GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START

GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START

Tuesday, March 5, 2002
Orange Environment, Inc.

For questions, contact Mike Edelstein at 845-294-0751 or Kate Fox 294-5852.

County Executive Edward Diana ran for office on the promise that he would address the mounting problems of growth in Orange County. Now it is time for him to act.

Mr. Diana faces numerous long term problems of growth, but his tenure was immediately challenged by the current drought, which underscores both short term crises and long term issues. Along with many other indicators of growth impact-roads, schools, air pollution, loss of habitat and wetlands, to name a few—the availability of high quality water is a serious long term limit to growth in the county that must be understood and resspected. Incisive short term steps must fit tightly with competent long term strategies.

Toward this end, we want to highlight several key steps before Executive Diana that will quickly determine his success. OE President Michael Edelstein met with Mr. Diana on March 3 to renew their friendship and pave the way toward sound cooperation between Orange Environment and the new administration, at which time these points were discussed.

First, Mr. Diana has now named David Church as head of the Department of Planning. No other immediate step could garner as much fast confidence as this selection of a highly qualified planner with statewide experience, an indepth knowledge of this region, and a strong reputation of being able to work fairly with all stakeholders. Orange Environment lauds Executive Diana on his good judgment and calls on the legislature to endorse this appointment. OE further pledges to work with Mr. Church as he tackles this challenging position.

Second, the challenge of planning comes from the potential that this administration will actually take the task seriously. We call on Executive Diana to give Commissioner Church the staffing, funding, and support to be an activist planner. The days when the County planners were told to be out of sight and out of mind must be over. Planners should be at every municipal planning meeting with the best information on growth limiting factors, cumulative effects, and smart mitigations.

Third, the most vital tool for addressing our planning challenges is to have a real county plan. Unfortunately, the planning exercise carried out under the past administration resulted in an ambivalent document containing little indepth analysis and only the most general guidance. What is needed, instead, is a broadly participatory planning effort that will unite citizens and officials from the home rule municipalities in an effort to study the County as a generic and regional context for cumulative growth impacts. The plan needs to be a repository of information about the impacts of existing growth and the resources and limits for further growth. It needs to be offer guidance on growth decisions that is not only smart, but which points toward a sustainable county, one where short term solutions are not long term problems. To do this, the plan must articulate the planning and zoning of all municipalities into one fabric. We call on Executive Diana to make this planning effort a highest priority for his administration. In order to allow this real planning effort to go forward, we further call on Mr. Diana and the Legislature to refrain from approving the last administration’s plan. That effort is no more than a modest start to the serious planning effort still before us.

Executive Diana has announced plans to conduct a series of planning seminars, the first of which is scheduled for March 26. As these programs become focused, they promise to be an important mode of communicating and learning. We urge people to sign up to attend (contact us or the County Executive’s Office for reservation forms).

On our part, the Board of Orange Environment has determined the planning issue to be our first priority for this, our twentieth year. We seek to rally and support local growth activists in our towns and villages and to steward a real county master planning effort toward success. We wish Executive Diana and his new planning commissioner well and look forward to opportunities for citizens and government to create a plan for a sustainable Orange County.

For information or to volunteer, call our office at 294-5852, e-mail us at oeoffice@warwick.net or check out our website at www.orangeenvironment.org.