VanBenschoten appointed to Middletown Planning Board

By Julia Green
The Middletown Town Board appointed Margaretville resident Kate VanBenschoten last Tuesday to fill a vacancy on the town’s planning board.
The vacancy was initially created when longtime planning board member and New Kingston resident Pete Palen submitted a letter of resignation on Jan. 13 of this year. The opening was temporarily filled when the town board appointed Kathleen McCarthy to the post on March 10; however, she tendered her resignation on May 11 after serving for only two months. In her resignation, McCarthy said that, “due to unforeseen personal circumstances, [her] availability and ability to serve on the planning board [would] be affected.”
VanBenschoten’s appointment was approved by a 3-1 vote by the town board last week that crossed political party lines. Democrat Mike Finberg joined Republican Supervisor Len Utter and Republican Don Kearney to approve the appointment while Democrat board member Brian Sweeney tallied the lone “nay” vote. The fourth member of the board, Republican John Roucek, was not in attendance at Tuesday’s board meeting. VanBenschoten’s term became effective immediately and will last until the end of July, when her position is up for re-appointment.
“I got interested when I heard that they were working on the comprehensive plan,” VanBenschoten said in an interview Monday. “Our community is going through a lot of change and at this point I’m grateful to be able to participate in shaping its future.”
In addition to the comprehensive plan and the well-known Crossroads project, VanBenschoten said there are a number of smaller projects that the planning board will have to take into consideration in the near future.
“I think that we need to take an open mind to some of the suggestions that people have brought to the board,” she said. “We had an open meeting, a public input meeting, in May and we got a lot of very different and very good ideas and feedback from that. A lot of people in our community are divided, and I think it may be difficult to strike a balance, but I do think it’s possible, and the variety of ideas we got are, I think, what will make it possible to strike a balance.”
VanBenschoten served on the town’s zoning board of appeals for a year and added that she has a familiarity with the issues and a belief in civic duty due to her family’s involvement in local government. Her grandfather served as the village’s code enforcement officer for a number of years and she is married to Margaretville Mayor John VanBenschoten. Her parents, JR Lawrence of Margaretville and Joan Lawrence-Bauer of Big Indian, have been business and civic leaders in the Central Catskills Region for decades.
At 31, VanBenschoten added that she sees her age as both a potential weakness and a strength.
“I’m fairly young, but I’m aware that I have a lot to learn and I think that’s part of the asset, too,” she said. “Since I know I have a lot to learn I’m making a great effort to do so, and they’re a really good board. They’re really nice people to work with, so I’m learning a lot from them.
“People think I’m interested because I have an agenda or a goal, and I don’t really,” she added. “I just want to be part of it. We’re going to be here until we’re 80, so I’d like to know what it’s going to be like then and what I can do to shape that.”