The Woodstock Environmental Commission (WEC) will make a presentation to the Town Board on Tuesday, March 8 regarding a proposed Critical Environmental Area (CEA) for the Zena Woods area in an effort to clear up some confusion and answer questions about the designation.
State law authorizes municipalities to create CEAs to call attention to places that deserve special attention during land use planning, reviews of developments and decisions about conservation.
A CEA is an area with benefit or threat to human health, a natural setting including forest, vegetation, open space and areas of important aesthetic quality; has agricultural, social, cultural, historic, archeological, recreational or educational value; or an ecological, geological or hydrological sensitivity that may be adversely affected by any change, according to state regulations. CEA designation would be placed by the Town Board and is advisory in nature.
A working group has identified a 3.6-square mile area of large forests east of John Joy Road and including part of the Bluestone Wild Forest. “These are the largest lowland forest areas in the town, and are part of a much larger forest extending, north, south and east into the towns of Saugerties, Ulster and beyond,” reads a summary drafted by the WEC. The land is mostly privately owned, but the town owns three parcels and the city of Kingston owns a piece.
Councilman Bennet Ratcliff pushed to get the CEA back on the Town Board agenda since the WEC has been waiting to get a public hearing scheduled. It made a preliminary presentation to the Town Board about the CEA in November.
“From just what I’m hearing tonight, I get this sense that perhaps even some of the people here don’t fully understand what this CEA means and how it would work in practice,” WEC Chair Alex Bolotov said at the February 15 Town Board meeting.
Supervisor Bill McKenna responded by suggesting the March 8 date as a “tutorial on CEAs and invite the public and invite the neighbors to all come out.” The CEA working group is projecting a June deadline to present a final proposal to the Town Board, but the March 8 primer will educate the public on the designation.
Does this conflict with work on housing?
At the same time the town’s Housing Oversight Task Force has been working on proposed zoning changes to promote housing accessible to people of any means. Some have suggested stronger coordination to make sure the CEA designation does not conflict with any proposed housing.
“The point of view from the Housing Oversight Task Force is that everything that is being said that is trying to be accomplished by the CEA is exactly what we’re trying to accomplish with Housing Task Force as well, trying to make it very clear what development can be done in every area of Woodstock, how that development can be managed within the environment, how to protect the environment. So those things are very, very consistent,” Housing Oversight Task Force member Jeff Collins said. “And to me, it seems like having two things going to try to do the same thing is a mistake, instead of having one thing doing it themselves. That’s where I think that we need to get together and have this worked out together as a single, consistent plan.”
Collins also expressed frustration that he was left out of the loop as a property owner. “The other area that I come from is I’m one of the largest landowners in the area that’s designated for this CEA. So from that point of view, my first question is why,” he said. “What is it about that particular part of Woodstock that is so much more valuable and so much more critical than any other part of Woodstock? Because if I don’t see it as an owner of that land, and maybe I’m missing something. I feel personally a little bit upset that someone wants to designate my land as CEA without having talked to me, or brought it to me before it comes up to this point in the process. I think that should have been something done early on. I’m just pointing that out. This is a significant impact on my ownership of that land. And not just me, but everyone else too.”
Housing Oversight Task Force welcomes dialogue
“We welcome a dialogue being open with the WEC, and with Alex and crew, and look forward to working on how your proposal integrates well with the new proposed (zoning) code,” Housing Oversight Task Force and Housing Committee co-chair Kirk Ritchey said.
“When I first heard that there were concerns about bringing the WEC forward, I didn’t quite understand them. And I have since come to understand that there are there are groups that could use to be consulted, and having the time until perhaps June makes sense to me,” task force and Planning Board member Judith Kerman said. “I think having the Housing Oversight Task Force proposals available within that timeframe makes sense.”
Housing, environmental concerns can coexist
“I made no bones that the housing crisis has been my number one priority in town for years. I’ve run on it, I campaigned on it,” McKenna said. “And that doesn’t mean that I don’t take seriously maintaining our environment. I look back today at the number of things we’ve achieved since I first got elected, and there are a lot of good things. So I’m able to focus on the housing, because I feel comfortable, not that we can’t continue to do an even better job…But Woodstock has always looked out for the environment. And there are a lot of folks doing that. And again, it’s not that I think they exclude each other. We just have to make sure that the public understands that they fit together really well.”
The CEA proposal is available on the WEC section of the Town of Woodstock website at https://townwoodstock.digitaltowpath.org:10111/content/Boards/View/2.