Photo: Kevin Normile
BETHLEHEM — A coalition of residents from Fieldstone Drive is warning their neighbors about the potential hazards of a proposed roadway and petitioning the town ethics board to recommend the recusal of Bethlehem Planning Board Chairman John Smolinsky
Bethlehem residents opposing a vehicular roadway that town officials would like to see connecting Fieldstone Drive (off of Murray Road) with a proposed subdivision between their neighborhood and Elm Avenue Park are continuing efforts to rally public support—and to induce planning board Chairman John Smolinsky to recuse himself from the decision-making process where Fieldstone Drive is concerned.
After residents and developers were denied a plan that included a pedestrian walkway rather than a vehicular roadway at the July 19 planning board meeting—during which Smolinsky said that the town was not interested in entertaining any plans that did not include a vehicular connection and directed the developer to return with a plan containing one—a coalition of residents has begun agitating for Smolinsky to recuse himself and placing signs to make their neighbors aware that they may soon be seeing more traffic in their neighborhoods.
Daniel “Dutch” Tuohey, a Fieldstone resident and coalition member, lit up a large electronic sign at the corner of Haawk Court and Murray Avenue early Monday morning to alert residents that live and drive along those roads to the possibility that there may soon be more traffic to contend with. “The message,” he said, “is all about the Murray Avenue residents aligning with Fieldstone Coalition regarding at least 800 to 900 more vehicles a day on these roads, which are already overloaded and very fast.”
In addition to the electronic sign, on which Tuohey has placed two alternating messages—“Murray—Too Much Traffic” and “No Fieldstone Thru Road”—the coalition is placing lawn signs in nearby neighborhoods that they believe will also be affected by increased traffic caused by a connecting road.
Art Siegel, a litigation attorney who also lives on Fieldstone Drive, has been exchanging letters with the town attorney regarding the coalition’s request that Smolinsky recuse himself from the decision-making process concerning the Fieldstone Drive connection. Siegel, who appeared mystified that the town would ignore the requests of its residents and the developer, said that he has no idea why Smolinsky is so set against any other options or compromises, but that the fact that he appears to be is enough to call for his recusal.
“We have a legitimate expectation that our public officials are going to act ethically,” said Siegel. “Which means acting impartially and fairly, and following the procedures that are set out by the town before making decisions.” In the responses that he received from Town Attorney James Potter, Siegel says hat Potter repeatedly claims that there is no conflict of interest and, therefore, no reason that Smolinsky should recuse himself. “Whether it’s a financial interest or some other reason,” argued Siegel, “they’re not supposed to prejudge, period.
“To me, this is just about doing what’s right,” he continued. “We’re not saying that Smolinsky has a financial gain here from putting this road in. We haven’t asked that he be removed from the board. He might be fair in every other case, we don’t know. But he’s not being fair in this case.”
Looking to the Bethlehem Ethics Board for an opinion in advance of the August 24 town board meeting—which Supervisor John Clarkson recommended that the residents attend when Siegel attempted to schedule a meeting with him—Siegel filed a formal complaint on August 12, citing “Mr. Smolinsky’s attempt to call for a vote to approve the Fieldstone Drive cut-through, despite: a) the Fieldstone Drive cut through issue not being listed as an action item on the agenda; b) no prior notice being given to affected residents as required; and c) no public hearing being noticed or held so all evidence could be presented before a vote was taken. As the video indicates, even after it was brought to Mr. Smolinsky’s attention that he was acting unlawfully in calling for a vote, he nevertheless asked for a vote to “provide guidance” to the builder, indicating that the builder needed to come back with a proposal that included the Fieldstone cut through.
“It is obvious from listening to Mr. Smolinsky that he had clearly pre-judged the issue, completely made up his mind before hearing all sides of the story at a properly convened public hearing, and sent a clear message to the builder that the planning board would only consider a cut through. This conduct shows partiality, bias and lack of objectivity, all of which should not be condoned by this ethics board.”
Currently, concerned residents are preparing to show up, en masse, to the board meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. to bring their concerns before the town’s elected officials—who they are hoping will be more responsive than the unelected planning board.