Kathy Nolan, a Democrat, is running for reelection after a term as Ulster County legislator for District 22, which includes the towns of Shandaken, Olive, Denning, and Hardenbergh. She is being challenged by John Parete, who lost the seat to Nolan in 2017, after serving six terms. Parete, also a Democrat, has received the Republican party endorsement but failed in an attempt to defeat Nolan in the Democratic primary earlier this year. Parete has not said which party he would caucus with should he win.
As proprietor of the Boiceville Inn, Parete has been in business for over 50 years. He has lived in the area almost his entire life, serving with the fire department for 25 years. “I know what it’s like to run a business, employ workers, pay bills, volunteer in the community, coach sports with kids,” he said. He has also been Ulster County’s purchasing director, and he was chair of the county legislature.
Parete wants to return to office because he sees “a lot of unfinished business. Our communities are imploding, and there’s no housing available. That includes workforce housing and homes for young people coming out of school to rent or buy and get a job. There’s no housing for seniors if they can no longer to afford to keep their house. The opioid crisis, which I was very much involved with four or five years ago, has not necessarily gotten any better, although the state has done a good job of making treatments and advocacy available. We have to look at it as an infrastructure problem, in terms of awareness. We have to invest in our young people.”
He recognizes that short-term rentals are here to stay, but he feels that, as a business, they should be regulated. “There are potential discomforts of not knowing who your neighbors are on a given day and what disturbances they might create. There are potential safety hazards. When somebody sells a house here, people are buying it for STR, and there goes something a high school or college graduate can’t rent or buy. The county being involved in housing could alleviate it by stopping people from buying homes for STR businesses.”
The county should take a role in supporting the growth of affordable housing by identifying communities that need help, he said. While individual communities may not have funds to address the issue, “the county has an overall picture of what’s happening and can help advocate for them, promote them, maybe even become involved, whether as a housing authority or to work with developers and buildings and identify where you could put affordable housing. The legislature seems to sit on their hands and say, ‘What are we going to do?’”
New York City, which pays taxes to the region, has been “a pretty good neighbor,” Parete said. “The city’s insistence on protecting their water is a good thing. I think they’re buying up a little too much property now, inflating the prices. There are always disagreements, and sometimes they’re overzealous with enforcement. But the city has also been an employer.”
Regarding jobs, Parete noted he has served on the board of the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), which administers Belleayre Ski Center. “We went up to Albany
to make sure Ulster County and Belleayre got our fair share of investments. Belleayre had its best year in history last year. ORDA has invested in snowmaking, a gondola, maintenance, building a new lodge to hold the skiers so they have a comfortable experience. We’ve created construction jobs.” Meanwhile, Onteora school district has lost 60 percent of its students over the last few decades, reducing jobs for teachers and other staff.
He feels the environment is a big issue facing the county. “I’ve been way out in front for years with the environment. Back in the early 2000s, I appointed people to advise me on the environment. I don’t take a back seat on that. At Belleayre, we’re moving from diesel to electric snowmaking.”
Among the improvements he would like to see in the county are action on opioids and more support for SUNY Ulster, the community college in Stone Ridge. “Other than the workers who work for the county, the college is the most significant and valuable asset they have. It provides education, jobs, and business for community. There’s not enough advocacy for supporting the college.”
Nolan believes she has delivered on her campaign pledges in the areas of job creation, health promotion, and environmental protection. Her background includes “being a pediatrician by training and working in recent years on environmental issues on the public health level.”
As county legislator and previously in her work for Catskill Mountainkeeper, she advocated for the creation and connection of trail networks across the county, most recently the Ashokan Rail Trail. She credits the trails and other activities with creating jobs “in character with what the region has been historically, yet they carry a modern element. We’re bringing people to the area for the natural beauty but also trying to encourage electric vehicle tourism and recreational activities that are health-promoting, as well as serving the tourist economy. With the Ashokan trail opening, I’m hearing people want to open bike shops near the trail, guide services are opening, and we’re promoting the Catskills region more effectively, while preserving and protecting open spaces.”
Nolan helped pass legislation for a film production tax credit, which has increased the number of films produced in the region and provided economic benefits for people employed in set construction, sound, and other film-related technologies. “Filmmaking has low impact on the landscape,” said Nolan. “We’re also encouraging small breweries and distilleries, with creative culinary offerings that people have opened or expanded.”
One of her reasons for running for reelection was her belief that “it’s important the way we work with each other in local government and at higher levels. I want to bring a really respectful way of working with my colleagues and other elected officials.”
Regarding the relationship between New York City and the towns in her district, Nolan said,
“The city has been reforming itself over the last ten years or so in terms of understanding more clearly that the local population is burdened by the large amounts of land removed from the realm of commerce. There is increasing recognition that allowing recreational access to protected lands can be consistent with protecting water quality and gives back to the local community in a way that’s important.”
She recognizes the problem of insufficient affordable housing in a region where there is “a mixture of second homes and often homes that are in disrepair because they have not been lived in. I do support short-term rentals [STRs] in spaces that have been out of use for many years. We have to make STRs a regulated business and find ways to encourage some longer-term rentals in addition. I would like to see the county working more closely with the towns to identify potential properties and houses that could be repurposed to meet affordable housing needs.”
Among the biggest issues facing the county, she includes the opioid epidemic and the use of tobacco and vaping products by young people. She’s concerned about how to legalize or decriminalize marijuana without causing a rise in both harmful early use and the incidence of drug addiction. Another need is the provision of broadband and emergency communication services, while recognizing the potential harmful effects of electromagnetic exposure. “It’s a tough issue because we want to provide ways people are not unduly exposed, and yet these are important mechanisms for communications for both business and quality of life. We haven’t been having a conversation at that level.”
Nolan recently introduced and obtained unanimous passage of a law to protect pollinator and nectar plants, while encouraging people to plant gardens and pathways to connect natural areas. “It seems to be something that brought people together,” she remarked. “It shows me if we start really paying attention and taking care of little things, little beings, this will enrich our lives. What we do in one part affects other parts. What we do here affects New York City. I like things that get us looking at those places where we do connect and trying to make those stronger and serve us better.”