Master plan passes without water connections or housing quotas

| 22 Feb 2012 | 02:10

    GOSHEN — Growth in Orange County took direction at a legislative marathon session last week that approved amendments to its master plan and an agreement to study whether the county government center should be replaced. Revisions to the master plan are required every five years. This latest round targeted water and affordable housing. The county updated its water maps to show which areas need environmental protection, which have chronic water shortages, and which have plentiful resources. Legislator Katie Bonelli asked for an amendment recognizing the severe, long-standing water shortages in South Blooming Grove. The revised maps show a surplus there rather than a deficit, making it look like South Blooming Grove has water to lend. In fact, the village has had to truck water in to meet the needs of its residents. The legislature’s unanimous support of Bonelli’s amendment opened the way for the entire revised water plan to be approved. Nearly a third of the revision — sections that proposed specific water-sharing pipelines between towns and villages - was discarded after the public objected. Their main fear was that cities, towns, and villages would lose control over development. The legislature also unanimously approved a preamble to the entire master plan, proposed by Blooming Grove Supervisor Frank Fornario, stating that it is an advisory document only, and will never infringe on the right of municipalities to home rule. The affordable housing section met a similar fate. County planners said affordable housing is urgently needed to keep young people in the county and to comply with fair housing regulations. But they agreed to remove affordable housing quotas from the plan, along with the punishments for municipalities who failed to meet them. The county planning department will, however, continue to advise towns about how they can improve their water connections and affordable housing opportunities. The county will also help them obtain funding to reach their objectives. Skepticism about the plan Many legislators spoke favorably of the revised plan, saying public input had made it much better. “It is evidence that home rule cannot and will not be compromised by the County of Orange,” said Legislator Steve Brescia. Others were not convinced. Jürgen Wekerle, chair of the Sterling Forest/Highlands Committee of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chaper, said the revision required a state environmental review, which it did not get. Much of the water plan depends on supplies from New York City’s Catskill Aqueduct, which runs through Orange County. Wekerle said the county does not understand the city’s control over that resource. By legal agreement dating back to 1989, the city has agreed to contract with individual municipalities, and not the county as a whole. Robert Fromaget, a Democratic leader with Change Orange, said the revision was “mere window dressing” and based on faulty statistics. “This amendment gives the county new and far reaching powers,” he said. The legislature’s final vote approved both amendments 18-2, with Roxanne Donnery and Myrna Kemnitz the lone dissenters.