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Orange County

Remarks by Constantine Sidamon-Eristoff at annual dinner,
Orange County Citizens Foundation, Inc., May 2, 2002

President Susan Metzger, County Executive Diana, Louis Mills, Jim Ottaway, thank you for those kind words. I am honored to receive the Ottaway medal, and I and my family will cherish this moment, for many years in the future.

Opportunities to occupy the “bully pulpit“ in Orange County come few and far between. I just want to recognize some people, who I have known and valued over the years, and thank them for their past support.

Of course, Ruth and the late Jim Ottaway, two of the most wonderfully active and fine people this County has ever known. We all miss them, and I am delighted that their son Jim is here, and that he has been willing to say such nice things about me. Actually, I can compliment the Ottaway Newspaper chain and particularly the Times Herald Record for their articles on Smart Growth and Quality Communities, which really have, I think forced our communities to focus on the problems of unchecked sprawl. Indeed, the Times Herald Record is almost as good as the two weekly newspapers of which I am associated, the News of the Highland and the Cornwall Local, both of which are well represented here. Special Thanks also to my friends from the Town of Highlands, and to my elderly co-workers for John Lindsay, Commissioners Hugh Marius and Sam Kearing.

Then Commissioner Peter Garrison, who unfortunately is not here. I knew Peter first in the early 1960’s during once of his private sector incarnations when he was the young planner working on the master plan for the Village of Highland Falls and the Town of Highlands, and I was serving on a joint planning board which was created to do the first planning work in our community. He was then, and is now a master planner of the finest kind.

It is well, however, to remember that planners are planners, and not executors of any particular project or policy. A planner is a messenger. He can tell the public and the communities and the elected officials of the county and local governments what should be done, in his opinion, what can be done and what will result if that policy is followed. But the execution of any plan is up to the local and county officials who have that responsibility. Don’t blame the planner for sprawl, blame the body politic.

This brings me of course to the Orange County Planning Board, and to Chris Dunleavy, presently responsible for planning, and to Commissioner David Church who will now assume these responsibilities. Susan Metzger and Pat Gilchrest of the Orange County Citizens Foundation and this board and staff will be a resource for you, Commissioner, which you will find unparalleled. And so is the Orange County Planning Board, composed of active citizens and advisory in nature as it is.

The Orange County Comprehensive Plan which we all worked on, is really an excellent plan, but of course its execution is key, and it must be adopted by the townships and local communities of our county, as well as receive the blessings of the Orange County Government and legislature. It is worth studying because it has some extremely interesting concepts and ideas, and I believe if we all put our minds to it, we can allow continued stable and wise economic growth, as well as preserve the beauty of this our home country which we all treasure. My compliments also to former County Executive Rampe who was good enough to appoint me to the planning board, and to County Executive Ed Diana, who I see is very much interested in the process of planning, smart growth, quality communities, and the stemming the spread of what we call “sprawl”. As you have heard I am chairman of Audubon New York, and Audubon has made a major effort in sponsoring smart growth and assisting our Lieutenant Governor with her Quality Communities Task Force.

A master plan for a county is a guide, not a mandate. Under our system in the State of New York, local communities, townships, villages and cities must work together, if the plan is to be effectuated and put in place. This requires hard, dedicated work, and the full support of all elected officials. Sometimes, after a long life, one begins to despair at the kind of ugliness rising around us. But, on the other hand, I prefer to look at life as if the glass were half full, instead of half empty. The Record, in its editorials and opinions, has actually, I think been very, very helpful in ministering the climate of opinion which will result in things happening. Its editorials and the articles are having an effect. Things are happening. Just a few clipping notes: I note that in Chester, after nine months of debate, a town committee has settled on a plan to overhaul local zoning laws and control growth, in one of the fastest growing towns in Orange County. Congressman Hinchey and others talk about a trolley or light rail system connecting, possibly, Beacon, Newburgh and Stewart Airport. Crawford, in another article, is said to be considering a proposal to require three-acre zoning, with a public hearing to be held next month. Orange County plans an extensive public involvement and outreach process as part of a upcoming Route 17 corridor study, as noted in an article a couple of weeks ago in the Record, quoting Chris Dunleavy. Another story by Wayne Hall notes that a US First Service report that the green swath represented by the Hudson Highlands and reaching all the way over to Stewart Airport and Sterling Forest is under threat, and that while much of the five hundred thousand acres of the Highlands in New York are already protected, major gaps of unprotected land also still exist in Orange County.

To the north of Newburgh, the town of Marlboro now has its first comprehensive master plan. In that community, they apparently have decided they do not want to turn into another Route 9, in Fishkill, and hope to be able to deal with growth pressures particularly as Stewart Airport further develops. And, just last week the State Department of Transportation said it would not proceed with a widening project for Route 32 in the town of Woodbury until or unless there is a community consensus about what kind of work should be done.

The village of Goshen, and Orange & Rockland, have now received Tree USA awards from the National Arbor Day Foundation during Arbor Day celebrations in the village because the village and the utility worked together to balance the need for O & R to prevent power outages and for Goshen to maintain its looks, so they’ve formed a village forestry council that has planted more than 250 trees in the village.

Lastly, let us remind ourselves that this county and this community depend in large part on tourism. We have ugly areas, and we have beautiful areas. Let us not forget “Eyewash”. What a few trees and flowers can accomplish to beautify what had been an ugly area is astounding. Beautification efforts supported by citizens throughout the county can make a tremendous difference in the attractiveness of the entire county and region. “Eyewash”, I commend to everybody. It really works.

When I say the glass is half full, I mean that these localities, all of which are trying to grapple with the same set of problems, show how much work is being done and how much willingness there is to tackle these very difficult issues. These are very good signs.

Thanks to the Orange County Citizens Foundation and to you all for this award, which I shall cherish.