Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Lowe Blow for Schoharie County’s Downtowns

At a time when gas prices are rising drastically, it is more important than ever that our community leaders take the steps necessary to plan for compact, sustainable communities where people can live, work and shop within reasonable distances. On the surface, it seems like a Lowe’s in Cobleskill will help cut down on fuel consumption by saving people from having to make trips to Oneonta or Amsterdam. However, the net effect of the Lowe’s development will be to drive local hardware retailers out of business while negatively impacting other locally-owned businesses as well, giving people less choices, especially ones that don’t involve driving.

Instead of abetting further sprawl development on its periphery, the Village of Cobleskill might better expend its energies seeking ways to revitalize the residential apartments on its Main Street. But it seems like the Village Board doesn’t even have the temerity to insist on annual apartment inspections for fear of angering slumlords. Despite this, there are things happening in Schoharie County’s downtowns. In Cobleskill, SUNY has decided to open a branch of its bookstore on Main Street. Plus, the Village just spent over $30,000 for a study on how to revitalize Downtown. I don’t think that that study calls for helping the Town build another big box development outside of the Village!

More needs to be done! Why hasn’t the Village government taken steps to move its offices back downtown? This is a very simple step and it should have been taken years ago. The next step: a facelift for downtown. Storefront facades could use some paint and new designs and there’s plenty of grant money available to do it. Main Street’s sidewalks need to be replaced; how about some simple brick inlays and traffic calming devices? These are all very simple steps that would go along way to setting the tone for a revitalization of Downtown Cobleskill. I fear that if the current administration won’t move on this, then no one will.

Instead, this current administration slaps in the face the Village taxpayers who receive water and sewer service as part of the “whole package” of Village services. They don’t get to cherry pick which services they will pay for and which ones they won’t. Instead this current administration chooses to subsidize development in other municipalities essentially agreeing to a parasitic relationship where Town sprawl latches on to the Village infrastructure and essentially sucks all the life out. Developable land in the Town, that now has access to Village water & sewer becomes more valuable than Village land. Developers get the services without the taxes! As more and more commercial developments pop up in the Town, Town taxes will go down, thanks to the Village’s generosity. Meanwhile, the Village will foot the bill, as not only will it be providing water and sewer services but police protection as well.

As an ex officio member of the County Board of Supervisors, Cobleskill Town Supervisor Roger Cohn knows that a Lowe’s development will bring in sales tax revenue for the county to divvy up. Meanwhile, water and sewer lines get extended outward toward the next big project. So local growth supporters, i.e. county officials, developers, the chamberpot of commerce, and the Times-Journal all have been attacking the Village Board for the past three years for “holding up progress” in order to shove this deal down Village taxpayers’ throats once again. Instead, this current administration finally backed down and endorsed this distorted notion of ‘progress’. A Lowe blow indeed.

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