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The Croton Follies: A Report on the Village Board Meeting of May 21, 2007

June 3, 2007

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.

mayos-landing-croton-on-hudson.jpg
Swimmers and picnickers at Mayo’s Landing, May 25, 2007.

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.

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Cautions about swimming are notably absent from this unposted village signage seen at Mayo’s Landing, May 25, 2007.

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?

On June 8, 2007 11:24 AM, weewill said:

Excellent editorial in today’s Journal News. Do we want to be known not only as the village that’s unkind to our dogs but elitist as well.

Charlie Kane is absolutely right when he says if the purpose is to save or restore the vegetation that has been negatively impacted by over wear and tear because of numbers, then the numbers should be controlled. Croton only/residents only cause the same kind of damage. The numbers of people are what we might want to control, not where they live.

Or what about constructing some kind of wooden steps to solve the problem of too much trampling? They certainly work well at neighboring Silver Lake.

Charlie is absolutely correct when he says this action could expose this village to yet another lawsuit. We don’t need, don’t want and can’t afford more expensive litigation! I’ve been worried about litigation over the restrictive requirement for an ID proof at Senasqua as well.

It’s a lawsuit just waiting to happen and we’re begging for it! !

Georgianna

On June 4, 2007 12:40 PM, TeaDrinker said:

In the favorite expression of Antiques Roadshow participants who have just learned that the oil painting they fished from a dumpster is worth a hundred thousand dollars, I can only say “WOW” about Crotonblog’s searing indictment of a village administration visibly sitting on a keg of gunpowder and lighting a match. It is absolutely mind-boggling that the village should sanctimoniously screen individuals before admitting them to a village-owned property without enjoining or preventing them from engaging in an illegal activity when their intentions are clearly evident.

Let’s not kid ourselves. We all know what group is included in the veiled references to “caravans of cars that arrive and disgorge 25 individuals on Nordica Drive.” The only word missing from that phrase is “swarthy.” Thanks to the fishing license loophole, will new complaints arise about caravans of cars that arrive and disgorge hordes claiming to be going fishing? It will indeed take the wisdom of King Solomon to find a way out of this village-created maze. Perhaps the solution will be that everybody can use Mayo’s Landing or nobody can.

As someone who speaks German and several other languages, may I point out that Mayor in German is rendered as Bürgermeister (with an umlaut over the “u”), not Burgomeister? Burgomeister makes it sound like a rock group. But this is a small quibble. Your report is a great piece of journalism that discloses the deceptive machinations of the Schmidt administration and their tendency to conceal every festering problem by erecting a phony Potemkin-village façade to hide it.

On June 3, 2007 10:00 PM, CurbSitter said:

perhaps even more ironic were the first comments offered in the Citizen Participation - Agenda Items section of the May 21 meeting



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