Shaping Pawling’s Future

On Wednesday, January 9, the Pawling Town Board held an historic meeting that may well serve as the starting point for an initiative to shape the future of the community. The evening featured a presentation from the Chamber of Commerce outlining a proposed shared-services plan to examine the future of economic development throughout the town, village, and surrounding areas. Board members also heard a presentation from Recreation Director Jessica Dickinson.

The evening began with a presentation from Chamber of Commerce President Peter Cris, who spoke before a standing room-only crowd that included members of the Village Board, Chamber Executive Board, and representatives from the Pawling Central School District. “We want to explore and initiate a comprehensive plan for economic development to include the town, the village, Holmes, and Whaley Lake,” explained Cris.

The proposed plan stems from a stakeholder meeting held in 2010 that included property owners, real estate brokers, businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, as well as members of the Town and Village Boards. “At that time, all agreed to proceed and participate in developing a plan for economic development,” recalled Cris. Officials interviewed a professional planner with an extensive background in economic development. In 2012, the planner submitted a proposal for economic growth that was not pursued because of a lack of funds.

“In the past two years,” Cris continued, “Pawling has experienced a growth of business and services.” He went on to cite the efforts of the newly formed Merchant’s Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, the Farmer’s Market, and the success of the recent Champagne Stroll as having a positive impact on the development of local commerce.

Last November, Village Mayor Robert Liffland met with Peter Cris and Town Supervisor James Schmitt, and a decision was made to revisit the proposal from 2012. “The preliminary proposal,” said Cris, “represents a starting point for us to proceed together to pursue a comprehensive plan for economic development.” Cris pointed out that funds are still currently unavailable to finance a comprehensive proposal, but he asked the Town Board to consider a resolution that would allow for funding. Such a resolution would allow the Town Board, Village Board, and Chamber of Commerce to begin a joint effort to secure grants from Dutchess County and New York State to fund the shared services initiative.

The original proposal recommended a comprehensive examination of the entire Pawling community to be conducted by a professional planner to identify not only the area’s existing assets, but also areas with potential for improvement. Explained Cris: “With the chamber, village, and town working together with property owners, existing businesses, and perspective builders and developers, this mission would proceed with a total understanding and respect of Pawling’s historical and environmental assets, which are numerous, and make Pawling a desirable destination. We want to preserve Pawling’s assets and nurture growth.”

The recommendation was met with excitement by members of the Town Board, who noted the comprehensive nature of the study. “We would look at all parts of Pawling, not just pockets of Pawling,” said Supervisor Schmitt. “We would look at Route 22, Route 55, Holmes, Whaley Lake, and identify what businesses exist and where there is room for new businesses that would compliment the town and the village.” Officials also spoke about the need to explore existing structures that have remained unoccupied in the area. The proposed study would also encompass the area on Route 22 that has been proposed for commercial rezoning, which drew concerns from area residents. “This will be a study that’s not going to be rushed to the finish line,” added Schmitt. “It’s going to take a lot of time. We’re going to look at everything and identify anywhere where there could be growth, and areas where there’s not going to be growth. It’s not going to be done piecemeal.”

Village Mayor Robert Liffland spoke in support of the recommendation, saying, “I agree with this concept. At every third Village Board meeting, we go over the Master Plan with someone from the county. I’m all for having a professional telling us what could be or what couldn’t be.”

Town Councilman Phil DeRosa and Village Trustee John Burweger urged caution with regard to the cost of the proposed study and the credentials of the planner to be hired. “I’m all for the study to be done,” said Burweger. “But my concern is to be able to see the cost of the proposal as well as the resumes of the people who will be participating. We should have multiple people to review the resumes so we can be confident in our approach.”

Ultimately, the Town Board granted Cris their approval to begin conversations with professional planners who might engage in the study. Town Board members were careful to note that no funds have been designated for this project yet, and the Board’s approval is simply to sanction exploration. Board members also made it clear that the public will be updated and involved with all phases of the project as it moves forward in the coming months.

In other business, Recreation Director Jessica Dickinson provide updates on the success of several recent programs, as well as outline some of the department’s plans for the future. “Since I started on October first, we’ve basically reprioritized the community’s needs by talking with people and finding out what they want,” said Dickinson. Under her leadership, the Recreation Department has increased its community outreach and communication through social media. The Lathrop Building in Lakeside Park has recently received new floors and a fresh paint job, which Dickinson credits to a positive working relationship with the Town Buildings and Grounds Department.

New additions and continuing programs have included the Interact Club car wash, the Town Halloween Party, the annual Radio City Music Hall trip, open skate times at Trinity-Pawling, adult paint night, Interact pancake breakfast, Teen Center clean up day, the introduction of an inflatable Gaga pit, and the Santa Shuffle, which preceded the Decemberfest Christmas tree lighting. Prospective plans for the future include a Decades Day Dance and Interact Club Pizza Party. “We have a lot going on in 2019,” added Dickinson. “Come sit down, and we’ll have a nice chat. I want to hear from the community to find out what you want. That’s why I’m here.”

The next Town Board meeting will be held on Wednesday, February 6, at 7:00 p.m. at Town Hall.