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Summarizing the Recent Harmon Economic Development Forum

June 19, 2008

Over 50 local residents and business owners attended the Framing Croton’s Future Workshop on Revitalizing Harmon and South Riverside Saturday afternoon, June 14, at the Croton Free Library’s Ottinger Room. The larger than anticipated turnout produced many ideas for improving the commercial district in Croton centered on South Riverside Drive between Croton Point Avenue and Oneida Street.

For property owners and residents not able to attend, all the notes taken about ideas for revitalizing Harmon are available to download at www.crotondems.org.

Former Village Trustee John Harbeson opened the Workshop recalling that it was almost 20 years ago that concerned residents gathered in a similar effort, “The Croton We Want” to discuss proposals for major developments that would have altered the character of the village permanently.

Former Village Trustee Leo Wiegman presented ten “reality checks” of demographic and geographic trends that shape the village now and will impact immediate future development. He closed with five “walks” that are reasons that Croton’s Harmon District will be attractive to newcomers: walk-to-train, walk-to-shop, walk-to-dinner, walk-into-history with nearby Van Cortlandt Manor, and walk-to-parks-and-rivers with recreation opportunities abounding at Croton Point and elsewhere. Village Trustee Ann Gallelli presented the details of what the current zoning for the commercial area in Harmon allows now as of right or by special permit. And Village Trustee Richard Olver then asked participants to gather at tables for small group discussions on what kind of businesses Harmon needed, what kind of spaces are needed for such businesses, and whether residents would shop locally more often.

Participants clearly expressed concern about improving the attractiveness of the area and “fixing what is broken.” But attendees also came up with a great many positive ideas for which there appeared strong, if not always unanimous, support. For example, many discussion groups arrived at similar conclusions a few of which are listed below:

  • Adding a more diverse mix of businesses would help attract more shoppers.
  • Making the area more attractive visually is desirable.
  • The area lacks a single anchor store/business around which others might cluster.
  • Adding residential units, e.g. condos, above first floor could create more foot traffic for local shops and services, adding to the critical mass needed for business success.
  • Riding a “Green Trolley” would help pedestrians connect between RR station, Harmon and Upper Village.
  • Branding a theme (green living, arts, culture, nature) might help characterize the Village to attract related business opportunities.
  • A riverfront restaurant could be a focal point (if not on S. Riverside itself).
  • The Village could spur a redevelopment by enhancing the zoning incentives for commercial property owners to improve the financial return on development, and by marketing the area to the appropriate developers.

Participants continued to raise good questions well beyond the original finish point, and the Library generously extended the time available for the Workshop. At the close of the Workshop, Trustees Gallelli and Olver promised to deliver all the ideas to the Village and the volunteer Harmon Business Development Committee that is studying the potential for zoning revisions in the area. Gallelli and Olver also indicated the potential for future workshops on related topics, given the strong turnout and lively discussion on Saturday.

See links at www.crotondems.org for all the suggestions put forth at the Framing Croton’s Future Workshop.

On June 21, 2008 12:20 PM, Leo Wiegman said:

One of the workshop participants, architect and resident James Rhodes, submitted thoughtful comments after the workshop. Jim’s notes are well worth reading and are available at crotondems.org. The 10 slides that I presented are available there as well, in addition to the notes Nance Shatzkin recorded as each table reported its highlights.

I have one important clarification, because something I proposed as a hypothetical has been reported incorrectly as fact. In reality check #7, I stated “let’s assume 80% of property taxes come from homeowners and 20% from commercial lots.” I should have made it clear that I do not know how much of the tax burden actually lies with homeowners versus businesses.

It would be good to know! Croton homeowners may bear much more than 80% of the tax levy, and our business district far less than 20%.

The questions I was trying to address were “Could the tax burden shift from homes to businesses? What kind of added improvement in business property value would do so? How many years would it take to effect a meaningful shift?”

I came up with a hypothetical 80/20 split based very roughly on surface area on the zoning map–assuming the golf course is commercial. But I fully admit that was sheer estimation. And the point was simply to do some simple math using round numbers.

Assuming a 20% business tax burden and five years of successive 10% added business property value growth, we could effect a shift of dramatic tax burden for homeowners from 80% down to 68%.

If the business share were only 6% now, under the same proportional improvements in business property value, after 5 years businesses would contribute 9.7%–one third more than now–and homeowner share would drop from 94% to 90.3%–better than a kick in the teeth!

For example, the village of Briarcliff figured out that its homeowners pay 94.1% and is business districts pay only 5.9% of the tax levy (as reported in this week’s Gazette). This research is part of the new Business Zone Advisory Committee. The mission statement of our neighbors in Briarcliff is also worth reading at the link above.

Leo Wiegman

On June 21, 2008 11:25 AM, weewill said:

There has been some discussion out and about relative to the genesis of this forum and the fact that it was “sponsored and run” by the Democrats without the inclusion of the Republican Board majority.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It was indeed the brain child of the Democratic Committee intended to include all interested village residents. I don’t presume to know why the Republican majority on the board was unable to attend, but I am certain it was not because of a lack of interest and concern about the issues surrounding our home town. They must have had very good reasons and it’s unfair for anyone to judge either their absence or the intentions of the organizers. The forum was clearly open to comments and ideas from both sides of the aisle. And, in fact, it was attended by a very diverse group of residents, business owners and officials.

We need to remember it’s not enough to say we need to work together as one community. Talk is cheap and we need to “walk the walk” if we’re to be successful.

Georgianna Grant



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