I grew up reading the newspaper much as you are now. There were no cellphones, no social media, and no 24-hour news networks. My worldview was shaped by rotary dials, printer’s ink, and
the 6 o’clock news.
I imagine many of you could say the same. Between 1990 and 2010, the federal Census showed that in the Village of Cooperstown there was an overall decline in every age group except for 50- to 59-year-olds. The sharpest decline (47 percent) was in the 30-to-39 age group.
My husband and I moved to the village with our young family in 2004, but our experience is far from the norm. The lack of young people in Cooperstown is a problem that we need to correct if our community organizations, schools and local government are going to thrive in the future.
This is where Trustee MacGuire Benton comes in.
I may not agree with MacGuire on every issue that comes before the Board of Trustees, but I always value his perspective. His experiences are often closer to those of my children and the graduate students with whom I work, the very people we need to help shape our plans moving forward.
For example, MacGuire saw the need to provide video access to village meetings even before the pandemic. In a desire to further government transparency and be more inclusive, he suggested policies last year that made the transition to online content easier when it became necessary due to the pandemic.
He recently pointed out the benefits of an official village Facebook page so that people do not have to turn to AllOtsego.com or Celebrate Cooperstown to get information about what is going on. Mac is committed to free and open communication and helping to make Cooperstown a place where young people of all backgrounds want to live.
On Sept. 15, something unusual happened: MacGuire Benton and Mary-Margaret Robbins – both eager to serve as village trustees – tied in a race for a seat on the board. Both have widespread support, each garnering 272 votes. And both undoubtedly love our Village and want what’s best for it.
However, if you are still undecided about whether to vote or for whom to vote in the run-off election on Sept. 29, I urge you to look to the future. Ensure there is a voice in village government that represents the next generation. Vote to re-elect MacGuire Benton noon-9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, at the fire hall, or by absentee ballot prior to the 29th.
COOPERSTOWN – Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk is alerting downtown merchants to the new HartBeat of Main Street Grant Program, which is offering grants of $5,000 to $15,000 to brick-and-mortar small businesses in commercial districts as they enter the next phases of reopening across the country.
The grants would be available to such businesses in downtown across Otsego County.
COOPERSTOWN – Though the Cooperstown Village Board had considered a late start or suspending it entirely, they voted that paid parking will go into effect on Memorial Day weekend as part of the $3.8 million budget approved during their monthly meeting.
Trustee Cindy Falk estimated that revenues will only be $100,000 for the year, down from $463,000 last year.
“It’s a huge punch in the gut,” said Trustee MacGuire Benton.
COOPERSTOWN – Paid parking could be suspended into the middle of the summer, according to Village Trustee Cindy Falk, who proposed the idea during a budget hearing streamed live over YouTube this evening.
“Our paid parking is closely aligned with visitors, and it’s a situation that’s impossible to predict,” she said. “I wonder if at this point, we should consider putting off paid parking until July 1 to give everyone time to get comfortable and for businesses to start re-opening.”
COOPERSTOWN – Cynthia G. Falk, Cooperstown Graduate Program professor (and Cooperstown’s deputy mayor), has been appointed to the National Historic Landmarks Committee of the National Park System Advisory Board.
The purpose of the committee is to review nominations for National Historic Landmarks and make recommendations to the board.
COOPERSTOWN – Matt Phillips, CCS ’02, shared a poignant story of his family’s affection for Redskins (now Hawkeyes) football, and the 200 fans in the CCS high school auditorium applauded.
“If not for football,” said Phillips, today Clark Sports Center’s Activities & Group Reservations director, “I wouldn’t have come to school.”
Cooperstown varsity football has had bad years, for sure, but always rebounded. “My senior year,” he said, “we won one game. My senior year, we were undefeated.”
Today, his daughter Leah plays with the team, continuing a family tradition. “She even talks about playing in the NFL someday.”
The term “Life Births” – a term that floated through the room as the school board contemplated a wide round of cuts to the 2020-21 budget; the budget vote and school elections is May 19 – could trump the fans’ and others’ concerns.
“We are forced to make decisions that don’t feel great,” Superintendent of Schools Bill Crankshaw said that evening: In 2007, there were 1,048 K-12 pupils; today there are 850, a 19 percent drop.
“Life Births” are compiled annually by ONC BOCES Superintendent of Schools Nick Savin for all 19 school district in his purview, nine in Otsego County. Based on the number of births in a district any one year, he projects those numbers forward: for instance, babies born in 2015 will enter kindergarten this fall.
If fewer seniors are graduating in June than kindergarteners are arriving in September – and this goes on year after year – a school district is headed for trouble.
For the 2019-20 school year, CCS has 79 students graduating, and only 50 kindergartners entering, a 37 percent drop, by far the largest among the ONC BOCES schools.
“At base, if you want a school, you have to build housing,” CCS board President Tim Hayes said in an interview, “affordable, quality housing … Until we start to create places for people to live in the community, I’m worried about the future of the community.”
Hayes served on the task force that created the Village of Cooperstown’s new Comprehensive Master Plan, approved last fall, which – to some community concern – allows larger homes to be broken up into apartments.
If there are no exterior changes, sufficient parking and other standards are met, village Zoning Enforcement Officer Jane Gentile can simply issue a permit; a project doesn’t have to go through the H-PARB, planning or zoning boards, said Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk, who has played a central role in the comp plan and resulting zoning code.
Apartment houses – the Railroad Avenue neighborhood, in particular, is designated as appropriate – still require a special permit from the Village Board, she said.
It’s only been a few months since the new zoning was approved, but Falk said she’s unaware of any house conversions or apartment complexes being proposed.
In the 1970s and ’80, Hayes said, homes were being built in the district, but in the 1990s “preserving open space was more important than building houses for people who wanted to live here.” Much of the surrounding towns of Otsego and Middlefield requires three-acre lots, he said.
That may be changing, Hayes said. In addition to Cooperstown’s new zoning, the Town of Hartwick has contracted with Delaware Engineering for a Route 28 study. The study wasn’t focused on housing, Falk said, but as survey results began coming in, housing needs were frequently mentioned.
With the largest employer in the county – Bassett Hospital, “a half-billion-dollar medical center” – just three blocks from Cooperstown Elementary, things should be different.
“Every day I see ads for employees at this medical center,” Hayes said. “We definitely don’t have enough housing for people who want to live here.”
At last week’s meeting, Hayes and Crankshaw repeatedly said no firm decisions have been made about football or anything else. The next of a series of “open budget discussions” is planned 6-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, in the high school library.
Savin, the BOCES superintendent, said that while CCS’ situation is the most dire this year, it’s not alone. “In Oneonta,” he said, “they seem to have some growth in the younger grades. Every other school in our region: They’re either staying flat or losing students.”
He continued, “In more schools, because we have declining enrollment, the school boards and communities are looking at more collaborative ways of keeping their teams. It’s appropriate, in my view.”
“That’s what the data does,” he said: “It causes the right kinds of conversations.”
PERFORMANCE – 7 – 10 p.m. Support Emergency Shelter program by Opportunities for Otsego while enjoying evening of music by Steve Fabrizio Band. Features light hors d’oeuvres, raffles, cash bar. Cost, $25 at door. B Side Ballroom, 1 Clinton Plaza Dr., Oneonta. 607-433-8000 or visit www.facebook.com/ofoinc/
Begun inauspiciously in March 2014 with the felling of 37 trees on Main Street, a remarkable series of successes has followed in the reinvention of downtown Cooperstown for 21st century tourism.
The environmentally sensitive rain gardens, new sidewalks, streetlights, replacement of 19th century water mains and sewerage – even a new flag pole, embroiled in controversy as it now is – have followed in quick succession.
But it’s not over, as observed in the past few days, as the Upstate Companies, which is growing
into a Mount Upton-based behemoth, began working on the latest projects:
• One, the reinvention of pocket Pioneer Park, at Main and Pioneer, with a low stage, bike racks and water fountain, more benches and new plantings. The more open center will provide more elbow room around Santa’s Cottage, often packed as it is from Thanksgiving Weekend until the Big Day.
• Two, a new traffic signal setup at Pioneer and Chestnut. The Upstate crews are replacing curbs and sidewalks (with brick pavers) from Pine Boulevard to the intersection. The traffic light will be replaced with a single signal, just as it is, but adjustable to easy entry and exit from the nearby fire station.
Chestnut Street will be narrowed, for less-stressful pedestrian crossings, and a small plaza created in front of Mel’s. Plus, Walk/Don’t Walk signals will further ease pedestrians’ minds as they navigate more clearly delineated crosswalks, courtesy with long-lasting stripes from Andela Glass, the Richfield Springs recycling concern.
(That last piece depends on the weather, according to Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch: Blacktop requires a stretch of 50-plus degree weather to cure.)
While this isn’t the beginning, it isn’t the end, either.
At Doubleday Field, water and sewer lines will be laid from the Main Street entrance to the left side of the grandstand to provide service to the restrooms, locker rooms and pavilion that will be part of next year’s third-baseline reconstruction.
Depending on how soon winter arrives, work may begin on the Main Street entrance, including the fancy arch pictured with this editorial.
Next summer, the construction should be going strong along Doubleday Field’s third-base line. The mayor isn’t sure how much will be done by next year’s 100th anniversary of the baseball landmark, but there should be enough to be impressive during ceremonies planned by the Friends of Doubleday.
That’s a lot in five years, but it’s not over – probably never over, Mayor Tillapaugh
Fowler Way, which leads to Doubleday from Chestnut Street, next to the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, is much used, but narrow, bumpy and lacking sidewalks, all of which could and should be addressed.
She is particularly interested in upgrading Hoffman Lane, across from the Hall of Fame, to lead more of the quarter-million fans that visit the Hall each year to Lakefront Park and James Fenimore Cooper’s Glimmerglass. Locals are often surprised to learn that many visitors are unaware the lake is even there.
Then, attention could turn to Railroad Avenue, which is becoming a center of local life and commerce, with Mike Manno’s 21 Railroad office building, and Attorney Michelle Kennedy’s office building next door, Cooperstown Distillery, the Railroad Inn, the renovated Spurbeck’s, Butch Welch’s recently redone parking lot,
and the Susquehanna & Western Railroad headquarters.
With the empty “Where It All Began” warehouse and other space for apartments, Railroad Avenue is a promising next center of population growth.
Will it ever end? Listening to the mayor, you have to conclude: Never, and it shouldn’t.
I am passionate about housing. In fact, I write this as I prepare to travel to Honduras to participate in a program called Mi Casa, which provides new or renovated houses for Hondurans who do not have the resources to obtain adequate housing themselves.
Having a place to call home is a fundamental component of personal identity and a critical factor in feeling both comfortable and secure.
In Cooperstown, as community members shared ideas for the new Comprehensive Plan, which was approved in 2016, the topic of housing came up repeatedly.
Year-’round rentals are hard to find in Cooperstown, a fact my family learned all too well when we bounced between three different rentals in the course of a year when we first moved to the village.
Apartments are at a premium, especially for those with limited incomes. And there are very few places that are accessible to those who find stairs difficult or impossible to navigate.
If we look back at historical data, we find that in 1930 there were 2,909 people living in the Village of Cooperstown. In 2010, the last year a census was conducted, there were just 1,852. What caused a more than 36 percent decrease in population?
We know that the village has not changed in size, but we can also see that there are not a lot of new houses (with a few notable exceptions after World War II, i.e. Walnut Street, Lakeland Shores). Couple that with the fact that the birth rate has gone down and life expectancy has gone up, and on average we find fewer people living in each house.
We also know that people rarely take in boarders, a once common practice, and boarding houses are a thing of the past. At the same time, second homes, which sit empty a good portion of the year, are more common in the village. Overall, the human density in the village has decreased, leading to a decrease in population.
Nationally, the benefits of population density have become hot topics.
As we consider climate change, it is clear that communities where living, working, shopping, and recreation all happen in the same general area foster less dependence on automobiles, and therefore less fossil-fuel consumption.
As we consider economic development, we know businesses depend on residents who are customers as well as employees. If we want businesses that support residents, there must be many residents to support those businesses.
Community groups also depend on people who live locally to volunteer time and talent, something often lacking today.
Yet while it turns out that Cooperstown’s population has been on the decline for decades, people actually do want to live here, something that makes Cooperstown stand out among many Upstate communities.
Bassett Hospital recently queried employees about their housing needs and desires. We all know that many Bassett employees drive great distances to work every day. It turns out that many would prefer to live in the village if they could find housing that suited their needs at a reasonable price point.
The solution to housing issues in Cooperstown is complex. One component is to make sure our zoning does not inhibit new development, whether that means constructing a whole new building or rethinking how space within an existing large single-family house is utilized.
At one time, zoning was used in communities throughout the United States to promote suburban style single-family houses separated from other types of places such as shopping centers or office complexes, which one had to drive to. The pendulum has shifted to recognize the benefits of communities such as Cooperstown that are walkable and foster a variety of uses.
Since June 2018, a working group consisting of the mayor, zoning enforcement officer, and representatives from the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Historic Preservation & Architectural Review Board, the trustees’ Economic Development & Sustainability Committee, and Bassett Hospital has been meeting to develop a proposal for changes to the zoning law.
A draft was recently presented to the Board of Trustees and forwarded to the Planning Board for its review.
The proposal allows additional types of housing (duplexes, multi-family) in residential zoning districts and in the business district by right or by special-use permit, and it limits lot coverage rather than setting a minimum square footage requirement per housing unit.
It also updates zoning terminology, renaming “accessory apartments” “accessory dwelling units” in keeping with national trends. And it recognizes local realities, redefining setback requirements in terms of lot size and the locations of existing buildings.
Changes to zoning are no cure all.
Housing availability is affected by market forces, and our tourist economy is tied to housing shortages and to rental rates, in season and out of season.
Before thinking about changing zoning rules regarding apartments, the village had to tighten up the regulations regarding short-term rentals to ensure that any new apartments actually would be available for year-round tenants.
The reality is that Cooperstown can support and has supported more residents, and that there are people who would love to live in the village. Cooperstown is a great place to raise children and to age in place.
Ensuring zoning laws reflect current thoughts on the benefits of compact communities is a first step in recognizing that we all benefit from a greater diversity of housing options.
Cindy Falk, a professor of Material Culture
at the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies,
PANCAKE BREAKFAST – 8:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Sugaring Off Sundays include pancake breakfast with fresh maple syrup, demonstrations and tours of the Farmers Museum. The Farmers Museum, 5775 Route 80, Cooperstown. Info, www.farmersmuseum.org.
COOPERSTOWN – As many as 30 new trees a year could be planted in Cooperstown starting in 2020, according to Village Trustee Cindy Falk.
“Right now we’re planting about a half a dozen trees a year,” she said.
The Davey Resource Group of Kent, Ohio, just released a survey of the village’s 1,897 trees, with a proposed maintenance schedule of removals and plantings. Planting trees is quickly becoming the norm for some businesses around the world, as they are trying their best to contribute to making a difference when it comes to the climate. Companies similar to Loveplugs are trying their best to do their part for the environment. It seems to be no different for the Coopertown’s village trust.
COOPERSTOWN – Village Trustee Cindy Falk foresees a “pocket oasis in the downtown” when the work now underway in Pioneer Park is done.
Beginning last week, a trench is being dug to create a foundation for a bike rack and bike repair station, and a final plan for the whole park is now being prepared by landscape architect Michael Haas of Delta Engineering, Endwell.
But, as part of the $2 million federal grant to be implemented next year, the final park should include a space for gatherings and performances, a drinking fountain with bottle-filling station, a cobblestone surface and new plantings.