After two years of all-hands-on-deck planning and building, we opened Watershed this June. Since then, we’ve hosted over 200 participants representing dozens of organizations working on the frontline of change. In 2015, we are kicking off a new series of programs on leadership development, transformative organizing, farming, oral history and youth empowerment.
We are so grateful to so many of you for sharing our vision and providing inspiration for this center. As we enter into 2015, we invite you to read our 2014 year-in-review and consider making an end-of-year donation to help ensure Watershed’s programs and services remain accessible.
This year marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of The Watershed Center. Following over 2 years of planning and zoning, legal proceedings, building and renovation, Watershed opened its doors this past June. It’s been quite a journey and we are quite proud of what we’ve accomplished in bring this center into being. Below are some of the highlights.
We Got Zoning!
This was actually no small feat. We submitted the first draft of our Special Use Permit application to the Zoning Board of the Town of North East on June 4, 2012. This quaint little document was 22 pages long and outlined our nascent vision for the Watershed Center in keeping with the Educational Center designation in the town zoning.
When we went before the board a few weeks later, we found that a small organizing effort was underway to block our application. A woman from a neighboring town had decided to try to enlist our neighbors against our project with thinly veiled personal and political attacks (tea party conspiracies mainly) which, for the most part, landed on def ears. Most of our neighbors quickly learned that we were not the menace she made us out to be and we gained an incredible amount of community support as a result of all the press. However, one neighbor remained on board, and that was all that’s needed gain legal standing, making the threat of a lawsuit against the town real. What followed was an incredibly thorough and extensive public hearing and planning process.
That process – spanning 18 month, 20 public hearings and literally thousands of pages of documents – came to an end on January 22, 2014.Well, sort of. A lawsuit was filed against the Town in October of 2013, it was dismissed in January, but an injunction and an appeal have since been filed. The injunction was promptly dismissed but we still await our court date for the appeal. We are confident it will end in our favor (their legal argument is pretty weak), so in the meantime, we are able to proceed with our center, so we have.
To be honest, we grew a lot as individuals and as an organization through this process. It did, however, redirect money set aside to use for our programs and our building efforts into a very expensive legal and planning effort. So, if you are so moved, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Watershed to help us continue to keep our programs and services affordable.
- June 4, 2012 – submitted first special permit application to Zoning Board
- June 22, 2012 – first public hearing on our application
- August 2012 – after 5 public hearings, ZBA completes the State Environmental Quality Review of our project, setting stage for permit approval
- September 2012 – neighbor files lawsuit against town
- October 2012 – we rescind our application in order to complete a more thorough application addressing the concerns outlined in the lawsuit
- April 20, 2013 – we resubmit our application (now totaling 130 pages) to the Zoning and Planning Boards
- August 27, 2013 – following an additional 10 public hearings and a not-yet-tallied number of submissions, the ZBA approves our permit!
- September 28, 2013 – our neighbor files an Article 78 against the Town of North East claiming that Educational Centers, as defined by the zoning law, do not allow for overnight guests, a technical claim that they have made from the very beginning but no one else agrees with.
- January 3, 2014 – the State Supreme Court summarily dismisses the lawsuit
- February 2014 – neighbor files an injunction along with intention to appeal the decision
- April 2014 – Injunction is dismissed
- July 2014 – Neighbor files appeal
- August 2014 – we file our response, as does the town in September
- Currently – awaiting our court date in the New York Court of Appeals.
Renovated Main House and Raised the Yurt
Approvals in hand, in March we opened up our building permits and set out to complete the building and renovations needed to open our center by June. Two months, no problem!
Well, all of the planning didn’t prepare us for the amount of work left to do. Leading the charge was Walter Hergt, friend and colleague here at Watershed, to bring the plans into reality. Suffice to say, it was a busy busy couple of months that Walter will some day recover from. The tasks involved in converting an 1850’s farmhouse into an educational retreat center are both profound and mundane. Here are a few the things involved –
- Fire Code and American Disabilities Act Compliance
- Rebuilt entire kitchen and installed commercial hood
- Installed state of the art water treatment
- Buried an old pool and installed a new septic system
- Heating, Plumbing and Electrical Updates
- Repainted interior and exterior
- Removed 4 tons of galvanized pipe
- Installed 5 new bathrooms
- 600 feet of trenches, 400 feet of pathways
- Built 30 foot yurt
- Installed new backup generator for the whole center!
- Built 15 beautiful beds and nightstands
We Opened the Watershed Center!
Moments after we secured the dome to the yurt, we welcomed thirty young leaders from 350.org, Dream Defenders, and United We Dream for the Momentum Leadership Training. This first retreat opened the floodgates for a powerful stream of programs dedicated to building resilient and visionary social movements. We hosted the inaugural Training of Trainers of the Wildfire Project, a Lefty Shabbaton, and retreats for LGBTQ yoga practitioners, The Solidaire Network, Resource Generation, the Institute for Social Ecology, and many more organizations on the frontlines of change.
In August, we held our Grand Opening with our first annual Watershed Field Day, welcoming over 120 friends and community members to Watershed with an interactive tour of the center, a food art contest and games.
We Launched Local Partnerships
What’s next at Watershed
In 2015, we are kicking off a new series of programs on leadership development, transformative organizing, farming, oral history and youth empowerment and we are committed to our programs being accessible to people of all means. This year, we raised $20,000 to subsidize the cost of our programs and we are dedicated to raising $100,000 in 2015. We invite you to donate to the Watershed Community Education Fund to help us ensure that our programs remain open and accessible to all.
We will be announcing our 2015 programming series in early February. In the meantime, please connect with Watershed and consider how our center might be of service to you and your community.