Residents reflect on how development continues to a once rural community

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:53

    HIGHLAND MILLS-Woodbury Town Highway Superintendent Peter Stabile recalls what it was like when he started on the job 10 years ago. " I was in charge of 18 miles of road and I had a crew of 10 men," Stabile said recently. "Now I have 41 miles of road. After Brigadoon is completed, I will have 55 miles of road, and still only a crew of 10." You'll hear a lot of conversations like that in the Woodbury because of how developments like Brigadoon are changing the town. Brigadoon, for instance, will add up to 600 homes off Route 32 in Central Valley once it's completed. "It used to be that we all knew each other," said Sheila Beadle, who has been a resident of Woodbury for the last 14 years. "Everyone would visit each other's houses and inquire if there were any problems or if anyone needed any help. People were more involved, and time seemed to move more slowly." Stabile had a similar notion. "I used to be able to make appointments easily with town residents when they had street problems. Now everyone is working 9 to 5, usually in the city, and weekends are devoted to their children. So there is no time to make appointments for matters which concern them." The town of Woodbury has experienced a steady increase in population over the past ten years. And that's had an impact on public life as well as private life. "I have lived here quit a while," said Woodbury Police Chief Robert Kwiatkowski. "I used to go hunting and there was empty land everywhere. Gradually I have had to go further north to Cornwall but it is being built up even there. About 10 years ago Woodbury had about 3,000 residents and I knew almost everyone on a first-name basis. Now there are 11,000 residents and it is hard to get to know everyone. People work and have busy lives." Woodbury Supervisor Sheila Conroy said the largest increase has development since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Many new residents include New York City firefighters and police officers, she said. Why here? The growth also has come at a time when interests rates are near or at historic lows. This week, for example, some lending institutions were offering 5.35 percent on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. What that growth has meant in the town of Woodbury, Conroy said, are home prices that have increased up to 25 percent in just the past two years. The median price for a home in Orange County this fall was $295,000, or $40,000 more than it cost a year ago. When asked whether the increase in population and more houses and businesses would generate a greater tax base for the town, Conroy replied: "Take Woodbury Common, for example. The previous town board, which I was not a part of, negotiated a 50 percent tax abatement with Woodbury Common, and some of these abatements were grandfathered. There will be changes in this tax structure in the coming years, and some have already taken place. The amount we collect in taxes is not enough to meet the school taxes. Taxes will have to be increased this year." The town's budget for 2005 increased by 7.2 percent. "The town did not expect the Common to be such a great success," Conroy added. "People come from everywhere - from New York City, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, as well as upstate New York. The Common has been a far greater success than we ever imagined. Now they are beginning to advertise on television and radio and billboards." The worse day, of course, is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that kicks off the holiday retail season and the day traffic seems to come to a standstill in the area around Woodbury Common Premium Outlets. The increased volume of cars heading for the Woodbury Common during the holiday season and throughout the year also has caused problems in the sequencing of traffic lights along Route 32. And crime, such as theft and petty larceny, at the Common account for more than half of police department's efforts. Zoning changes The pressure on the town will continue as places like Brigadoon near completion. Highland Lake Estates and West Point Farms also are experiencing tremendous growth and have many home constructions near completion. The Greens of Woodbury development have also been completed during the past five years. The town is beginning to discuss various measures that would require developers to post a bond to construct housing in phases In projects of more than 30 houses, a developer would build 10 to 15 house at a time. This would give time for the land to regenerate before moving to the next section of houses. When trees are cut down, there is no where for water to go when heavy rains come. This causes drainage problems, as had occurred in Brigadoon. Currently the town ordinances state that the developer presently needs to put all of the roads and sewers in right away, thus cutting and clearing trees immediately. The town is trying to work on new regulations, where the developer may not have to do as much stripping of the land at the outset, and install the roads and sewers in increments. "We will follow a process which is called ‘clusters,'" said Councilwoman Colleen Campbell. "This involves telling the builders to designate a space of land specifically for trees and other greenery in the development. The town will be doing this more and more." Meanwhile, just last month, two developers proposed adding another 731 houses to the town's landscape, according to published reports. One, by the same group that's building the Brigadoon development, would add 450 single-family homes on about 400 acres between Dunderberg Road and Route 32. The second proposes 281 single-family homes on a 707-acres tract bounded by Trout Brook Road, Smith Clove Road and the New York State Thruway near Cornwall. Both developers also proposed donating land for open space. These proposals come at a time when some Woodbury residents are exploring plans to incorporate a new village to maintain the town's current zoning amidst concerns and perceptions that the Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel will look to expand into the town of Woodbury. A real estate perspective "I can remember when there were dirt roads where there are now two lane paved roads in each direction," said Mary Ann Mitchell, a real estate agent for Prudential Rand who has been a resident of Orange County for the past 20 years. "Woodbury was just a small sleepy town. Now it is booming, between Home Depot and Woodbury Common. "Builders who purchased land 15 to 20 years ago bought smaller parcels of land and left trees around the houses so that each house had a unique quality. Builders used to buy smaller chunks of land and leave a lot of the natural setting surrounding the house. "Nowadays it does not benefit the builder to do this, so he buys a huge parcel of land and builds a lot more houses. This is more profitable for him but results in ‘cookie cutter' houses," Mitchell added. "I think, however, progress is good in a sense. People have less time to spend with their families and it helps to have a Home Depot or a mall or a shopping center close by - let us say about 20 to 25 minutes away from a person's home. Years ago one had to travel 40 to 45minutes to get to these places; now they are beginning to be much closer." "Safety is a primary reason for moving to Orange County," the real estate agent added. "It is extremely safe here. The 1998-1999 high school enrollment was 6,100 students. In 2004, it was 7,300 and the projected number for 2011 will be 8,400 students. "The people who have been long time residents, particularly when taxes were very low, find it difficult dealing with much higher taxes so some of them have moved on." At a town board meeting in late October, a man named Ralph summed up what may be the feeling of many other long-time residents: "I just want a part of my town not to change, or at least not to change so fast. I like the country feel, the trees, the views. That is why I moved here; that is why most of us moved here in the first place." And apparently why many others are also moving to Woodbury.