Over the last 20 years or so, as my knees and back have become increasingly incapable of tolerating the pounding of jogging, I’ve transitioned to Nordic walking. Nordic walking is much like cross-country skiing but without the snow. Enthusiasts use specially designed ski poles or trekking sticks—with heavy rubber tips for use on asphalt and carbide tips for hiking—to propel themselves forward in a rhythmic motion

According to numerous studies, walking about five hours a week benefits people both physically and mentally. Nordic walking is particularly beneficial. It significantly improves aerobic capacity and muscular strength, while burning calories at a significantly higher rate.

My neighborhood has lots of back-country roads with steep hills and interesting vistas.  After an invigorating walk on a sunny, brisk, late autumn day, I brewed a cup of java, loaded a bowl with yogurt, fruit and seeds, and sat down to read the latest issue of Mahopac News. 

Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

As I perused the paper, an issue I’d been thinking about caught my eye. In a letter to the editor, Thom Iannicccari, a local insurance broker and co-chair of the Mahopac- Carmel Legislative Advocacy Board (LAB), was thanking the Putnam County Business Council for awarding him the Trailblazer Award for his leadership work on Vision 2020. 

“We have not had a Master Plan for 19 years,” wrote Iannicccari, “and this new blueprint will position the entire town of Carmel economically and image-wise, taking us into the next quarter-century. With fresh infrastructure, roads, sidewalks, etc., new business development will be attracted here.”

I have no disagreement with Iannicccari’s contention that this town could surely use a makeover. Traveling along the Route 6/Route 52 corridor is like being caught in a time warp. Is this 2019 or 1969? Yes, business is stagnant. But, a vital issue that Vision 2020 fails to recognize is the fragmentation of this community’s social fabric: issues such as teen alienation, alcohol and drug abuse, covert racism, poverty, stress and social isolation have hardly been dealt with.

Decade after decade, this community has been shaped by incremental land use and design decisions made by planning and zoning boards that are mostly staffed by untrained citizen planners. Too often, political and moneyed interests influence their decision-making, and the best interests of the whole community suffer.

The Town Board has now taken the reins and hired a Long Island consulting firm to help plan the creation of a new comprehensive master plan and revised town code. This is a major undertaking, and I congratulate the board for biting the bullet—investing in experts with a wide range of proficiency and know-how who can help our community plan to move forward, both structurally and programmatically. 

Creating a town master plan is a complicated process that should not only consider an array of best practices for designing downtowns, crossroads and new neighborhoods but should strive to identify the community’s human needs, as well. It must also answer these questions: How transit options play into development? Links to nature? Green power? Are there cutting-edge ways to treat sewage and, if so, can they be utilized if we commit to small-scale construction?  Are there towns that have gone through this process of envisioning their future that we’d like to emulate?

The plan should not singularly focus on the business needs of this community; nor should it be an exaggerated list of what is broken and requires repair. Instead, the process of developing a master plan should provide ample opportunity for all the stakeholders in this community to come together to develop both a strategy and tactics that will lead the town well into the 21st century.

What should it be like to live in Mahopac in 10 years? In 20 years?  What steps does this community need to take in order to make life here the best it can be? Can we develop new ways of making a living here? How do we protect our open spaces and environmental assets? Are there neighborhoods that need revitalizing and, if so, how do we go about it?

Can we take advantage of underutilized properties and empty storefronts to offer diverse recreational opportunities—other than sports—to our youth and to adults?  Music, dance, theater, crafts, electronics, support groups.  We should not be so complacent about losing young minds to smartphones, drugs, alcohol and boredom. 

Can we take advantage of underutilized properties and empty storefronts to develop business incubators, creating public/private partnerships that help to create and grow young businesses by providing them with necessary support and financial and technical services?

Hiring a planning consultant is only the beginning. The Town Board must provide avenues for dialogue, debate and a transparent process for decision-making, including as many stakeholders as possible.

It is important to recognize that the social, economic and land-use choices made or not made during this planning process can have a significant impact on this town’s future. The tax base is shrinking, the community is aging, and the infrastructure is getting old.

Our town government has a history of either not planning sufficiently for the future, planning poorly, or not following through with plans that have been made. It is no longer enough to have a Town Board that spends most of its time primarily focused on core services—public safety, roads, sewers and the finessing of property taxes. We live in a very safe and pleasant town. To progress socially and stay current and affordable, it is now time to invest in the social fabric of this community.

The master plan needs to look at where the people in this town live, work, play, relax and recreate.  It must consider the needs of an aging population and a younger population, the needs of families and, yes, the needs of businesses, taking all into account.

Doing next-to-nothing or conducting business-as-usual will get us nowhere.