One day in April 2005, we received
a notice from the Clinton Planning Board informing us of a subdivision
plan for land that bordered our property. The notice announced
the date of a public hearing on the matter, only about one week
My initial reaction was that if we were to have any chance of
impacting this proposed development, 1) we had to attend the public
hearing, and 2) we had to attend the public hearing in force. One
thing was clear from the outset, our community needed to be very
I went to the Planning Board clerk at Town Hall. She provided
me with a list of all of the property owners in the area of the
proposed development site. I did not know any of them, but called
and explained the threat to our neighborhood. Everyone I spoke
to agreed that we needed to raise awareness well beyond our immediate
neighbors. Due to the very short time frame, a few of us split
up the local roads and literally went door-to-door seeking people
to join us at the public hearing.
knew from the beginning that we would need time to assess the
situation and seek out appropriate counsel, so our primary objective
at the first public hearing was to encourage the Planning Board
to keep the hearing "open," which would buy us that time. We
were successful in attaining that objective for two reasons.
First, we had a good turnout and secondly, the community was
Subsequent to the public hearing, a core group of neighbors decided
to meet to plan what to do next. The group consisted of those of
us who would be most directly and adversely affected by the proposed
development. There were a lot of opinions and an emotional discussion
ensued in the process of seeking consensus. In the end, we decided
to form two committees: a legal committee and an engineering committee,
whose responsibilities were to interview and select an attorney
and an engineer to represent us. It was during that first meeting
that it became fairly clear who would be most committed to the
effort of stopping the development, who would contribute to finance
the fight, who would do the leg work that would be needed, and
who would just talk a lot. A small group agreed to contribute an
initial amount of money, one person volunteered to act as treasurer,
and the name Clinton Hollow Action Association was agreed upon.
two committees did their work and we soon had selected an engineering
firm from New Paltz and a local attorney well versed and known
for dealing with land use cases. The next step was to obtain
copies of all submittals that the developers had made to date
to the Planning Board. This information was closely reviewed
by the engineer. Simultaneously, we hired a well-known, respected
local environmentalist to conduct a study of the proposed development
site and surrounding properties. Although the environmentalist
did not find a "smoking gun" that could stop the development in
its tracks, his report did identify a number of species (which
either existed in the area or could exist there) that are listed
in New York State as "endangered," "threatened," or of "special
concern." Both experts prepared detailed reports to the Clinton
Planning Board, scrutinizing the developers' plans and indicating
many issues and concerns.
The strategy in hiring these experts was threefold: 1) to review
every detail and step in the developers' plans to insure that they
were following the town codes and state laws, 2) to slow down the
process, anticipating that a very long, drawn out battle would
work in our favor, and 3) to put pressure on the Planning Board
and the Town's consultants to be very judicious in their scrutiny
and evaluation of the development plan.
Prior to the second public hearing, our core group (a total of
7 people) met with the developers and made a very generous offer
to purchase the property. They rejected the offer outright. Given
their tone, we knew we had a major battle ahead and the key to
our success would be to stay focused, organized, and determined.
In order to do this, we agreed on a division of responsibilities
among our core group. One would be the liaison with the attorney,
another was the liaison with the engineer, I continued as the liaison
with the Planning Board and the larger group of community supporters,
and the treasurer would also continue as agreed. Our working style
also evolved: we communicated primarily by e-mail, we made decisions
by consensus, we occasionally disagreed but never argued or had
any ruptures in our relationships.
We went through three or four rounds in public hearings with the
Planning Board. Each time our engineer, environmentalist, attorney,
and/or other local experts presented their findings. Every time
they scrutinized and found major problems inherent in the developers'
plans. For each hearing the preparation and routine were the same:
- We stayed in weekly contact with the Planning Board clerk to
check for any new submittals from the developers in response
to what our experts had presented.
- Once their submittals were made, we forwarded copies to our
team of experts.
- Simultaneously our core group would meet (often with our experts)
to discuss the next Planning Board meeting strategy.
- Prior to each Planning Board meeting we updated our larger
group of supporters and e-mailed or called to rally their support
to come to the hearing.
As already announced, the outcome of this tremendous effort is
a happy one. One year later, after a contentious and expensive
battle, our core financial group came to terms with the developers
to buy the 42 acres on Schoolhouse Road. And the land will be placed
in a local conservancy to remain ever wild.
From my perspective, our success was the result of so many factors:
- We always had a strategy and we were 100% committed to our
- We were organized.
successfully got our local community mobilized and involved.
- We found good counsel who shared our vision for the Town of
kept tremendous pressure on the Planning Board and its consultants
to 1) be very deliberate in their scrutiny and evaluation of
the proposed development, 2) follow the Town codes and Master
Plan, 3) look long and hard at the long-term impact that the
development would have on the surrounding area in terms of the "intangibles" (quality
of life, historic and rural character, etc.).
- We discreetly made it evident to the developers, the Planning
Board, and its consultants that we were in this battle for the
long haul and that we would take all measures necessary (including
legal action) to protect our rights.
- Last but not least, although there were times it looked bleak,
we never stopped believing we would succeed. Perhaps that is
the most important lesson.