Monday, July 18, 2011

Planning for smart growth means planning for no growth

Perhaps the state of planning in Schoharie County is best represented by the apparent “get it all done at once” approach to repairing the bridges that move traffic through the county’s most populated and heavily traveled communities. If so, it is not surprising that the county planning department would continue wasting time and resources on an improbable (and unnecessary) expansion of water and sewer infrastructure along the Route 7 corridor in a time of severe public sector retrenchment and almost nonexistent private investment.

The narrow vision is reflective of what happens when the planning process is dominated by those who are either incompetent or self-serving (or perhaps both?). Sadly, it would seem that this is Schoharie County’s current predicament. Neither the county’s poorly conceived attempts to secure funding for the previously mentioned infrastructure projects or the Galasso vision of paving over the horizon for big box stores and large-lot residential growth (which the water and sewer expansion is expected to lead to) rise to the level of a vision of sustainable planning and development that the county needs or deserves.

In previous years, this model of laying new infrastructure to spur costly and unsustainable development was flawed (at best). In 2011, it’s completely asinine and comes with dangerous opportunity costs for ‘undeveloping’ communities that need to be focusing on ways to make life a little more bearable for the remaining residents who are either unable to leave or choose to stay for some inexplicable reason.

Until we as a nation grow the balls to tax the rich (who are doing quite nicely in this economy) ‘economic development’ efforts will continue to be nothing more than an endless waiting game. But there has to be something better than waiting for jobs to magically appear, especially when more jobs are being lost than can possibly be offset by any new ones that might come along.

Instead, county and local planners could be pro-active and leverage the resources that are available to ease some of the pressures faced by Schoharie County’s communities. Job one should be facilitating the transition of our dying downtowns into walkable /bikeable places where the jobless can live within their means and at least have access to some basic level of services, amenities and some semblance of community.

I still think that the Town, Village and County planning/economic development offices should be relocated to Downtown Cobleskill in the Newberry Square building. At the very least it would bring a blighted and underutilized building back online and allow residents easier and more convenient access. Potentially, the increased traffic flow to Downtown (for town and village court, various public meetings) would put potential customers in closer proximity to struggling local businesses on Main Street.

Another priority should be to site several access points in Downtown areas for individuals applying for public assistance (Medicaid, HEAP, food stamps, etc.). There may be many residents who are unaware of the benefits they are entitled to simply because they are unable to get to Schoharie County’s government office building or one of the community action offices. Instead of career fairs, county and local governments could hold regular ‘benefits fairs’ to insure that they are reaching as many people as possible. For the time being, state and federal entitlement programs represent a steady stream of money entering the county, and it should be pursued every bit as much (if not more aggressively) than the crumbs that are currently being sought to bolster the Galasso empire.

County planners should also look to rehabilitating various Downtown sites for use as single-room occupancy dwellings. New housing opportunities that reflect the emerging characteristics of the population (chronically unemployed and rapidly declining in economic status) should be developed in a way that actually leverages the remaining amenities and services in the regions downtown areas. The local housing stock is already moving in this direction (call them rooming houses, flophouses, welfare hotels, SROs…whatever), it’s really just a question of whether or not people will live in campers, barns and sheds in remote areas or in safe, clean and affordable units in downtown areas in walking distance to services and amenities that they could benefit from.

Further, there is no reason that county residents must rely on obscenely inflated food prices at local supermarkets when the region is surrounded by farmland. County planners and local organizations should be building systems for channeling affordable, locally produced food directly into our communities, bypassing the large-scale processors and costly logistics and distribution networks used by retailers. As energy prices continue to soar, the benefits of making these changes becomes plainly obvious and critically necessary.

Sadly (or perhaps not) the region cannot sustain or support unlimited development of hotel chains and pharmacies. Whoever told county planners and local officials that this is the case was wrong, and they should stop listening to them. If the Galasso’s believe that new infrastructure will pay for itself, then let them pay for it! While these changes need to happen on a grassroots level, there also needs to be regime change at the county level, or at least a dramatic change in direction.


Tim said...

I just moved to the Cobleskill area (I'm in Warnerville) and I found your blog... looks inactive - are you still around? I'm interested in whatever sustainability stuff is going on around Cobleskill. I was part of a transition town group in Preston Hollow before I moved - I'm an electrical engineer and I build off-grid solar power systems on the side.

Tim said...

I'm rndmtim at I'm in the passive solar house at the top of Warnerville hill.

Anonymous said...

Niles please take this site down. It is time.

Jesse E. Finn said...

Sean (If that's a valid name), provided everything is well with you, can you get in touch with me at

I want to note that I'm actually fairly impressed with your insight, having read a few of the blog items. But the topics that you raise are the more concerning to me, under present circumstances that I do not wish to elaborate upon here; but I'm simply concerned about possible corruption within the Schoharie County building and was wondering if you could shine any light on some questions I have.

I'm currently in an active court battle with them right now, which is part of my concern. APS is pursuing guardianship of me (Alleging me to be incapacitated; which I think you can clearly determine is ludicrous; from a legal standpoint it holds absolutely zero water, so I'm not concerned about losing under normal circumstances. What I'm concerned about is what tactics they're attempting to deploy).

They're accusations of corruption within the department on Ripoff Report, from an actual employee.

I've also caught one caseworker intentionally falsifying claims in two instances (One instance in regards to me). I've dealt with almost constant abuse from them (APS) for a year and a half now.

I'm currently starting to build a Dox dump on a few of the workers, in the event I need to release anything to the media. I'm doing it legally (Avoiding actually cracking, and just trying to find public information). But one of the weirdest things that struck me, is that one of their general workers, has a significantly higher income than her own supervisor (And this worker happens to be the one railing against me), and has been working there almost a decade shorter than her supervisor. She nearly makes the same income as the head of the department, which is even more strange.

Looking at things, the circle I was strictly interested in, it seems like there may be cause to investigate.

Sorry if any of this comes off as unclear (2:45 AM in the morning), and I apologize even more if it comes off as "conspiracy nut-ish", I can just tell you from what I've witnessed, there is most definitely room for concern.

Regardless, I just wanted to see if you could offer any insight since it appears you have a pretty strong understanding of everything that is going on locally.

I do hope all is well.

Best Wishes,

Jesse E. Finn