... a protracted battle over a 53-unit affordable housing project is dividing this still-crunchy town where mellow ’60s vibes and liberal politics coexist uneasily with real estate prices increasingly out of the reach of the humbler classes.
When workers finally began clearing land for the Woodstock Commons project in July, it looked as if the uncomfortable dispute might finally be ending. Instead, new issues kept popping up: the plight of black bears and endangered Indiana bats threatened by the construction; a botched permitting process; uncertainty about water service.
In some ways what is playing out in this Ulster County town is a more colorful microcosm of affordable housing controversies elsewhere. Still, the collision of environmental, neighborhood and social justice issues is making people squirm in a place where the only thing more important than making the world better can be keeping Woodstock the same.
“Nobody would tell you they don’t want these people in our town,” said Jeff Moran, the town supervisor, who has been a conflicted supporter of the rental project. “Instead, they talk about the effect on the quality of life, ramping up the costs of services and those kind of things. But there’s a joke in town that the reason The Woodstock Times costs a dollar is because people don’t want change. People come here and they think they have an investment in the town being a certain way.”
Opponents, particularly in neighborhoods near the project site, said the issue was not Nimbyism or opposition to public housing but practical objections based on Woodstock’s small size (population about 6,000), charmingly Brigadoonish downtown and creaky infrastructure. Among their complaints: the project is too big, it is at a dangerous bend for traffic and the site should remain green space. They have picked apart particulars, like the nonprofit developer’s claim that residents would be within walking distance of a nearby “grocery store” that is actually a high-priced health food store.
“It’s politically incorrect to oppose an affordable project, so you can’t even look at it,” said Robin Segal, who has a doctorate in energy policy and who moved to town two years ago in search of a garden and peace and quiet. She has since been consumed with writing a detailed blog about the project that has found errors and problems the planning process missed. “But,” she continued, “it’s the wrong project in the wrong place.”
Woodstock’s lack of affordable housing has long been a public concern, though a low-level one, in a place where almost any building project — whether a cellphone tower, the expansion of a Buddhist monastery or solar panels at an animal sanctuary — can set off a nasty dispute.
“This is a town where if someone is sick or someone’s house burns down, people will come out of the woodwork to be generous and to help,” said Susan Goldman, a longtime community volunteer. “But we don’t see people who have a need for housing as part of that community. It’s a town full of social progressives, but we don’t look at our own community the way we look at the rest of the country.”
The racial makeup of the town was 94.25% White, 1.30% Black or African American, 0.21% Native American, 1.57% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.79% from other races, and 1.87% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.56% of the population.
That's less diverse than the lineup at Woodstock in 1969, which featured Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Ritchie Havens, Santana, Joan Baez, Grateful Dead, Ravi Shankar, and two albinos.