Previous efforts to consolidate municipal government and induce future growth in Cobleskill have faltered due in large part to a lack of cohesion among local elites. The push has largely been led by local developers and their proxies serving in local government. These pro-growth interests see consolidation as a means of streamlining planning and zoning functions and more easily extending infrastructure to desired growth areas.
However, these efforts have been pursued piecemeal and furtively for the most part because Cobleskill’s downtown business interests, most notably the Cobleskill Partnership, Inc., have strongly resisted efforts to dissolve the Village into the Town. Obviously, they understand that further development in the Town of Cobleskill or the Town of Richmondville will come at their expense.
What’s more, dissolution or consolidation means a relinquishing of power (i.e. the power of extending water and sewer to proposed developments, or the power of planning and zoning) at the most local levels of government. Understandably, citizens who currently hold that power are not likely to voluntarily give it up, perhaps even if it means reductions in government costs and thus lower tax rates.
Though a citizen’s committee established to explore dissolution of the Village dissolved only itself last January, the push for consolidation has recently picked up a head of steam in the form of Village Mayor Mark Nadeau. Not only has Nadeau been enthusiastically pushing a significantly broadened conception of local consolidation and partnership, he has also continued the piecemeal consolidation of individual town and village services, even proposing an ambitious plan to dissolve the village police department into the county sherriff’s department, a plan which was recently beat back by local opposition.
This gradualist approach to consolidating individual services is particularly troubling. Last year’s efforts to shove village dissolution down voters’ throats was met with substantial outcry from village residents who wanted no part of it. When asked outright if they support dissolution of the village, the answer is a resounding no. However, it is unclear if village residents understand that Nadeau and Galasso are simply going ahead and doing it anyway piece by piece.
But at this point you should at least be aware that Nadeau and Galasso are interested in a bit more than saving a few pennies for strapped local taxpayers. When Mike Sellers, Sandy MacKay and Carol McGuire were on the Board of Trustees, Cobleskill’s development interests were focused mainly on projects just outside the Village so that they could conceivably connect to Village water and sewer systems. But even that seemed to elude them. However, with Mark Nadeau, Mark Galasso and Howard Burt on the Board, the horizon has shifted dramatically.
Cobleskill’s pro-growth faction is now playing at a much more ambitious region-wide consolidation of government services – everything from police and fire protection to land use planning to (naturally) local infrastructure. This would not only open up huge swaths of land to development but it would grant a virtual monopoly over that growth and development in Cobleskill and Richmondville to a Nadeau-Galasso power axis already taking shape.
The plans currently being undertaken arguably represent a classic and essential strategy of growth coalitions: the manipulation of government activity designed to induce growth and direct that growth to locations that benefit members of the coalition. This would mean putting in new roads, selectively expanding local infrastructure and enacting favorable land use and zoning regulations.
When you begin to put the pieces together, just as Nadeau and Galasso apparently have, you begin to see a plan not for consolidation of municipal services but for consolidation of political power. You see a continuous corridor of apartment complexes and chain stores from Howe Caverns to West Richmondville Road, a “second Main Street” of strip malls developed along an expanded MacArthur Avenue that will divert traffic away from the first Main Street, and hillsides dotted with subdivisions full of unaffordable McMansions.
But is all this scheming really worth their while? Currently, it seems unlikely that significant additional commercial growth could be supported by the region’s population. Therefore, even with water and sewer hook-ups, the chain stores may never come. Additional market-rate housing doesn’t quite seem that feasible either. Look at the intersection of South Grand and Mineral Springs Road: Nadeau’s own condo project seems to have been stalled for years.
The real question then is, How much damage can they do in their desperate attempts to stimulate growth even if they don’t manage to pave over everything from Central Bridge to East Worcester? Unfortunately, quite a lot. For example, an extension of MacArthur Ave. might well open the door for an additional strip mall or two (which would probably not be a good thing). However, extending that side street to completely bypass Downtown could be disastrous. The diversion of vehicular traffic could be the coup de grace that turns Main Street into a boarded up skid row.
Another possibility is that opening up additional parcels to growth could simply result in the shuffling around of existing businesses, creating nothing but more vacant buildings and more headaches. We’re already seeing this with the new Rite Aid that is being built across the street from the CVS that is currently being built. Even worse, these schemes may entice businesses to leave Downtown Cobleskill for locations further afield, i.e. the Maranatha complex. The result could be a highly inefficient and unsustainable reshuffling of local businesses for the benefit of a handful of landowners and land developers.
There’s also the future costs of extending water and sewer lines to consider. These lines may not bring the promised sprawl, but they will still require regular maintaince. No matter, all the new roads and water lines will mean more money in the pockets of the old boy network of lawyers, engineers, and developers.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this strategy are the opportunity costs, particularly of not fixing up Downtown Cobleskill. As the plywood plague continues to spread, Main Street needs more money and ideas than ever. Yet Nadeau and Galasso would happily reduce Harmony Acres and half the block to rubble if it meant putting in a Walgreens.
This assumes that runaway sprawl development is not economically feasible. However, if land is readied for growth there should be no doubt that there will be new projects proposed. Will we be the next Clifton Park? No; and to suggest such is silly hyperbole.
But that doesn't mean we shouldn't put the brakes on these schemes lest we watch Nadeau and Galasso throw away a ton of our money in a desperate bid to wreck what’s left of our local economy just to make a few bucks for themselves.