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Ghent nixes summer program; scolds Planning Board


GHENT—The Ghent Town Board voted at its April 15 meeting on Zoom to cancel the town summer program this year due to the pandemic. Supervisor Mike Benvenuto said that if something “miraculous happens,” the board can revisit opening the summer recreation program.

During discussion of the matter, Supervisor Benvenuto pointed out that the kids in the program would not be able to use Fox Hill in Austerlitz for swimming and could not go on field trips. But he stressed that the town plans to open the park and get the tennis court nets up. Town Board members Patti Matheney and Koethi Zan both voted “sadly” for canceling the program.

During a workshop meeting, held just before the regular meeting, also on Zoom, Councilman Charles Wood said he was talking to the Village of Chatham about the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, a section of which runs from Ghent to the village. He said he talked to village Mayor John Howe about finding a board member who might be interested in working with the town on trail. The section of the trail in Ghent and Chatham is currently “in development,” according the Harlem Valley Rail Trail website, Parts of the trail, along an abandoned railroad bed, are open in southern part of the county.

The board also discussed anticipated funds from the federal American Rescue Plan. The town should receive about $560,000 in federal aid, which Councilwoman Zan called “very exciting and wonderful news.” The board still has to get more information on how the money can be spent. Counicilwoman Matheney said the funding was supposed to come in two lump sums, though she stressed that could change.

Ms. Matheney also talked about working with the towns of New Lebanon, Austerlitz and Canaan on a grant for broadband through Congressman Antonio Delgado’s (D-19) office. She said the grant had been submitted and she talked about the need for high speed internet access in the area.

The longest discussion during the public comment portion of the board meeting was about Art Omi and the Ghent Planning Board. The arts organization withdrew an application to the Planning Board to expand the Omi visitor’s center at the Sculpture Park on county Route 22. Francis Greenburger, founder and chairman of Art Omi Inc., spoke during public comment, saying that during the process of the board reviewing the Omi’s application, “I don’t recall them ever saying to Omi: ‘What are your needs?’”

Mr. Greenburger pointed out concerns with restricting the number of visitors to the site, saying the numbers the Planning Board suggested seemed “arbitrary.” He also said that Omi was not alone in its concerns about the Ghent Planning Board process, saying other people who have had to deal with the Planning Board have had issues with it. He suggested that for future plans, Omi may have to look for a new jurisdiction that takes a more balanced approach.

Another concern Mr. Greenburger mentioned was a paid ad published in The Columbia Paper, which was a letter signed by the Planning Board chair and presented the Planning Board’s view of its history with the project. Mr. Greenburger said that the board chose not to issue a press release that would have faced journalistic review.

‘I don’t recall them ever saying to Omi: What are your needs?’

Francis Greenburger

Founder, chairman, Art Omi Inc.

Omi released a press release on March 25 saying the organization was withdrawing its application to increase the size of the Benenson Visitors Center to include an education center and more gallery and office space.

Dan Barufaldi, a member of the Ghent Planning Board, explained that originally the board sent a letter to the editor to the paper but due to length he was told by the publisher that it would need to be edited or be a paid advertisement.

Mr. Barufaldi said he was a supporter of Art Omi and said to Mr. Greenburger, “If you’d like to come back and have a conversation with the board, you are welcome to do so.”

When asked by a resident at the meeting, Supervisor Benvenuto said the ad was not paid for with taxpayer money but that it was reviewed by the town’s attorney. The supervisor expressed his concerns about the ad, saying it was a “bad idea.”

He also said that the Planning Board should try to “work with the applicant” and try to do what’s best for the town.

Ms. Matheney said that the ad did not help the situation and stressed how disappointed she was that the Planning Board and Art Omi couldn’t come to an agreement on the plan.

Councilwoman Zan said that she had talked to the state about the ad and was referred to the county Board of Ethics. She talked about the “chilling effect” an ad like the one that the Planning Board took out could have on future applicants in town. She said, “I think I would look at another town,” if she were an applicant.

She also said there were issues with the Planning Board and regulating business operations. “It’s a complex area,” she said.

At the end of public comment Art Omi Director Ruth Adams said she was grateful for all the support the not-for-profit has received. “We are grateful to Ghent,”she said.

At the end of the meeting, the board voted to move a proposed local law on training for planning and zoning board members to the public hearing. The public hearing will take place before their next meeting on May 20.

For more information on Ghent meetings go to

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