Change in old town is issue for young mayor New Windsor faces spurt of growth

September 26, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

At the 9 O'Clock Coffee Club in the New Windsor Pharmacy, the town's "old-timers" huddle around the tiny table to enjoy their 5-cent cups of coffee and complain about the drivers of the rambling semis that, on their way north, disrupt the quiet of the sleepy town daily.

"Well, now, you remember like me when there was no traffic around here at all," 70-year-old Richard M. Warehime, the town clerk-treasurer for nearly 46 years, tells the others. "You're just going to have to get used to things changing around here. . . ."

"Things have to change, you know," New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr., 24, says later as he sits behind the large walnut desk in his soon-to-be law office. "The days of the horse and carriage are gone. Just because you want to keep the small-town atmosphere doesn't mean you have to have the good ol' boy mentality.

"The town itself is not the reason people feel so close to it. The people give it the atmosphere," Mr. Gullo observes. "You can add on however many buildings or people that you want, but the feeling is with the people, like me."

Untouched by development since World War II, New Windsor couldn't prepare itself for the onslaught of development that promises to more than double its 800 population in the next 10 years. And few could have predicted that the town -- which at various times has been run by a local barber, the town grocer and a 70-year-old school bus driver -- would be propelled toward the 21st century by a would-be lawyer (he is awaiting the results of the bar exam) with a seemingly steel-hearted approach to government.

Too late to turn back

When the developers of Blue Ridge Manor held a groundbreaking for the first of 84 single-family homes on Rowe Road in February, the ritual hadn't been practiced in nearly 50 years.

"The last 'major' development in New Windsor was the addition of two streets and a handful of houses around the end of 1945," Mr. Warehime says. "Between then and now, a few houses went up here and there."

Two other developers, Mike Sponseller and David Bullock, are grading their land in hopes of starting construction of 134 single homes and 36 condos, respectively, this fall.

When these communities are complete, New Windsor's population will rise to about 2,000, Mr. Gullo says, and the demographics of the town, where most residents are retired, will change dramatically.

The houses in Mr. Sponseller's project, the largest of the planned developments, will be priced in the low $100,000s and are expected to attract mostly young couples who are first-time homebuyers.

"The older people like we have in town would not relocate to a new home like the ones Sponseller is building," Mr. Gullo says. "And the homes over at Blue Ridge are more pricey and will more likely attract second-time buyers, who are still younger than most of the people who live here now. Retired people are more likely to buy condos, like the ones Bullock is building."

Town services will be put to the test when the new middle school, which will enroll 125 more children than the current one, is completed.

L Two other planned projects -- a 30-unit retirement community

planned by the New Windsor Service Center and 24 homes slated for land off Route 31 -- also will increase the burden on utilities.

"In order to be a viable community, you need to grow," Mayor Gullo says of the development projects he inherited when he took office in May. "It's the Darwinian theory of life applied to government. If we don't adapt, we become outmoded, obsolete and, eventually, extinct."

Nobody was looking

"Nobody really wanted the development, but now it's too late," said hairdresser Karen Jenkins as she clipped a hair roller firmly into place on a customer's head. "The government [prior to the current administration] just got involved without really looking into it."

For the past three years, the town council has been bombarded by engineers, lawyers, developers and inspectors who changed or discarded their plans for development as quickly as they were introduced.

By the time the public figured out what was going on, many decisions had been made, and the rest of the town just went along, said Jean Stogo, a resident for 17 years.

"The majority of these people will go along with anything," Ms. Stogo said as she prepared to leave Karen's

Kuttery. "A lot of these people keep it to themselves, but %J complain when things don't go their way."

While Ms. Jenkins said she's worried that the numerous developments will change the atmosphere of the town, she has confidence in Mayor Gullo's ability to keep citizens' interests in mind.

"We've got someone in there who's going to control the development, to not let things get out of hand," she said. "I thought the developers would come in and run all over him. I was wrong. He's handling things around here."

Ruffling a few feathers

Mayor Gullo wielded his power at the last Town Council meeting much as he has done for all his four months in office: quickly, efficiently, almost absolutely.

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