Focus on development in the small laboratory called
NY Journal News
April 24, 2006
It is human nature: Once I have mine, I don't care
quite as much if you get yours.
It was true with chocolate milk in kindergarten. It
is true with what we adults call the American Dream.
Just about all of us want it: nice homes, safe communities,
great schools and, especially in a place like Putnam
County "Come to where the country begins"
no crowds and lots and lots of green space.
Reality tends to interrupt dreams however. And the
dream of suburban or country living in this region certainly
is being intruded upon by several reality checks, the
most pointed being that it is costing you in more ways
you never saw coming. The burden of residential property
taxes overwhelming the boon of residential property.
Fuel costs to get to work, to shop, to go out and have
fun are skyrocketing. We sit in traffic crawling by
somebody's house; they're across the county stewing
in traffic near ours'.
Putnam County still one of the smallest, still
one of the most desirable, still one of the fast-growing
counties in the state makes a perfect laboratory
for studying the dream and the realities. And a visit
to the Editorial Board last week by Paul Camarda, arguably
Putnam's highest-profile developer, sharpened the scrutiny.
Camarda said that he began his property development
in the county roughly 20 years ago, beginning with smaller
residential properties. For the last several years,
he has garnered greater attention as he sought local
government's approval to develop tracks of land in Patterson,
Kent and, of late, Southeast for a host of commercial
projects: retail, senior housing and "mixed-use"
development, the most ambitious perhaps a proposed hotel
and conference facility on Route 6 in Carmel, the first
in the county.
Some of Camarda's projects have been more than 10 years
in the making. Like any developer of note, he is painted
in the extreme by opponents and supporters alike: either
as an empire-builder only interested in paving over
the green grass for the green dollar; or as a savior,
developing commercial property that will overflow local
coffers with needed tax revenue.
Not that simple
Realists say neither portrait is fair, neither scenario
Uppermost on Camarda's mind right now is something
called the Stateline Retail Center on Route 6, "one
mile from the Connecticut line," as he emphasizes.
Camarda wants to see one major anchor store and several
smaller retail stores there on property he owns. The
Town of Southeast and the county, he reasons, should
especially welcome out-of-towners who will come to shop,
pay the sales tax and go home.
Some say 'No'
Yet the opponents are gathering. They say they don't
want any more "big-box" stores in their rural
"bedroom communities." They fear more traffic,
more air and water pollution. Some town officials are
balking. Camarda has begun a public relations campaign.
And the fight is on.
Such a dispute may seem just a parochial blip in the
lifeline cutting through the Lower Hudson Valley. Hardly.
It IS the Lower Hudson Valley, with its pressure to
build, pressure to move, pressure to provide services,
to shop, to find recreation, to take to the roads, to
get home quickly, to preserve the lovely environment
Out of Camarda's development plans come questions reflecting
the collision of values and competing interests that
echo throughout Westchester and Putnam:
- How does a community retain the very characteristics
that attract people to it before it attracts
so many of them that it becomes unrecognizable?
- The region historically has been a "bedroom
community." Yet "bedrooms" mean houses.
And that means families. And that means municipal
services and schools. And that means high property
taxes. So is the "bedroom community" willing
to welcome commercial property to help pay for it?
- Commercial includes retail. Retail in this day and
age, includes "big box" stores, large "footprints"
that people say they abhor because of their size and
the crowds and traffic they attract. Yet most of us
flock to them for the merchandise selection, bulk-buying
opportunities and generally lower prices. If we don't
want them in our backyard, fine. We must remember,
though, where our sales-tax dollars are going.
- Developers like Camarda want to build senior housing
to keep longtime residents in the community, a clear
need. And seniors don't add children to the school
population. But wait: They typically sell their homes
to younger parents who do have children, adding to
the need for more classrooms and teachers. Do developers,
planners and taxpayers really recognize the cycle
and all its implications? Or just the piece that interests
Like it or not, at the foundation of the simple "American
Dream" of a home and a desirable community is the
complex issue of development - one that deserves big-picture
thought and honest debate.