ROSENDALE – The lack of sufficient and adequate parking space has long plagued residents and merchants of Main Street, Rosendale. Those few business owners that are able to provide their customers with some degree of "private" parking have protected their mini-fiefdoms with a passion that has become local legend. Not so long ago the lot behind the Rosendale Theater was chained off to prevent access by anyone not viewing a film or attending an event, and other establishments would tow a vehicle from their respective lots if it could not be ascertained its occupants were in fact patronizing their enterprises rather than another down the street.
Brian Cafferty, a former Rosendale Town Board member, remembers all too well these anecdotal stories of "hyperbole and excess," but has consistently asserted that some solution to the longstanding parking problem needs be found to ensure the continued longevity and prosperity of the hamlet's Main Street as a viable business sector.
To this end, Cafferty worked with the Rosendale administration of the late Phil Terpening to acquire what is now known as the "Reid property" for the town, under the premise that the parcel located midway along Main Street would provide ample parking. In 2003, however, a proposal for the town's purchase of the Reid Property was soundly defeated in a permissive referendum.
Despite this setback, Cafferty says progress was still made, albeit in a "more temporary and less satisfying manner." The same year as the referendum defeat, Rosendale entered into a lease agreement with Joppenbergh Mountain Corporation, the entity that held title to 117 acres of mountainous terrain that rises precipitously behind the Rosendale Theater and Belltower Gallery but includes enough flatland for parking, juxtaposed between remnants of the old canal and recently created Willow Kiln Park. The terms of the agreement were for ten years.
According to Cafferty, JMC, as the property owners have become known, were never amenable to offering their entire parcel for sale. Coupled with the public's "reluctance to expend substantial monies to create municipal parking," what resulted over the past eight years has been a "happy medium" approach of Joppenbergh leasing a small area at the base of its mountain to the town for $3,250 per year.
Fast forward to now, and Cafferty's warnings that Rosendale might find itself in an unenviable bargaining position have been tempered by entirely new and "unforeseen developments."
At a town board meeting on January 11, Councilman Ken Hassett stated that inasmuch as the current lease would expire at the end of 2013, he had reached out to Robert Anderberg, counsel for Open Space Institute (OSI), which purchased the entire Joppenbergh parcel last year, to determine what that group's position was regarding the extension of the town's parking lot lease.
Last April, it turns out, a Rosendale Town Board majority had voted in favor of the town's purchasing the entire Joppenbergh parcel from OSI for $85,000. However, subsequent investigation of town finances showed that a projected town surplus fund of $320,000 had evaporated to $79,000, at which point all further efforts towards the purchase were halted.
The actual sale of the mountain and parking lot from the Joppenbergh Corporation to OSI did not occur until December 20, 2011. Having not received the expected reimbursement from Rosendale for its $85,000 expenditure, OSI placed control of the Joppenbergh lands under the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT).
Christine DeBoer, Executive Director of WVLT, insists that the public will be very involved in how the newly acquired land (Joppenbergh runs adjacent to the Wallkill Rail Trail) will ultimately be best utilized.
Initial private meetings on the parking lot's future have already taken place, in anticipation of opening the entire process to public forums so everyone interested can suggest ways for keeping the land a true "open space" and encouraging activities such as hiking and climbing that would increase tourism.
But DeBoer does caution that the $85,000 forwarded by OSI must be reimbursed, even though she says that she remains optimistic that this will happen. A non-profit known as the Shawangunk Conservancy has been formed to raise the necessary monies, and to date, DeBoer believes "they are practically half way there."
As for Main Street merchants, most say they are content with current parking and anticipate the town will ensure continued access to municipal parking for all Main Street business patrons. But several also contend they have never been asked to contribute, as business owners, any pro rata shares towards the past ten years of municipal lot expenses. This oversight exists despite a formula that had been devised by the Town Board years ago to assess a fee to Main Street merchants based upon the square footage of their establishments, their seating capacity, and how many, if any parking spots they possessed of their own.
In a planning board meeting last January, planner Joe Havranek pointed out the "huge disconnect that existed between the devisement of parking lot fees and the town's ability to collect the same."
At that same meeting, town board planning board liaison Manna Jo Greene acknowledged that the planning board was aware of this situation and was examining ways to remedy it; including but not limited to the creation of a "parking district."
"Parking has always been a major reason for the failure of businesses along the Main Street corridor. But now, finally there seems to be some end in sight," said one town resident and merchant, seeking anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter amongst his peers. "No longer is the gap between expectation and reality so vast that one could drive a car through it."