Last October, the Red Hook Town Board found itself in a controversy over its plan to extend the sidewalk on the east side of Route 9 from Town Hall to Hardscrabble Plaza.
To build the sidewalk, the town had applied for two grants: a Community Development block grant for $150,000 from Dutchess County, and a state Department of Transportation grant for $199,600, of which the town would have to pay 20 percent.
Then the opposition turned out in force.
Rosemary Zengen, owner of Old Country Antiques and leader of the Save Our Town committee, gathered a petition signed by 30 residents and business owners who were opposed to the new sidewalk. The petition cited safety concerns for the elderly, the mentally disabled and students who could be in danger from vehicular traffic while crossing Route 9 from the sidewalk that already exists on the west side.
To make their point, the opponents planted a series of “No Sidewalk Here” signs from Zengen’s store north to Town Hall.
As for the grant monies, Red Hook Town Supervisor Sue Crane said that the town did not receive them and she doesn’t know if they will apply for them again this year.
But Crane still feels the sidewalk is needed for safety reasons.
“It’s been proven by numerous studies that sidewalks are safer than walking on the road,” she told the Observer. “The board met with Dutchess County and the Department of Transportation, and to a person, the engineers and safety experts said it’s a hazardous area there and all people are at risk.”
She also said a new sidewalk on the east side would allow shoppers to access businesses they were interested in without crossing the always busy road.
And recently, two signs supporting a sidewalk appeared in front of the Whaleback Animal Hospital at 7302 S. Broadway, though it is not clear who put them up.
Also supporting sidewalks were dozens of respondents to a recent online Observer poll. The survey asked about the “No Sidewalk Here” and “Yes Sidewalk Here” signs and whether an eastside sidewalk was a good idea.
Among the replies:
Marie Aime: “Yes to sidewalks … Red Hook needs to make changes to make it safer to walk and an easier flow for traffic. Red Hook needs serious changes.
Jennie Swantz Stokum: “As a village resident and someone who regularly walks with my children to Hardscrabble Plaza, I think a sidewalk is essential. It’s horrible trying to cross the street by the movie theater, but we have no other choice.”
Ray Giraud: “Don’t think it matters, people walk & cross Route 9 in Red Hook wherever they want!”
Muriel Norman: “The people who don’t want them are the owners of the properties along that road. The people who walk and want (sidewalks) to access businesses … are the majority of residents in the town. I don’t get it. Please explain why having a sidewalk is going to disrupt your life.”
Warren Wesolowski: “I don’t think it’s necessary.”
Herman Tempelman: “Red Hook would be a bit better for a sidewalk in that area. Let’s join the world and extend (the) sidewalk.”
Kate Barrett: “The handful of people impacted need to get over themselves and start thinking of others”
Zengen, whose store at 125 South Broadway is in the middle of the east side stretch, questioned the concept of people walking to shop at the businesses along that part of Route 9, when a majority of area residents drive to shop.
“Are people really going to cross the street to buy a couch at my store and carry it home on their back? I have all big items in my store,” she said in a recent Observer interview.
Zengen’s disputes with town officials date back to the 1990’s, because of her store’s proximity to Route 9 and her outdoor display of merchandise that could be in the state right-of -way. The planning board, at that time, tried to get her to move her display indoors, and she in turn circulated a petition to have the town building inspector fired, claiming in a letter to planners that she was being picked on.
Building inspector Bob Fennell told the Observer, “I believe, but I’m not certain, that she’s in the (state’s) right of way.” But he added, “We’ve accepted this place as a non-complying, non-conforming use that’s grandfathered.”
“Is it in the right of way? Yes, the state has told me that,” Crane said.
Zengen was asked if she opposed the sidewalk because it would force her to move her business back from the road. She told the Observer, “Why would I mind having a sidewalk? If people would walk here, it would be good for business. But they don’t.”
The issue hasn’t ended, even though the grants did not come through.
Crane said that applying for other sidewalk grants might still be a possibility.
“I think the need is still there,” she said. “And I was supporting it for public safety, as the rest of the board did.”
She added, “But I know a proposal like this is a change and people don’t like change.”