Board member, diving dogs depart G’town

GERMANTOWN—Councilman Matthew Phelan resigned from the Town Board as of March 10. “Due to a recent change in careers,” he wrote in his resignation letter, “I will no longer be able to actively participate and follow up on town activities or attend regularly scheduled workshops and meetings.”

He felt it best, he wrote, to resign so that someone else could be appointed that could actively participate.

And in the same month that Mr. Phelan departed so too did the proposal from Hudson River Air Dogs for dog dock jumping at a site near the Palatine Park.

As for Mr. Phelan’s resignation, Supervisor Joel Craig said Tuesday he assumed the board would appoint a new member, but “I do not have anyone in mind right now.” Mr. Phelan’s board seat is up for election this fall. An appointee would serve out this year, but an election will take place for a four-year term in any case.

Mr. Craig referred to Mr. Phelan as “going back to sea” with the Merchant Marine, which he served in previously. Mr. Phelan could not be reached for comment by press time. In his resignation letter, he said “It has been an honor and pleasure to serve . . . we can all be proud of the accomplishments we’ve made together with residents and other community members,” including “budgets under the NYS tax cap while still investing in vital equipment and facilities” and completing the sidewalk project in the hamlet.

Mr. Phelan also mentioned two projects he spearheaded personally: renovating the town’s athletic fields and hosting the annual Independence Day celebration. For the Fourth of July 2017, it seems he will not leave the town in the lurch: he said he looked forward to volunteering for the town, specifically for that occasion.

“It was great working with Matthew,” town board member Brittany DuFresne said Tuesday. “He’s very well organized and detail-oriented, and that brought a ton of help to the rest of us in the projects we were working on.”

Hudson River Air Dogs (HRAD) had support from board members in this canine sport, which has dogs jump off a 38 x 8-foot travel dock into a 40 x 20 splash pool. The public response was less than favorable.

HRAD has had a site on private property in Livingston, but the group was searching for a facility they could make permanent and came the Town Board workshop in December and to the regular meeting in February.

The board held a Public Hearing before its March 21 meeting that Mr. Craig reported as “SRO” with “those present mostly against” the proposal. The Columbia Paper was not at that hearing but talked to residents who were.

Lee Wurtzberger, a resident who attended, estimated the crowd at 50 and said that HRAD had brought no supporters. “I first questioned the process,” he said of his own comments. “I thought the proposal should have gone before the Planning Board because it involved changes in land use.”

Others agreed with Mr. Wurtzberger, including Carol Neville, an attorney and part-time resident who cited sections of town law in written comments to the board.

After most people had spoken, said Mr. Wurtzberger, “I noted that there was no positive response to the proposal, and the board said, ‘what about us?’”

“We all were in favor of it,” Ms. DuFresne said Tuesday. “It was an opportunity for a family-oriented, outdoor group to come to our facilities and invite our residents and local community to take part in something that’s becoming popular.

“The property they were going to use wasn’t protected lands, or even anywhere you’d have a picnic,” she said. “We started to work on it for a soccer field and didn’t have the money to finish. HRAD was going to put $10,000 into it. There was no cost to the town.”

Despite the board’s interest, they offered HRAD only a one-year contract. When HRAD learned that board three seats—supervisor and two councilmen—are up for election this year, “we could not financially risk spending all that money and then be asked to leave by the new board,” Steve Bimbo, HRAD president, wrote in an email Tuesday.

“I am upset that the townspeople that attended could not see how much fun and enjoyment [HRAD] would have brought to Germantown,” he wrote. “The Germantown board cares very much about the town and was looking to bring in some new life. HRAD would have certainly done that.”

HRAD remains just up the road in Livingston. “We are working with the landowner of our prior location, 1091 County Route 10, to set up a permanent location. We have been presented with a five-year lease,” Mr. Bimbo wrote. The group plans to fence off some property and build an access road.

Objections to the proposal came from those concerned about noise and traffic, including second-home owners who said they look forward to quiet weekends.

“Most of us live here full time,” said Ms. DuFresne, “and we’re looking for things to do locally. Soccer games or T-ball games in the park are noisy. And have you heard the noise from the summer rec program? Sports events bring traffic. We deal with traffic every day.

“Germantown isn’t just about the views,” she said. “It’s about activities, entertainment, things people do on weekends—that’s the goal of all of us on the board.”

Objections also came from those who don’t have dogs. Adrienne Westmore pointed out that dogs already have backyards, parks and “communal areas.” They can swim in rivers, streams and backyard pools. She objected to the unsightly chain link fence already around the town’s dog park. She urged that HRAD to stay in Livingston and Palatine Park remain the “quiet refuge it is for many Germantown citizens, young and old.”

“I was frustrated to hear it called “just another space for dogs,” said Ms. DuFresne. “It’s not about dogs, it’s about people, getting them to take part in and be a part of something.”

Ms. DuFresne serves on the town’s Parks Commission, which raised money for the dog park and to repair the ball fields, among other efforts. The Commission does not get town tax money; “we live off donations,” she said.

While Mr. Craig described the hearing as “lively,” Pamela Wallace reported that anger was expressed. “I didn’t think it was fair to yell at the people presenting the project,” she said. “I asked for civil discourse. We can criticize the proposal, not the people.

“I wanted to back up Adrienne, I was impressed with what she said,” Ms. Wallace added. “The air dog people were super nice. It’s probably fun, but that wasn’t an appropriate place for it.”

on weekends—that’s the goal of all of us on the board.”

Objections also came from those who don’t have dogs. Adrienne Westmore pointed out that dogs already have backyards, parks and “communal areas.” They can swim in rivers, streams and backyard pools. She objected to the unsightly chain link fence already around the town’s dog park. She urged that HRAD to stay in Livingston and Palatine Park remain the “quiet refuge it is for many Germantown citizens, young and old.”

“I was frustrated to hear it called “just another space for dogs,” said Ms. DuFresne. “It’s not about dogs, it’s about people, getting them to take part in and be a part of something.”

Ms. DuFresne serves on the town’s Parks Commission, which raised money for the dog park and to repair the ball fields, among other efforts. The Commission does not get town tax money; “we live off donations,” she said.

While Mr. Craig described the hearing as “lively,” Pamela Wallace reported that anger was expressed. “I didn’t think it was fair to yell at the people presenting the project,” she said. “I asked for civil discourse. We can criticize the proposal, not the people.

“I wanted to back up Adrienne, I was impressed with what she said,” Ms. Wallace added. “The air dog people were super nice. It’s probably fun, but that wasn’t an appropriate place for it.”

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