To the editor,
The potential for new businesses in the Harmon area has recently generated much discussion about the Village’s zoning laws and requirements. Although not all have agreed on what needs to be done to attract business, everyone seems united in the desire to improve the commercial climate in the Village.
To help the conversation continue, I would like to shed some light on a few of the points under discussion. Having the facts straight and understanding the full picture helps to further the conversation.
Contrary to the notion that Croton does not have a lot to offer businesses and that we need to make large concessions in sizes, parking requirements, architectural review, etc. to attract businesses, the Gateway Law reflects the overwhelming sense among residents that Croton is a great place to live BECAUSE it has many positive attractions. These include great schools, a good commute, nice neighborhoods, two gorgeous waterfronts, and a wide variety of housing. The underlying premise of the Gateway Law is that our business districts should enhance and add value to residents and not detract from the reasons people choose to live here.
The Gateway law was passed in 2004 as an outcome of the 2003 adoption of the Village’s Comprehensive Plan. The workshops, surveys, correspondence and public hearings led to the emergence of common ground among the participating residents about how they would like the future land uses to unfold.
Regarding commercial uses, most input clearly called for a more vibrant shopping area(s) with a variety of smaller scaled shops rather than larger stand-alone stores. Enhancing pedestrian safety and shielding residential areas from encroachment by commercial uses were also clear consensus points. In sum, residents wanted the neighborliness of the Upper Village district to be carried out elsewhere (but with more parking)!
The Gateway Law essentially took this input and turned it into zoning requirements for three commercial areas of the Village that are entry points for many people.
Similar laws in other attractive communities were examined to find the best business practices for the kinds of development that fit what Crotonites wanted: buildings that support mixed uses, such as stores with residential above; storefronts close to the street with sidewalks in front and parking on the side or back; aesthetic considerations such as expanded landscaping and reduced glare from lighting.
The resulting Gateway Law is essentially a concept for development in selected commercial areas of the Village. In the three areas that were selected as entrances to the Village three criteria were applied. The three criteria, cited in the Law, are that the area must offer: (1) vehicular entrance to Croton from Route 9/9A, (2) commercial or office uses principally accessed by automobile traffic, and (3) possibilities for development or redevelopment.
While Route 129 is certainly a significant route into the village, it is largely zoned residential for the entire distance from the village border on the east all the way to the VanWyck Plaza. The only commercial/office properties are buildings at the intersection of Old Post Road South and Maple St. Further we know from NYSDOT traffic data that about 9 times more vehicles enter Croton from Route 9 (18 million annual trips) than from Route 129 (2 million annual trips), so it made sense to concentrate on the busiest entry points first.
With the vacancy of several sites in the Harmon area, the Gateway Law can be effective as a tool in marketing this area for development or redevelopment. It creates a context and a signal for developers of the kinds of proposals that would be considered desirable.
Flexibility might be introduced in the future, either through variances or modifications to the law, where appropriate proposals are put forward. To do it in advance of such proposals would be to risk getting exactly what the residents indicated they did not want. Past experience shows that even when the village revises a zoning code at the specific and urgent request of an applicant, that work may be in vain as the applicant demurs for unrelated reasons to develop a property.
The recently formed Economic Development committee, a group of volunteers who came together to address the Harmon potential, is working with the property owners in this area. It is working toward development of a marketing plan that can address the area as a whole rather than the current status quo of individual sites competing with each other. The goal is to pool our resources and expertise to support development that enhances an entire area.
While I have not covered all of the discussion that has occurred, I hope that this letter about where the Gateway Law came from, and how it might be used in the future, will help generate more comment and suggestions for proceeding with the development and redevelopment of our commercial areas. Croton’s glass is half-full, not half empty. Let’s work together to fill it up.
— Ann Gallelli