Dan Shuster is officially retiring as the Saugerties town planning board’s consultant.
Who would be a better person to interpret the zoning law than the guy who wrote it? Saugerties town planning board chairman Howard Post asked the question at the last meeting at which Dan Shuster would serve as the board’s consultant.
Shuster also got to eat his law. The December 16 meeting ended with a short celebration that included a cake baked by board secretary Becky Bertorelli. The cake featured an edible zoning map of Saugerties and the cover page of the zoning law.
Shuster has been consultant to the planning board since he replaced Jeremy Kane, who left to take a job in Rhinebeck, in 2010. Prior to the appointment, Shuster worked for the town in a private capacity, guiding the formulation of the town’s first zoning law. Shuster also served as the planners’ consultant from 1992 to 2002. He holds a master’s degree in municipal planning from Pratt Institute, and has had a planning consulting business for more than 40 years.
With only minimal amendment, the zoning law is still the town’s code, Post noted. An update is scheduled.
Unlike planners who simply interpret the law, Post said, Shuster has helped applicants rework plans that didn’t conform to the zoning law. Shuster and the board members hold a monthly workshop meeting at which applicants can discuss their plans and receive guidance in bringing their plans into conformity with the law.
When Post’s mother, Marie Post, served on the town board, Shuster worked with her to plan the Woodstock Festival 25th anniversary at the Winston Farm in Saugerties in 1994. That was not your typical planning consultant’s task, Howard Post noted.
Planning board member Carole Furman emphasized the combination of knowledge and compassion that Shuster brought to the job. “You don’t tell people what they can’t do; you tell them what they can do,” she remembered Shuster saying at the farewell gathering that followed the last board meeting. “He was very thoughtful and caring.”
Zoning board of appeals chair Jeanne Goldberg recalled how Shuster he worked with other town bodies. While Shuster was not the board’s official consultant, he was called in to help with specific cases, she said. Shuster would work with the ZBA on cases where his expertise was needed. “He doesn’t regularly attend our board meetings,” said the 20-year ZBA veteran, “but we could call on him.”
Shuster’s long experience with the town has made him “the town’s institutional memory,” Goldberg said. “He is very knowledgeable of the law,” she said. “I’m glad to hear he will still work with the town in some capacity.” Shuster wrote the town zoning law in 1989, but was not involved in the 2008 update.
Shuster recalled his first contact with Saugerties some 50 years ago. His car broke down on the New York State Thruway in Saugerties. “I had to catch a bus,” he recalled.
In 1983, he prepared a waterfront revitalization plan for the Village of Saugerties; It was the first such plan in the Hudson Valley, Shuster said.
The idea of a zoning law was controversial in Saugerties, Shuster recalled. “There had been two previous attempts, but they were not finished.” The town was sharply divided, but after much discussion a compromise was reached. “Joe Benjamin was the chairman of the zoning commission. He was essential in getting it through.”
Shuster takes some pride in the fact that the comprehensive plan he developed in Kingston almost 60 years ago has stood the test of time. The first update of that law came only six years ago.
Shuster intends to continue to work with the Saugerties planning board. He won’t attend all the meetings, but he will still consult on all applications. He’ll also continue to work with the ZBA when needed.
He serves as a consultant to other towns as well.