Sugar Loaf: A struggle for the land and soul of the historic hamlet

| 13 Feb 2024 | 06:33

The legitimate Sugar Loaf Historical Society, which has never requested nor used taxpayer funds for anything, was shocked to learn that another organization had requested and received taxpayer funds for a “Sugar Loaf history” project which was kept from our own knowledge. During this past year, alone, Chester’s taxpayers paid over $18,000 for the self-dealing projects transpired by a private organization; the Sugar Loaf Community Foundation’s treasurer somehow made the town pay for her group’s projects (nonprofits usually write their own grants) and that private citizen has unsealed at least two $10,000+ bids, herself, in defiance of NYS municipal law.

In 2023, the SLCF treasurer met with Chester’s municipal historian to hire his friend to perform an inventory of Sugar Loaf for historic register status (something already performed by our legitimate Sugar Loaf Historical Society, with our own monies in 2007; the state told us the hamlet didn’t qualify). The Community Foundation’s treasurer was given an unbelievable estimate of $13,500 for this, without any lawful, competitive bids... and the town paid a taxpayer-funded $2,000 retainer to their illicitly hired consultant. The consultant and the foundation’s treasurer then wrote a “Preserve History NY” grant for the remainder of the monies. Unfortunately, the “Preserve History” review board denied the grant, citing the consultant’s “unusually high fee” (quote) and the consultant’s failure to write the grant correctly.

So, having failed to correctly execute his contractual duties, the consultant (unbelievably) asked the town for taxpayer funds to support this scheme, and the town (more unbelievably) agreed to pay another $10,500 in taxpayer funds to this inept consultant, hired by the private organization without lawfully competitive bids. (Towns are supposed to let RFPs for competitive sealed bids, and then publicly unseal them, themselves. Private parties cannot be allowed to do this, as one did in this case. Sidestepping the competitive bidding process is a misdemeanor.) On December 31, 2023, the town board cut an additional $5,500 check (Yes, five thousand, five hundred taxpayer dollars) to this consultant (again: on behalf of a private org).

But wait, there’s more: The consultant’s work is actually even more disturbing: Instead of using available historic resources like the Sugar Loaf map generated Chester’s original town historian Clark Holbert (himself a Sugar Loaf native) or the map created by Chester Historical Society founder Donald Barrell (author of the definitive local history tome), the shady “consultant” instead created a really odd, tiny gerrymandering shape-form ( see map) that shrinks the hamlet’s size by 1,000% and omits the hamlet’s most important historical structures (the original Wood farm/later Kurt Seligman’s studio, Sugar Loaf Mountain and its mines, Hambletonian’s foaling place, Knapp’s Distillery, Sugar Loaf Mountain Road and the homes of the nations’ original 20th century organic farmers, The original settlers’ farmhouses on Sugar Loaf Mountain Road, etc.). The “consultant” inexplicably includes empty meadows and insignificant tracts of land, coincidentally owned by entities who might profit from this inclusion. See attached overlay Map: the dark outline delineates the Sugar Loaf hamlet’s actual border (drawn by Clark Holbert, Chester Municipal historian, 1995, and published by the town of Chester), and the tiny red misshapen section in the center is what the “consultant” now hopes to artificially reduce the hamlet to.

Why? At a recent Chester town board discussion about a garish, Vegas-strip electronic sign planned for the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center, the 2023 supervisor stated that SLPAC (Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center...reread that) is not actually in the hamlet of Sugar Loaf (reread that, too), according to this consultant’s new map, so Sugar Loaf’s rules will no longer stand in the way of this big electric sign favored by that supervisor and his patrons. This explains a lot. Best part: they’re making Chester taxpayers pay for this disingenuous and historically indefensible remapping, clearly aimed at reducing the protection of the hamlet entirely. Along the way, the town paid another consultant/friend of the SL Community Foundation $10,000.00+ for a “gateway sign” for Sugar Loaf, through the same private Sugar loaf Community Foundation treasurer, again benefitting a tiny minority of businesses, for which the town never solicited competitive bids — the private group’s treasurer asked for only two very coincidentally similar bids ( again, this needs to be done only by the town board, publicly, if the taxpayers have to pay so as to avoid any private party reading bids and then calling their friend to tell them how much lower to come down to win the lowest bid award.) from only two professionals... and then gave the town some very shaky accountings of these bids. The Sugar Loaf Community Foundation should have written their own grants/fundraisers to pay for this expensive sign, but again the town just handed them taxpayer monies, like candy, once again.

But wait, there’s even more: The Sugar Loaf Community Foundation is trying to rewrite their “missing” bylaws (They were never “missing” at all, in fact) to better-suit their self-dealing: For at least the past three years, their IRS form 990 has shown $3,650 of the “nonprofit’s” funds going to “plantings” in the hamlet, while that work was performed by the group’s vice president during those three years. I asked the treasurer for receipts, but she refused to produce them. This is the same treasurer who somehow made the town agree to pay over $18,000 to her group’s own projects in 2023, alone.

This questionable relationship between the more-questionable Sugar Loaf Community Foundation and the town of Chester needs to be severed, immediately, and the “historical consultant” needs to be released from his unlawful contract with the town, compelled to return the taxpayer monies, and have his work to-date dismissed as the scam which it is.

My own ancestors were among this little hamlet’s earliest settlers; our hamlet predates even the town of Chester itself. Maybe it’s time for Chester’s town board to stop treating our historic hamlet like a Monopoly board for their own corrupt self-dealing...and maybe stop abusing taxpayers’ hard-earned funds on Monopoly boards created by disingenuous consultants.

Jay Westerveld, President

Sugar Loaf Historical Society

Sugar Loaf