With Supervisor Rob Stanley stepping down after more than a decade in office, and with two town board seats on the ballot, Town of Shandaken voters have important decisions to make. This week we profile the two supervisor candidates, Democrat Peter DiSclafani (also on the Working Families line) and Republican John Blydenburgh.
The only other contest is for two seats for town justice. Incumbents Tom Crucet (Republican, also on the Democratic line) and Michael Miranda (Democrat) are running, as well as Republican challenger Matt Persons.
Incumbents Highway Superintendent Eric Hofmeister and Town Clerk Joyce Grant are unopposed. For the two assessor seats that are open, only two people are running, Stephen Neville, a Democrat, and Grace Grant, who has no party affiliation.
Peter DiSclafani served as Shandaken supervisor in 2007-2008, after two years on the town council. He has again been a council member for the past six years. He and his wife have owned and operated the Catskill Rose restaurant in Mount Tremper since 1987. He is a volunteer fireman and a former volunteer ambulance driver.
DiSclafani feels the short-term rental (STR) issue is ripe for resolution now that the town board is considering the recommendations for new regulations made by the STR committee after extensive deliberations. “We need to get a law created that benefits both residents and STR owners,” he said. “We will try and find something that both will be happy. Right now, there’s nothing in our code book for STRs in a residence. It’s a business, so trying to put a business in a residential zone, we’re all trying to figure out how to do without impinging too much or turning it into a business zone. That’s the sensitiveness of it.”
Another critical issue is finding funding to support infrastructure. “The sidewalks in Phoenicia and Pine Hill are in dire need of upgrades, rehabilitation, and hopefully expansion. New York State has money to build sidewalks, but rehabbing old ones is hard to find. I’ll be on the lookout for funding. The town hall is in need of upgrading. There are leaks in the roof, the windows need upgrading. It’s in serious need of help. There are monies out there, but it has to be looked for and worked for. Santa’s not going to bring it. That’s part of the job, searching high and low for infrastructure grants.”
DiSclafani is hopeful that there might be an infrastructure aspect of American Recovery Act (ARA) funding that the current supervisor is investigating. “There’s a possibility of a couple hundred thousand dollars coming to Shandaken if we can identify ways to spend it. It’s supposed to be something that will help the next possible pandemic. He has hit roadblocks because of where and how the money has to be spent, so it’s a little complicated.” One idea DiSclafani wants to research is whether the money can be used for improved communications, such as installing wifi hotspots to help people communicate better and meet online.
Among the wishes he has heard from town residents are an increase in trails and rail trails. “The Ashokan Rail Trail is a big asset to the area. It would be good if we could expand it a bit, even to go alongside the Rail Explorers,” the rail bike company that Ulster County designated to operate on the railroad tracks between Phoenicia and Mount Pleasant. “It’s in the works already with a county committee that’s looking for ways to expand the rail trail. Finding funding is a challenge.”
Regarding the insufficiency of affordable housing in the town, DiSclafani plans to speak to RUPCO, the Kingston-based organization that builds or converts properties to low-income housing. He also intends to connect with the county’s planning board to see if there might be a possibility of offering tax breaks to residents who would rent auxiliary properties to long-term residents.
“The town board is going to have three new people,” DiSclafani said, referring to the supervisor position and the two board seats up for election. “It’s exciting when there’s a big change in town government. It’s a challenge, and I like a good challenge.”
John Blydenburgh, who has lived in Shandaken for 41 of his 50 years, owned and ran Resort Ridge Pizza at the Phoenicia Plaza for about a decade. He managed three furniture stores in North Carolina some years ago, and he has worked for the Ulster County Sheriff’s office. Most recently, when he learned the Shandaken highway department was shorthanded, he offered to help out on the crew until the election. “It’s helping me learn about the highway department and how it operates, the hardships they have,” he said. “They need newer equipment. The town overall is going to need a little bit bigger budget. We’re playing catch-up. The roads, the town hall, the museum are all in need of a lot of repair. Till I get in there, I won’t know where the money is. Pine Hill’s storm drain system is terrible. They have bad water runoff down the streets, and they can’t fix the roads till they fix the drainage. I don’t say I want to raise taxes, but I want to look at the budget and see what we can prioritize.”
Blydenburgh agrees that STR regulations have to be resolved soon. “I don’t mind seeing Airbnbs in town, but there are a few problems. It takes housing away from people who live and work here. I own a couple of apartment buildings, and I get calls every week from people looking for housing. I don’t like the corporations running STRs. I’d rather see locals getting a little money in their pocket” from renting out their properties.
When asked what solutions he might seek for affordable housing, Blydenburgh said, “There are grants from the government for taking dilapidated properties and fixing them up. When COVID hit, and we had the real estate boom, it’s become hard to afford a house. I would look into finding properties that the town could work on getting grants for. I don’t know where the economy is going to go, but hopefully the market will come down. We don’t want people to have to move away.”
Regarding cell service, he said, “We need a better system here. The big companies have been hard to deal with recently. Years ago cell service got voted down, but I’d like to see it for emergency services, for finding lost hikers. There was a recent tragedy in Silver Hollow, where a man was hit by a tree. People there couldn’t get cell service until they came down to town.”
Blydenburgh is optimistic about the local economy. “Tourism has been pretty good. People have been doing good business, but there’s not a lot of help. Places are not up to full capacity, and people are looking for employees. I’m not sure whether it’s because of housing or COVID.”
If elected, he said, “I’m going to do my best to be as bipartisan as I can. I will look at everything with an even eye, do my best, and do what’s right. I hear a lot of problems, and I want to dedicate myself to Shandaken.”