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To Rezone or Not to Rezone?

July 21, 2008

Crotonblog: Letters to the Editor, Croton-on-Hudson, New York 10520
To the editor:

The Harmon Business Development Committee was formed in the summer of 2007 to study what could be done to improve commercial conditions in the Harmon area of the village. After more than a year of work, the Committee has made its final recommendations to the Village Board of Trustees. The process, rationale, zoning change recommendations and next steps are all detailed in the Committee’s final report which is now posted on the Village’s website.

You can access the report using the following link: HEDC Final Zoning Change Recommendations Report. More information on the Committee and its members can also be found on the Village’s website by using the following link: Harmon Business Development Committee

The Harmon Business Development Committee stands ready to address any questions, issues and/or concerns the public may have with what is being proposed. We will also keep the public informed of any additional public sessions on these recommendations that we envision will be scheduled in the near future.

— Kieran Murray, Chair, Harmon Business Development Committee

On September 20, 2008 1:47 PM, weewill said:

No two board members have tried harder to keep the Harmon development issue from becoming political than Ann Gallelli and Rick Oliver. They are very aware and sensitive to the fact that politics in our small village have a way of dividing and confusing an issue. What happens in the Harmon area can add to or detract from the future of that area and it affects all residents of Croton. We deserve full disclosure and answers to any questions we may have after reading the committee’s recommendations.

I’s becoming clear that the board majority has no intention of allowing this to happen. This is evidenced by the board’s refusal to allow the committee to present findings from the podium at a televised village board meeting where questions, suggestions and opinions could be shared. There are a few people who have drawn preconceived and inaccurate conclusions about the merits of the professional reports and the intent of the committee’s work. This is dangerous and irresponsible and should raise concern. The Mayor and Trustees Brennan and Konig insist that resident’s are unable to understand the committee’s reports. (Trustee Konig has labeled it “divisive” and may want to appoint a new committee!)

This is pure and simple nonsense. I fear that “politics” have raised its ugly head. Ann and Rick are in favor of full disclosure, involvement of citizens and an open-minded approach. The board majority favors an approach of “we don’t need to hear from you, we’ll study it more, and let you know what we decide.”

Too bad! That’s hardly the open government we were promised.

On September 19, 2008 11:51 AM, Rick Olver said:

The Harmon Economic Development Committee has spent over a year studying the area’s zoning, redevelopment potential, and retail feasibility, based on a detailed financial analysis. Their report and recommendations were reviewed by two Village-hired consultant firms; Sacaardi & Schiff reviewed the zoning recommendations and Danth studied the feasibility of different types of retail.

The Committee has made two presentations to the Village Board, but at Work Sessions that are not televised. At the second of these, the public was barred from asking questions. Now residents who are concerned about the Harmon commercial area should hear it and ask questions. Two Board members say you are “not ready” to hear the report. This is condescending and undemocratic.

We totally agree that the Board needs to have a careful and deliberate process to discuss the report and answer the many questions about its recommendations. But this must not be limited to a small group of Trustees and political activists. We need the insights of a wide range of citizens, to take the focus off of politics and put it back where it belongs: on the best way to revive the Harmon business district. We urge you to tell the Board that you want the Committee to present its recommendations at a regular, televised meeting, so you can hear it and ask questions yourselves. We need an informed discussion on a matter that is of such concern to us all.

Ann Gallelli Rick Olver Village Trustees

On September 17, 2008 11:04 AM, Leo Wiegman said:

Maybe a simple list of the 9 recommendations of the Harmon committee made to the village wojuld be helpful for readers. Please find page 4 of the full report on the village website pasted below: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TABLE OF HARMON ZONING RECOMMENDATIONS These 9 recommendations form a set of interlocking, mutually reinforcing code conditionsto stimulate better development in the Harmon study area.
Shift Mixed Occupancy Use to Permitted as of right Use in the Gateway Overlay Zone: 1. Remove the requirement for a special use permit for parcel developments that meet ALL of the requirements below. • The goal is lowering the barriers to entry for development that comply with all of the pedestrian-friendly neighborhood shopping district requirements below. Geographic Scope for the Zoning Changes: 2. Expand the existing Gateway Overlay Zone to include all the parcels facing South Riverside from Croton Point Avenue to approximately 200 ft past Oneida. (See Appendix 2 for a list of parcels). • The goal is simultaneously unifying the code for similar parcels while introducing as simple an update to the code adoption as possible. The Following Conditions will Apply ONLY to Mixed Occupancy Uses Located in the Gateway Overlay Zone: 3. Increase maximum allowable Floor to Area (FAR) from current values to a uniform 0.8 value. 4. Allow a third story within roofline for residential use only. 5. Leave the maximum building height in current code at 35 feet. 6. Require 2 parking spaces per residential unit and allow, 1 of 2 residential spaces to count toward commercial parking requirements in the existing base code. 7. Require that a minimum of 50% of 1st floor be commercial and that the commercial space must face the street. • The goal is a coordinated, flexible set of use parameters that work well in conjunction with each other, while protecting the village from negative impacts. Sidewalk Design Standards to Maximize Visual Appeal and Pedestrian Experience: 8. Establish a maximum setback from curb (or lot line) 15 to 20 feet: New buildings will be nearer to the curb, while allowing for ample sidewalk width for pedestrians,plantings and sidewalk cafe arrangements. • The goal is no fewer than 15 feet of depth between the building and the curb and no more than 20 feet. 9. Require all new street level space fronting on the sidewalk to have at least 60% of their facades covered by glass. • The goal is to maximize visibility for first floor commercial tenants, with 60% glass area as a well-established minimum , and for the district to be read as retail oriented. For more detail: www.crotononhudson-ny.gov/PublicDocuments/CrotonHudsonNYBComm/commercial> -Leo Wiegman PS If you would like the report’s Executive Summary including the table above in PDF (220 kb), email me: leo [at] etothefourth.com (I extracted them from the full report, but don’t know how to attach them here.)

On September 16, 2008 8:38 PM, Devil's Advocate said:

I heard the work session the Village Board had with the Harmon Committee was a complete fiasco. Mayor Stagnation did not even open the Committee’s recommendations report even though he called for the work session to ask “detailed questions” about the recommendations.

I also heard Trustee Konig put a gag order on the Committee and did not feel the public should be brought into the discussion. What are we IDIOTS!

Maria Cudequest, the Croton Republican puppet master, did not give the Mayor permission to schedule a public presentation so he didn’t. She interpreted the report for TEAM STAGNATION and told them what they should think about it.

Another friend at last night’s Village Board meeting told me that Maria Cudequest stormed in to the meeting and handed Trustee Konig an envelope. Did anyone else hear this story? It must have been her marching orders.

On August 1, 2008 5:11 PM, weewill said:

In Benedict’s “vision” for Harmon, he is not alone! He’s joined by the vast majority of Croton residents who have time and time again expressed a wish and hope for just exactly that vision. They’ve asked over and over for our village officials to work to make Bob Elliott’s dream of a “village in a park” a reality. And great progress has been made toward meeting that mandate. Unfortunately, the forward movement is threatened with a temporary snag by a very few vocal partisans with private agendas. They employ the same old trumped up scare tactics to instill fear and suspicion in their attempt to disrupt this innovative solution to a serious decline in the beautiful Harmon area.

The work of the Economic Development Committee, (appointed and endorsed unanimously by Mayor Schmidt and the Board of Trustees) is brilliant. The Committee’s recommendations are based on a thoroughly researched and beautifully thought-out path to follow toward this goal.

Our thanks go to Kieran Murray and his committee for their vision and commitment. Not only Harmon, but all of Croton will benefit as we continue to work toward developing the quaint, welcoming, delightful, “strolling” village we have long envisioned and worked so hard for.

Georgianna Grant

On August 1, 2008 3:21 PM, Rick Olver said:

I love “Benedict’s” vision for the Harmon area - we need to become a village that welcomes people tlike this young couple. And that kind of area of attractive shops and restaurants, with market rate apartments above them is exactly what the Harmon Business Development Committee recommends. Who could quarrel with that?

But the Committee’s sensible and compelling case for mixed-use zoning in the Harmon commercial district continues to draw wild and ill-informed attacks from a few vocal opponents. NCN posters say “the County is likely to order Croton to include a quota of 20% affordable housing in any newly zoned development.” Nonsense! This is a scare tactic by people who don’t understand zoning.

The County has absolutely no authority to order us to build “affordable units” – local governments control zoning and site plans. And affordable housing is not even being considered as part of Harmon’s revitalization. Economic reality is that anything less than market rate dwelling units sink redevelopment finances. For mixed-use proposals to work, Harmon needs apartment prices strong enough to help pay for small commercial spaces.

The reporting in the Gazette on affordable housing in Briarcliff is misleading. The County may have suggested affordable housing for Briarcliff, because (unlike Croton) that community has contributed absolutely no units toward their suggested County allocation. Croton has added 30-plus units to the Westchester total of affordable housing, and has been congratulated by the County for being way ahead of our neighbors.

Let me say it again -conservatives are pro-private enterprise, with plenty of constructive ideas for a better business climate. So c’mon NCN bloggers - where are your ideas? Or do you only trade in fear and anger….and distortion?

Rick Olver

On July 24, 2008 5:58 PM, Benedict said:

My wife and I bought our first house in Croton almost two years ago. Prior to that we were renting a 2br apartment on Main St in Dobbs Ferry above a bridal Shop and Art Gallery. It was affordable and a nice place to live because we could walk to the train (we both work in the city) and there were lots of stores and restaurants right on Main St that we could walk to. We also enjoyed the Parks and Aqueduct trail. It was a great way to transition to suburban living while saving up for our Wedding and ultimately our house on Benedict Blvd. One thing we really miss about Dobbs Ferry is that Main St experience where we would stroll to a restaurant and shop in the unique little stores that Dobbs Ferry offered. We certainly spent money there. I think that environment should be fostered in the Harmon Area. If that is what the committee recommends then I’m all for it.

On July 24, 2008 4:19 PM, Rick Olver said:

On July 14th, Kieran Murray, the Chairman of the Harmon Business Development Committee, presented the Village Board with a compelling case for mixed-use zoning in the Harmon commercial district. After meeting with the Harmon business owners who might be affected, and with the help of consultants, the Committee ran a number of scenarios and determined that it is not possible to make a profitable commercial investment under current zoning. They also concluded that the area cannot attract national or regional chains. On the other hand, buildings housing small retail, service or arts-related businesses could be more profitable, but only if zoning were changed to allow mixed use in three stories within the current 35 foot height limit.

They estimate that this would generate hundreds of thousands of much-needed additional Village tax dollars with little or no offsetting expenses, as well as reviving a commercial district in difficulty.

The mixed use that the Committee is proposing is not a housing development, nor is it low income housing - it is giving property owners the possibility of adding apartments to their new or renovated commercial building. These apartments would be aimed at singles or young couples – most likely commuters. And that would increase the number of school-aged children. This would not happen at once, or in large numbers. There would be a slow increase in numbers of children over time as individual property owners took advantage of the opportunities afforded by the new zoning. The Committee concluded the “break-even” point - the point where additional school taxes generated by the renovated buildings are fully used by the new students - is roughly estimated at 25 children. This issue needs a close review by the Village Board, drawing on the expertise of the School District, to make sure that any zoning change would not lead to higher school taxes, and the Board agreed to begin those discussions.

The presentation was very well received by most of those in attendance at the Village Board and now should be presented to a full public audience at a televised Village Board meeting. The report of the Committee is now online here and on the village website, and I encourage everyone to read it carefully. Only after understanding the tremendous work being done by this committee will residents be able to determine its value.

Distressingly, there are those who oppose any redevelopment. Without really studying the work of the Committee and the consultants, they are already attacking the Committee’s proposals. Most misleading, they say that the proposals and recommendations are inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan. Those who suggest that have probably not read the comprehensive plan and may not understand what such a plan is. It is merely a set of guidelines and concepts, subject to change and modification to meet emerging needs. It clearly states no more big housing developments (like HMB) should be approved. On the other hand, it specifically encourages mixed use in commercial areas with a greater variety of commercial entities and residential units above to meet the critical need for market rate (not “low income;” not “welfare”) housing in our village. This is the kind of streetscape that works in surrounding villages, and it is what the Committee recommends.

This is not a partisan issue - this is about what government needs to do to make it possible for the private sector to build a better commercial district, retaining the characteristics of the Croton we love. Those who are attacking the Committee’s proposals before anyone has truly studied them claim to be conservatives. I don’t think so - conservatives are pro-private enterprise, with plenty of constructive ideas for a better business climate. C’mon folks - where are your ideas? Or do you only trade in fear and anger?

Rick Olver



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