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Backing into Zoning Change #1

January 27, 2009

To the editor:

Croton residents are being importuned to get behind legislation to rezone the Harmon area. Two-story mixed-use buildings are now permitted there. In essence, the change would permit three-story mixed-use with retail stores at street level and increased residential density on two stories above. The Democratic minority trustees are plumping for this plan, arguing that we will reap additional taxes from the change. But if anyone asks, “Why the hurry?” the answer is always the same: “The Committee has been working on this for three years.” I find this argument hollow. “The Committee” is an ad hoc group, mostly made up of Democrats who are also residents of Harmon. By way of disclosure, I live at the northern margins of Harmon. I am a registered Democrat. I cast my first vote in 1940 for FDR, having turned 21 the year before.

I was not aware that Harmon’s problems were unique or that its business climate was different from other retailing neighborhoods in Croton. I’m not a lawyer, but I do recall that under the law of New York (and other states) “spot zoning”—changing zoning to accommodate an individual or narrow group of individuals—is illegal. If spot zoning is illegal, “spot planning” that leads to an attempt at spot zoning should be discouraged. If we are going to spend taxpayers’ dollars for planning studies, as was done here, these should encompass all of Croton instead of addressing the problems of an individual neighborhood.

Moreover, if retail occupancy in Harmon is the most urgent problem requiring immediate resolution by the Village, then Croton is indeed in a bad way. I can think of a half-dozen more pressing problems that need attention. The truth is Croton’s residential taxpayers have been bearing a disproportionate share of the tax burden for almost 39 years. On June 21, 1970, Croton’s tax base became catastrophically unbalanced. I can identify the date so specifically because on that day Croton’s largest taxpayer, the Penn-Central Railroad, filed for bankruptcy protection. Croton residents have borne an unfair share of the tax burden ever since. Instead of chasing will-o’-the-wisp instant panaceas, we ought to be hunkering down to see how the current recession/depression plays out in Croton and how many businesses (and residents) survive. So I, too, ask, “Why the hurry?” (To be continued)

— Robert Scott

On March 3, 2009 10:30 PM, D said:

oh please. stop the rezoning. nobody wants it. we do not need more people to play taxes, stop trying to be hero and do some real charity for a change.

On January 27, 2009 11:53 AM, Kieran Murray said:

Mr. Scott:

I appreciate your concern but if I may I would like to address a few of your points:

1) Absolutely no one is looking to rush the Harmon Recommendations into law. We want to educate the public and start a process to draw out concerns from all stakeholder groups (i.e., taxpayers, residents, schools, fire, police, etc.). We want to do this in public, in open meetings and have the process be inclusive. This is why we recommend the SEQRA process, which is the NYS mandated process to assess the impact of potential zoning changes. Currently the Republican Majority has rejected the plan outright and has fought tooth and nail AGAINST an inclusive, public process and that is what we take GREAT exception to.

2) On a number of occasions the Harmon Committee recommended broadening the study to other commercial areas and our offer was rejected by the Mayor. We find it puzzling that now he wants to do what we suggested a year ago.

3) The Comprehensive Plan Committee did a BRILLIANT job in crafting Gateway Overlay Zones into their zoning changes a couple of years back. This allows us to make changes to Harmon zoning without affecting the entire C-2 commercial zoning district. Spot zoning IS NOT AN ISSUE thanks to the foresight of the Comprehensive Plan Committee

4) To your final point, whether the disproportionate tax burden on residents began 60 years ago or 6 months ago DOES NOT MEAN WE SHOULD LET IT CONTINUE! I believe there is a sense of urgency. The key properties in Harmon to make change possible are available, and we could be facing a wave of tax grievances that could decimate our property tax revenue.



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