While Rochester Town Board is sleeping at the wheel, Wawarsing joins Esopus in opting out of retail sales of – and lounges for – recreational marijuana.
December 21, 2021
In response to the Town of Wawarsing voting 5-0 to opt out of “consumption sites” (i.e., pot lounges) for recreational marijuana and 3-2 to opt out of “cannabis-based dispensaries” (i.e., weed shops) for recreational marijuana tonight at a special Board meeting to consider the newly enacted Local Laws 3 and 4, Fr. Arthur Rojas, a priest who assists with Hispanic ministry at the local Catholic parish in the Town of Wawarsing (St. Mary-St. Andrew) observed, “In a matter of one week, Wawarsing joins my home town of Esopus in becoming the second municipality in Ulster County to opt out of weed shops and pot lounges for recreational marijuana. Kudos to Fr. Kenneth Riello, pastor of St. Mary-St. Andrew Church and his parishioners for building on what my parishioners at Esopus first achieved last week to keep our towns a family-friendly place to live.” In addition to helping at Ellenville most Sundays with Hispanic ministry, Fr. Rojas is the administrator of Presentation-Sacred Heart Parish at Port Ewen and Esopus .
Deacon John Carr, an Ellenville resident who is assigned to a Catholic parish in Ulster County, attended the meeting and spoke in favor of both proposals. The deacon noted earlier to Fr. Rojas, “It’s already legal to consume in your home a certain amount. Why do they even need “specialty sites” for that purpose?” After the results of both votes, later Dcn. Carr exulted, “I’m grateful to God for a good outcome to this evening’s Town Board meeting. Be assured of it. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
With flyers sighted with the words “VOTE YES to Local Laws #3 and #4 NOW!!!”, a diverse group of residents, including English and Spanish speaking parishioners of St. Mary-St. Andrew Church, supported speakers – including Fr. Riello and Dcn. Carr – who urged the Board to adopt both bills in contrast to a seemingly smaller number of opponents present at the meeting.
Concluded Fr. Rojas, “It has been a blessing for our clergy and laypeople to raise awareness with people such as the three Board members who voted for both bills at Wawarsing and the supporters at Esopus on its Board and in the community, including people of different faiths, to keep our towns family-friendly places to live and to deter the normalization of narcotics, even in the name of raising revenues for local governments. These victories have been the fruit of much prayer, outreach, and persistence, along with sharing with the brethren at Ellenville and Wawarsing the benefit of our experience in Esopus.”
Presentation – Sacred Heart Parish Port Ewen, New York – Esopus, New York
In Esopus, Town Board NIXES more reefer madness…On the night of December 16, the efforts of prayer, advocacy, and outreach by clerics and parishioners – cooperating with neighbors of good will – to keep Esopus a family-friendly place to live when the Town Board passed Local Law 13. After numerous parishioners and two of our clerics made their presence felt and voices heard at three hearings of the Board, despite anti-Catholic barbs during the lively hearings, Esopus has become the first municipality in Ulster County to opt out fully from allowing “cannabis based dispensaries” (read: weed shops) and “consumption sites” (read: pot lounges) in our town. Upon learning of the bill’s passage, enthused Dcn. Timothy J. Dean, who spoke at the second hearing on December 2nd, “The Town of Esopus got it correct. We are trying to make our town a family-friendly place to live with businesses that are conducive to the lifestyle we desire.”
“Thanks be to God for blessing our efforts.” stated Fr. Arthur Rojas, Administrator, “We have addressed this moral issue with public policy impact via sustained prayer for our local authorities as well as seeking to evangelize them and our neighbors on the true common good of our town and in defense of our currently pro-family environment.” In addition to Presentation-Sacred Heart Parish’s efforts via Article 4 of the N.Y.S. Cannabis Law to limit the threats to impressionable children, youths, and families from the recent legalization of recreational marijuana, Fr. Rojas noted that in the Town of Wawarsing, Fr. Kenneth Riello, pastor of St. Mary-St. Andrew Parish in Ellenville is leading similar efforts there. “We urge all our parishioners and people of good will to keep Fr. Riello, his parishioners, and the local authorities in prayer as the Wawarsing Town Board meets on December 21st to consider Local Laws 3 and 4, which are their equivalents to our newly enacted Local Law 13.”, exhorted Fr. Rojas.
Presentation – Sacred Heart Parish Port Ewen, New York – Esopus, New York
In a previous post, What a coincidence, I pointed out that a food pantry was scheduled to pop-up in Skate Time’s parking lot on December 7, 2021 – two hours before the beginning of a referendum in which Town of Rochester voters may have decided to buy or not to buy… Skate Time 209!
It’s hard to believe that Skate Time’s owners Stephen Apkon and Marcina Lee Hale-Cristobal made the parking lot available – for free food distribution on the referendum day – without any thoughts of tampering with the people’s good will for a deal in which they stood to pocket a $730,000 profit, while the Rochester taxpayers would have been saddled with potential loans totaling twelve million dollars.
The deal fell through, the referendum was cancelled, and I was curious about the pop-up food pantry.
What food pantry?
During the hours advertised (10:00 am – 1:00 pm), the only thing one could see in Skate Time’s parking lot was the above discarded sign referring to something that took place in the Spring of 2020.
Makes sense! No referendum, no need for the Community Action’s Pop Up Food Pantry…
Take it with a grain of salt, but I dreamed about Supervisor Baden telling me that he had a dream, which he described exactly as in the above picture… Really scary!
Speaking of Supervisor Baden, there is a rumor that – as a Christmas gift to his constituency – he will produce a show focused solely on the historical reenactment of the exact moment in time when the idea of buying Skate Time 209 crossed his mind…
True or not, a “leaked” graphic illustration – shared among Mike Baden’s friends and family – is said to document also the exact location where it happened.
ACCORD – With a single sentence, the Town of Rochester abandoned its pursuit of Skate Time 209 as its new town hall/recreation center.
“The Referendum vote scheduled 12/7/21 for the purchase of Skate Time has been cancelled,”the town wrote on its website. Rochester Supervisor Mike Baden confirmed the move in an email, adding that the contract between the town and the owners of Skate Time had also been terminated.
Skate Time owners Steve Apkon and Marcina Hale will now be free to pursue other prospective buyers for the building, which sits on 5.96 acres and reportedly was appraised for $2,125,000. The idea behind the purchase came from Apkon and Hale, who presented the town with an offer for the property. They have publicly stated that their reason for approaching the town, rather than another buyer, was fueled by a desire to keep the building as a community space. The December 7 referendum, if passed, would have allowed the town to pursue a $2,060,000 bond for the purchase.
But an email from Apkon this week rescinded the offer, after it seemed as if the referendum would fail (both Republican and Democratic factions in Rochester had come out against the referendum). On Tuesday the town board unanimously agreed to terminate the deal. While preparation for the referendum (absentee ballots, lawyers’ fees an environmental survey, etc.)cost the town about $6,500, the cost would have been a few thousand dollars higher if the referendum proceeded, according to Baden.
Almost immediately the deal was wrapped in controversy. And many attacks appeared politically motivated, since the supervisor and some town board seats were up for grabs this election season. Councilmember Bea Haugen Depuy, who ran against Baden, said the building would cost millions more than the initial bond. While Baden was upfront that the total costs were unknown, he had mentioned pursuing an additional bond for any required fixes, but not before giving the power to the voters to decide yes or no. There were also several concerns raised about the state of the property. The town had opted to not invest in a full property inspection, citing cost concerns. In a previous interview Baden said that an inspection was going to occur before the sale was finalized, and it could quash the sale if the repairs were too costly. However, the lack of a full inspection may have fueled the rumor mill, as one local opponent to the referendum, losing town board candidate John Dawson, repeatedly blasted social media with claims that the building was in dire shape.
Opponents of the referendum also questioned the owner’s motivation and the assessed value of the property. In a BlueStone Press article, there was even an unsubstantiated claim that a buyer was interested in keeping it as a rink. But according to the owners, that was false.
For now, the fate of Skate Time remains uncertain. It might stay a rink, or it might become any number of commercial enterprises. The town, which still needs a new place to hold government affairs, will have to seek out other sites, buildings, lots, or existing town properties on which to build.
The management of a small town is like the management of a small company. A well-run company has a strategic plan, solid finances and a clear path to execute its strategy. A well-run town has a comprehensive plan for a strategic plan, solid finances funded primarily by tax dollars and an elected Board whose paramount responsibility is not to burden the citizens with unnecessary taxation (manage a good budget) in “executing the strategy” while ensuring for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens by providing the necessary services for private businesses and residents to prosper.
Real estate development is not in the Town of Rochester’s strategic (comprehensive) plan. The purchase of Skate Time by the Town of Rochester is not in line with good municipal governance, not in line with fiscal prudence, not in line with the needs of the Town, does not give the citizens of the Town enough time nor data to make an informed referendum vote and is sorely lacking in analysis.
Let us go through a small portion of the unanswered questions:
Fiscal Management. It is saddening at best, irresponsible at base case not to look at the “TCO” Total Cost of Ownership for us, the taxpayers, of the Town’s purchase and management of Skate Time.
1. We are not done paying at the approximate $2,000,000 purchase price. We will be paying for all our and our children’s and our grandchildren’s lifetimes. Where does the money come from for renovation, rebuild and repairs? Where does the money come from the next 30 years of heat, electricity, maintenance, maintenance of the abandoned existing buildings, insurance, interest on the new debt burden of the Town, additional staff perhaps to manage the center, etc.? Another bond issue? General Operating Budget? Inevitable tax increases? The true total cost of ownership for Skate Time will be in the tens of millions of dollars.
2. Approximately a year ago Supervisor Baden tasked the Town’s Planning and Engineering Consultant, CPL with a study costing tens of thousands of dollars to analyze each of the Town’s buildings needed repairs and maintenance. The presentation of this can be viewed on the Town’s YouTube recordings. Where is the comparative analysis of these option versus the true all in cost of buying a warehouse (Skate Time) and moving the Town Offices? Where is the comparative analysis of the cost and benefits of other options? Our Comprehensive Plan has the goal of “better site design”. Better site design can only be done by comparing a variety of options for our Town’s capital stock.
3. Buying property at ostensibly a real estate top, with construction costs, both materials and labor, at historic highs, energy prices rising, Central Hudson increasing electricity rates, widespread shortages of labor and materials, and interest rates rising from all-time lows hit in January of 2021? A betting man could say pretty bad timing.
4. Permanently lost tax receipts to the Town from the private use of Skate Time—property and sales and perhaps other taxes. Again, this should be factored into the TCO.
5. Real Estate development in the private market has a plethora of tax breaks and advantageous accounting. If a private sector owner cannot make the numbers work then they work even less for a municipality that does not profit from commercial property depreciation, interest deductions, 1031 exchanges, section 1231 favorable taxation, etc. Again, this should be factored into the TCO.
6. The idea that the Town could “rent out” the offices vacated is a generous assumption: Offices connected to the Community Center with access to community space and kitchen? Offices attached to the Highway Department? Offices in structures designed for municipal use, not private use? Offices with IT infrastructure and internet access and security that is not state-of -the art? Offices when the region already has open office space for rent, office space that is perpetually vacant? What will it take in renovations and continued maintenance to rent as offices? Again the betting man would give a high probability of space remaining vacant.
1. Our comprehensive plan states “hamlet revitalization” as a goal. This would remove activity from the hamlet and “de-vitalize” the hamlet. For example, the Town has, finally, purchased and installed new playground equipment and made pickle ball courts. The Open Space Institute is embarking on a region- wide initiative to fully connect the rail trail which goes right through our existing Town Hall location/park. The Town just completed renovation of the Community Center and addition of an upgraded food pantry. We have a nice grocery on Main Street and the Town Board is looking at the development of “the Granary”. Thus, when after many years, life comes back to Main Street, and many dollars have already been spent to reinvigorate the town’s infrastructure in the Hamlet, Supervisor Baden and the Town Board decide to move everything to 209 and sap the budding energy of the hamlet? A strategic travesty.
2. The Town Board already has a very full plate—Economic Enterprise Overlays, wholescale retooling of zoning law, refresh of the comprehensive plan, new laws for littering and noise, 5G buildout, reassessment of tax base, and much more. A lot of very important Town management may fall by the wayside as attention is diverted to this white elephant.
3. Has the Town assessed the needs and demands of the community for services? What are the real demands for sports and community activities? For what sports, what activities? Is a skating rink really an inviting setting for “Tai Chi for Arthritis” or a good setting to manage and control after school activities for small children? Has the Town Board consulted the townspeople, town businesses and the Recreation Department as to what their needs are?
4. Further, New York Consolidated Law, Town Law Section 222 Town Buildings: “Whenever the town board, pursuant to the provisions of this chapter, shall determine to erect, construct, alter or remodel any building, said town board shall cause detailed plans, specifications and estimates for such building or buildings to be prepared. After such detailed plans, specifications and estimates shall have been finally adopted and approved, […]” and Section 223 Expense of Improvement “The expense of any public improvement made under authority of this article, shall include the amount of all contracts, the costs of all lands and interests therein necessarily acquired, printing, publishing, interest on loans, legal and engineering services and all other expenses incurred or occasioned by reason of the improvement or project. In no event shall any contract be awarded or obligation incurred in excess of the amount specified in the resolution of the town board or in the proposition adopted at the town election”. For all intents and purposes, these sections imply: do the analysis, do the comparative studies and figure out the whole cost of the project before embarking on a project and starting a referendum for new physical capital projects. The public cannot vote in good faith without all the facts and figures.
1. Our Town Board after receiving grant monies and under the leadership of Supervisor Baden appointed Madeline Russo, the Chair of the Town of Rochester ECC, to work to become certified as a Climate Smart Community (https://climatesmart.ny.gov/). This requires fulfilling various climate friendly actions at the local government level. Many of these actions are in complete contradiction with the purchase of essentially an “energy dumb” warehouse. For example, criteria “PE3- decrease energy usage” cites government energy audits, adopting green building standards, building a new green building and establishing financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in government owned buildings, amongst other criteria as priorities. Either the purchase of Skate Time, a thoroughly “non-green” structure is in direct conflict with the supposed Climate Smart Goals of the Town, or, alternatively, the retrofitting of the structure to meet green goals will be exorbitantly expensive. And, again, our Comprehensive Plan has the goal of “green design”, with which the re-deployment of Skate Time is at odds.
2. Preferential treatment of one citizen over the rest of the citizens of the Town. The mere suggestion that the seller of Skate Time could have preferential use of the facility over other townspeople after the sale and after reaping hundreds of thousands of dollars of profit from the sale is not good governance.
Health Safety and Welfare, a laundry list of unanswered questions
1. Skate Time is located at one of the busiest accident fraught intersections in the Town of Rochester. Current offices are calm and much safer for pedestrians, children and parking.
2. Has the Town Board really thought through offices with no windows; offices that may be accessed through sporting events; staffing and management of activities in concert with daily Town departmental activities; acoustics of public meetings in a skating rink, etcetera?
3. Where is the Town Board planning to put the Animal Shelter?
I could continue with the list of reactive poorly vetted management decisions embedded in the purchase of Skate Time. The Town Board needs to pause and reassess its legal obligations and clearly plan a strategic plan in line with our Town’s Comprehensive Plan. And the Town Board must gather the inputof the townspeople and inform the townspeople so that they truly represent the citizens that elected them. The Skate Time purchase is not in the best interest of the Town. Vote NO to the purchase of Skate Time.
It’s an indisputable fact that our neighboring towns took responsible action regarding the retail sale and public consumption of recreational marijuana.
The elected leaders of Wawarsing, Marbletown, Esopus, Saugerties, Rhinebeck and Red Hook have shown respect for their constituents. They scheduled public hearings and/or community information sessions. After listening to people’s concerns a few towns already opted out of dealing with marijuana retail sale and public consumption.
Why is Town of Rochester different? For starters, all Town Board members are Democrats (yes, Councilman Paddock, all). They couldn’t care less about what people think.
According to Supervisor Baden, the cannabis issue was “discussed” by the Town Board at the June 3, 2021 meeting. Let’s see what the minutes show:
Attorney Christiana: Things that towns can “opt out” of are: dispensaries within your town, on-site consumption rooms within the town. If you decide to “opt out,” you must have a law in place by December 31, 2021. That law is subject to a Permissive Referendum. If you have a Permissive Referendum and you don’t do it until later in the year, then you’ll be paying the cost of that Permissive Referendum balloting.
If you want to “opt out” and get the Permissive Referendum should someone asks for one, it is a 45-day period, instead of usual 30-day period. You only have until July 19th to have the law in place.
At these dispensaries and on-site consumption rooms, there is a 13% tax = 9% New York State, 1% County, 3% Town. Just do nothing if you don’t want to opt out. You can do some zoning, but you must make sure you don’t zone so far that you are kind of outlawing it. Might be subject to site plan.
Supervisor Baden asked if anyone on the town board wants to discuss. No response. Hearing silence looks like we will not “opt out.”
So much for Supervisor Baden’s “discussion.”
Town Attorney Marylou Christiana’s summarizing the legislation (S.854-A/A.1248-A) legalizing adult-use of cannabis in New York State does not amount to a discussion. The silence of the Town Board members does not amount to a discussion.
Asleep at the wheel: Councilwoman Enouen Councilwoman Haugen-Depuy Councilman Hewitt Councilman Paddock Supervisor Baden
In their defense, it was already 9:35 in the evening.
Wawarsing and Esopus have scheduled Public Hearings on December 2. Just saying…
On March 31, 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo – the son of a bridge – signed legislation (S.854-A/A.1248-A) legalizing adult-use cannabis in New York.
Social consumption sites and delivery services are now permitted. Cities, towns, and villages may opt-out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by December 31, 2021.
Scanning the local newspapers, one learns that many neighboring towns — Wawarsing, Marbletown, Esopus, Saugerties, Rhinebeck, Red Hook — took action regarding the retail sale and public consumption of recreational marijuana.
Wawarsing will have a Public Hearing on December 2…
Marbletown held a Marijuana Public Forum on November 18…
Esopus will have the third Public Hearing on December 2…
Saugerties heard objections to permitting marijuana sales…
Rhinebeck opted out…
Red Hook opted out of on-site Marijuana consumption…
Throughout Ulster County people objected to zoning proposals that would allow retail sales of cannabis in industrial and business districts…They pointed out that existing concerns about marijuana –. before legalization – have not been addressed:
– The effects of cannabis on perception and coordination cause serious impairments in driving abilities, generating an increase in traffic hazards…
– Marijuana is known as the “gateway” to heavier drug use…
– A permissive attitude about smoking pot brings on increases in law enforcement costs and requires more treatment centers for drug abuse…
Meanwhile, the Town of Rochester residents are kept in the dark. No public hearings… No community information session…
What exactly is the Town Board smoking? Because it looks like they have already chosen between cannabis and marijuana…