step would be to figure out what monthly rent is considered affordable and work from there.

“I know people who are paying $1000, $1100 and it’s not a nice place,” he said.

Earls said the town needs to encourage younger people to work in public service and he’d like to set an example. “That doesn’t mean it has to be on the town board, but we need younger people to be involved. It’s great that we have the people that we have now, but as they get older, we need to see an influx of the younger generation.”

When asked at a recent candidate forum about what he can bring to the board to ensure action, not stagnation, Earls said he is here to listen. “I’m not in it for any other reason than to serve. I have an open door,” he said. “Whether I win or lose this election, I’ve already won because I live in a phenomenal town.”

Laura Ricci, 63, is seeking her second term. A former IBM project manager, she has two stepsons, David and Vic, a stepdaughter, Jenn and two step grandchildren, Xavier and Gabriella. 

As a landlord, Ricci said she cares about affordability and points out she has apartments in the center of town and none of them are above $1000 a month.

Ricci said she used her project management and small business experience to scrutinize important details on major projects such as Mill Hill Road, the town’s taking ownership of the Woodstock Cemetery, adopting a new noise ordinance and the recently adopted short-term rental law.

Ricci is proud of her work on the recently adopted Comprehensive Plan and helping with roles of existing committees and forming new ones to implement the recommendations.

“Environmental issues. That’s my focus area,” she said. Ricci has recently started working with the Environmental Commission on tackling a page and half of items stemming from recommendations in the Comprehensive Plan, which hadn’t been updated in 55 years.

She remains concerned about regulating short-term rentals, though she notes an additional building inspector was hired to help with additional inspections and enforcement. Ricci also pointed out new software used by the county that can provide data by cross-referencing tax records with rental listings.

“We have a much better idea of who’s doing this,” she said.

Ricci worked on safety, having fought for a crosswalk in front of Town Hall that was finally installed recently. She is also liaison to the recently-formed Complete Streets Committee that will look at all aspects of transportation, whether it be vehicle, pedestrian or bicycle. Ricci hopes additional trails can be part of the complete streets concept as exercise is an important part of people’s lives.

Ricci said she brings a needed perspective as the only woman on the board and presses for equality on town matters.

As development in town continues to increase, an audience member at the candidate forum questioned whether officials have adequate staff and tools to enforce regulations.

“We’ve taken a step with a new zoning enforcement officer,” she said. “We need to see how that goes. We have a great planning board. The ZBA has undergone a bit of controversy. I think they have learned from that controversy.”

Conor Wenk, 30, is the grandson of the late Councilman Jay Wenk. He has served more than four years on the Planning Board.

Wenk lived in Woodstock until age 6, then moved to Brooklyn where he resided through high school. He has a degree in arts administration from SUNY Purchase and lived on the West Coast for a short time after graduation.

Wenk eventually came back to Woodstock in the summer of 2013 when his grandfather became less capable and needed some help. He moved back to Woodstock full-time with his partner Megan in 2014. They recently purchased and moved into Jay Wenk’s former Mead Mountain Road home.

Wenk regularly performs with his string band, Mead Mountain Resonators, works for Markertek in Saugerties and is a luthier with his own business, American Son Guitars.

Having seen many cases come to the planning board, big issues for Wenk are short-term rentals and better zoning enforcement.

“What I think gets lost in the minutiae of the short term rental conversation is that it’s a technological problem,” he said. “It all revolves around a website and an online process and network that we don’t have a lot of literacy about in government.” He wonders who is going to enforce the 180 day limit on non-owner-occupied short-term rentals and a cap on the number of units. “Who’s going to go around and check license plates…To me it’s a little bit absurd. I would challenge anybody to explain to me how that is enforceable. I’d rather see a more permissive environment for owner-occupied.”

Wenk suggested requiring all rental owners to register a commercial IP address, a series of numbers assigned to computers connected to the internet. Town officials can then see what IP address is being used to post listings on such sites as Airbnb.

He prefers only allowing owner-occupied units.

“When you have these non owner-occupieds where the property manager is allowed to be 15-20 minutes away, who’s going to get there sooner, the property manager or the police?

The police are not hotel staff and they shouldn’t be treated as such,” Wenk said.

Wenk also sees an alarming trend of developers rushing through projects with little regard for the regulations and believes the planning and zoning boards need more professional assistance.

“Someone comes in with a ton of money and railroads the process and nobody seems to be able to stop them. And I think that partially stems from an unwillingness from people in current positions now, both in and out of town, to pursue it,” Wenk said.

He said the town spent a long time catering to commercial interests and now it’s time to focus on community.

“Now that we are on the other side of a comprehensive plan, what can we do to foster and support a full-time, permanent class of Woodstockers, like the future of this town?” Wenk said. “The fire department, the EMS, they are running out of volunteers. If no one lives in Woodstock and no one has a stake in this, who’s going to volunteer for the town.”

Supervisor Bill McKenna, Town Clerk Jackie Earley and Highway Superintendent Mike Reynolds are also running for re-election on the same Democratic Party ticket. They face neither a primary challenge nor any Republican opponents thus far.

The Democratic Primary is June 25. Polls are open from noon to 9 p.m.

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