Middletown Comprehensive Plan in first stage of production

By Matthew J. Perry
The Town of Middletown kicked off its effort on Nov. 1 to draft a new comprehensive plan with an interactive meeting at which residents and town officials discussed the needs, goals and character of the community. It was the first of what will likely be several workshops and informational hearings that will be convened before the plan is worked into its final form, likely sometime next year.
Nan Stolzenburg, a certified planner from Berne has been contracted to facilitate the creation of the new plan. While she led the meeting of some 15 people on Saturday, she made it clear that citizens are the primary source of any comprehensive plan.
To that end, she gathered those attending around three circular tables and provided them with details from the town’s 1985 comprehensive plan, with attention paid to the negative and positive features highlighted 23 years ago. Each group was asked to evaluate the continuing relevance of those issues and to suggest new concerns that confront the town.

It’s a road map
“A comprehensive plan is not law, it’s more like a road map,” Stolzenburg stated while explaining the idea behind her methods. “The plan is a list of preferences and a vision that can be used to later inform the laws that the town will pass.”
To that end, the scope of the plan is necessarily wide. Topics as diverse as agriculture, educational needs, demographic trends, housing availability, technological investment environmental concerns and horizon protection can all be addressed in the document; the more detailed a comp plan is, the more effective a tool it can be for lawmakers and concerned citizens alike.
“It’s an arduous process because wishes need to be reduced down into an intelligible format,” said Councilman Michael Finberg.
Stolzenburg described the useful lifespan of a plan as between 10 and 15 years. Her services were secured by the town planning board, which had received a $40,000 grant from the Catskill Watershed Corporation to overhaul Middletown’s plan.
Her interactive method yielded a large amount of detail on Saturday. Participants wrote down dozens of concerns and goals on post-it notes that were grouped together under general headings. The purpose of the shotgun approach was to identify the issues that are salient in the public’s mind.

Concerns listed
Topics that topped the list were land acquisition by New York City, the need for a community center, public transportation, affordable housing for seniors and lower income households and maintenance of the region’s beauty. When Stolzenburg expressed surprise that the Crossroads project had not been mentioned, she sparked extensive debate, with people arguing both against and in favor of the development.
The planner stated that such discussion was essential to the process of boiling disparate points of view down into a single plan that the town could use.
“If you’re heading out on a road trip, you need to know how you’re going to get there,” she commented.
Stolzenburg offered to return for the planning board’s November meeting with a synthesis of the ideas that had been voiced. The next phase of the project will be to draft ideas and strategies for implementing the primary community concerns.
To that end, she encouraged Middletown officials to sync their efforts with those of Fleischmanns and Margar-etville, which are both reviewing their individual comp plans. Because both villages are not as far along with their reviews, such coordination might prove to be difficult.
Stolzenburg’s website, www.planningbetterplaces.com, will post information on the details and progress of the comp plan, and will provide a comments section to expand participation.
“At this stage, which is all about gathering information, the public really needs to be involved,” she stated.