The dictionary defines follies as an elaborate theatrical revue consisting of music, dance and skits. At previous meetings we have become used to getting the usual song and dance and jolly patter from the Mayor. The dictionary also defines follies as “perilously or criminally foolish action.” The May 21st village board meeting (video) certainly lived up to the second definition to the nth degree—that is to say, the Republican majority did the Mayor’s bidding without a whisper of protest. The standout issue that attracted Crotonblog’s attention concerns a plot of land with frontage on the Croton River.
As a prelude to discussion of this property, the four board members (Ann Gallelli was absent) passed a resolution setting up a Croton-on-Hudson Conservation Area. This resolution sailed through with nary a hitch. It was followed immediately by another resolution that had far from smooth sailing. This second resolution would designate a selected area of the village as the first newly created Conservation Area. So-called spot zoning is a no-no and taboo in planning circles. But planning texts say nothing about spot zoning masquerading as conservation legislation. And spot zoning under the guise of conservation legislation is exactly what this second resolution turned out to be. The eye-opener was the peculiar way in which use of the area was to be diminished.
The village manager led off with a brief history of the property acquired by the village in 1946 to provide access to the Croton River “for fishing and boating.” He identified the site as Mayo’s Landing (it is also sometimes referred to as Dickie’s), and its official designation is Section 79.10, Block 1, Lot 14. When they took this property off the tax rolls, little did the village fathers foresee the immense headache it would become for the village and particularly for residents on or near that section of Nordica Drive.
A veritable parade of village residents trooped to the microphone and recalled their long-term use of the village-owned property—chiefly for swimming. A Nordica Drive resident, one Ms. Phyllis Morrow who had previously suggested fencing off the area, spoke eloquently and at length about the problems engendered by living in close proximity to this popular recreation site. She sounded warnings about the village’s proposed solution to the problem of overuse and covered everything from inept use of a large log to inhibit parking (it became the designated pick-up spot—a veritable “bus stop”) to inappropriate signage. She also cautioned about the dangers of unsupervised swimming.
Although the reason cited for singling this property out for special attention was the evident environmental impact of overuse, the Mayor’s solution made no pretense of being based on any study or survey. Rather it was solely based on immediacy and expediency. The Mayor’s solution can hardly be called Solomonaic since it represents no solution at all. It calls for limiting access to village and school district residents with photographic I.D. and to anyone with a New York state fishing license. Holders of fishing licenses who wish to cross common lands to gain access to public waterways cannot be denied access to them. As it turned out, in trying to please everybody, Mayor Schmidt somehow managed to please nobody and, in the process, completely ignored an explosive situation.
Trustee Kane fought a lone and losing battle against the Mayor’s Teutonic juggernaut. Herr Doktor Schmidt wanted to hear no more about the wisdom of keying usage restriction to the carrying capacity of the land, which would have restricted usage even more severely. This device is used by many national parks to limit damage to the land. Nor did he want to hear about public trust doctrine, which guarantees access to common lands to all. His mind was made up, and that was that. If this were a Robert Ludlum novel, it would have been titled The Schmidt Solution.
The resolution was passed, or rather it was steam-rollered—but, in the words of TV pitchmen, “Wait, folks, there’s more.” It seems that unser Burgomeister forgot to research one important element of his scheme. Yoo-hoo, Mayor Schmidt, you apparently did not know that it costs only $19 for a New York fishing license good for a year—that’s a year’s worth of swimming at Mayo’s Landing—and licenses are easily obtainable at DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) offices by merely showing a driver’s license. One can also apply for a fishing license on the Internet if you have dealt with the DEC before. A senior citizen 65 or over can have an annual license for a measly five bucks. Just as you do not have to own an automobile to obtain a driver’s license, you don’t have to own fishing tackle to get a fishing license. If this were a Robert Ludlum novel, we’d now have to title it, The Piscatorial Strategy.
A fishing license is free to those who are blind, and to members of certain New York state Indian tribes. Members of the armed forces on active duty and U.S. citizens who are full-time college students also qualify for resident licenses. If you are under 16 years of age you don’t need a fishing license in order to fish. In theory, therefore, any young person from anywhere can enter Mayo’s Landing by simply offering proof of age and saying that he or she is going fishing. Fishing equipment? Crotonblog has caught fish with little more than a length of fishing line, a bent pin and some white bread rolled into small balls or a couple of nightcrawlers.
To complicate the Schmidt Solution, unser Burgomeister failed to notice that each year New York state designates the last full weekend of June as “Free Fishing Days.” During these two days, anyone can fish in New York waters, and no fishing license is required. In 2007, the days are June 23 and 24; in 2008, they will be June 28 and 29.
One thing is certain: With the photo I.D. requirement plus the fishing license requirement, the village of Croton-on-Hudson can expect to be sued by ordinary citizens and civil rights groups for unreasonably and selectively denying access to common lands.
And, also in the words of TV pitchmen, “Folks, that’s not all.” Every Law and Order episode consists of two parts: First, the crime and detection portion followed by the second part, the trial portion. Here, dear reader, is a scenario Crotonblog has conjured up: Two children from Croton-on-Hudson have drowned at Mayo’s Landing. A crime-scene investigation has revealed the facts of the case. You are the prosecuting attorney in the case of The People versus Gregory J. Schmidt, Mayor of Croton-on-Hudson, et al., charged with malfeasance in the deaths of two children. The time has come for summation. You reiterate for the jury the damaging evidence and begin by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is an open-and-shut case if ever I saw one. Consider the following:
“(1) Mayor Schmidt and certain officials of the village of Croton-on-Hudson were aware that village residents and others were using Mayo’s Landing as a site for unsupervised swimming.
“(2) Knowing that the site was being used for swimming, Mayor Schmidt and certain officials of the village of Croton-on-Hudson took no steps to provide a lifeguard or life-saving equipment or an emergency call box there. Cell phone service is known to be undependable in the Croton Gorge.
“(3) Yet when the village set up a skate park on village-owned property, village officials insisted that skateboarding was such a dangerous activity the park had to be supervised at all times by a person trained in first aid. Moreover, users of the skate park were required to wear protective clothing, including helmets, and knee and elbow pads. In short, a situation in which a user of the skate park could sprain a wrist was seen as potentially more dangerous and needful of supervision than a situation in which users could lose their lives by drowning.
“(4) Knowing that the site was being used for swimming and failing to provide lifeguards or life-saving equipment, Mayor Schmidt and certain officials of the village of Croton-on-Hudson failed to post signs to the effect that swimming was prohibited at Mayo’s Landing.
“(5) Knowing that the site was being used for swimming, Mayor Schmidt and certain officials of the village of Croton-on-Hudson adopted procedures to screen admittance to the site, yet failed to caution users of the site that swimming was prohibited there.
“(6) The children drowned while swimming at this unsupervised location after having been screened by employees of the village of Croton-on-Hudson and allowed to enter the site. These employees knew that the aforesaid children were there to swim because they were dressed in bathing suits and swimming shorts, and carried beach towels and inflatable water toys.
“(7) I ask you to hold that Mayor Schmidt and the officials of the village of Croton-on-Hudson were knowingly negligent and culpable, and thus directly responsible for the tragic deaths of these two children.
“Nothing can bring these two children back to their parents, but I ask you to punish Mayor Schmidt and the officials responsible for allowing these tragic deaths to happen. The prosecution rests.”
Yoo-hoo, Mayor Schmidt, are you listening? How do you think the jury will vote?