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Backing into Zoning Change, #8

February 16, 2009

In 2004 Croton declared war on business. Not all businesses. Just businesses certain people arbitrarily decided they didn’t want here. The attack weapon was the Gateway Law. Zoning laws usually specify permitted businesses or occupations. Croton turned common practice upside down. It designated five categories of undesirable businesses that any community wanting tax revenue would have gladly welcomed. Croton’s message: “Keep out!”

This 2004 law’s ban on parking lots was probably intended to prevent competition with the Village’s own lucrative station parking lot. Other exclusions foolishly targeted existing businesses—two local automobile dealerships and their storage lots. When the owner of the Dodge dealership discovered that if a fire destroyed more than 50% of his business, it could not be rebuilt, he moved his operation to the former Kayson property.

It turned out that Croton had shot itself in the foot by becoming a business-unfriendly community. Its punitive action actually created the empty Dodge dealership. Planners now call it an eyesore, and are pushing hard to eradicate it. For five years, Croton discouraged tax-paying businesses from coming here. Advocates of the Harmon scheme would have you believe that they can magically attract tenants to new apartments and storefronts in Harmon when existing facilities there are empty.

Other 2004 law prohibitions targeted businesses wanting to come to Croton. Its ban on drive-through windows was initially aimed at the Eckerd pharmacy chain. Eckerd wanted to buy the undeveloped Katz property, but the village said no to a planned drive-through window for prescription pickup. When the village attorney cautioned that it was unwise during negotiations to write a law solely directed at Eckerd, planners added fast-food restaurants to list of banned businesses as cover. Thoroughly disgusted, Eckerd decided it didn’t want to come to a community so openly hostile, and withdrew its offer for the Katz property.

As TV hucksters say, “Wait, there’s more.” Another shot in the foot. After the Eckerd deal evaporated, the owner of the Katz property sued Croton, charging that the village had, by its actions, caused the purchase to fall through. Croton settled the suit by buying the property, thus taking it off the tax rolls. Taxpayers are now the unwitting owners of a million-dollar white elephant yielding no taxes and worth less than what we paid for it. The village still doesn’t have a clue about what to do with its unintended acquisition. Such debacles are called “planning.” Meanwhile, we are being offered a snake-oil scheme that would destroy Harmon’s first and oldest building.

— Robert Scott

On February 16, 2009 12:23 PM, Ann Gallelli said:

Mr. Scott has his facts wrong. Croton Dodge is not in a Gateway district and was not covered by the Gateway laws although it would be under the HEDC recommendations. Its closing and moving to Croton Auto Park had nothing to do with restrictions on rebuilding if a disaster occurred. The Croton Dodge dealership was a conforming use in its location in a C-2 district on South Riverside. Any building disaster, such as a major fire, could be completely rebuilt in that area. Mr. Scott’s reasoning for the move doesn’t make sense because Croton Auto Park is in a Gateway area where auto dealerships are prohibited. Therefore the Auto Park is a non-conforming use. The restrictions on rebuilding a structure after a major disaster apply only to non-conforming uses and they apply to buildings in all zoning districts.

Eckherd drugstore did make a serious inquiry about the Katz property but never an application. All of this occurred before the Gateway Law. They did wish for a drive-thru but there was no prohibition of it at the time. The primary reason they left had to do with issues about the size of the building they wanted and steep slopes problems. Up until just last year, a steep slope hardship permit was not possible on undeveloped commercial property. The law was changed last year to allow for such an application to be made.

The Katz lawsuit had nothing to do with Eckerd; it was a constitutional question of whether or not the Gateway zoning was a “taking” as it limited uses to some degree. The entire Gateway Zoning went through a complete review and our attorneys assured us that the Village was in its rights as municipalities are the arbiters of the local zoning rules. As the Gateway Law did not take away all reasonable uses from the property, it was not a “taking”. Mr. Katz brought the suit in an effort to get the Village to buy it from him which he had previously offered many times and is what he wanted all along. If the Village fought it in court, we would have won we were told but he still would have owned it. The Village was interested in the property as a protection for the future of the Municipal Place intersection and so we could leverage it in any future development of that area. So we bought it rather than spend money on fighting the lawsuit, winning it, and still not owning it. It was a “win - win” for both Katz and the Village.

— Ann Gallelli

On February 18, 2009 9:25 AM, Robert Scott said:

In my #8 I attempted to compress a complicated issue into the 400-word limit required by the NCN Forum. In her response, Ms. Gallelli exhibited the same nit-picking personality that caused her to lose the 2005 election by a significantly larger number of votes than any of her running mates. Although Democrats make up a majority of registered voters, they either sat on their hands or stayed home that year.

She charged me with saying that the Dodge dealership is in a Gateway zone. I did not say this, although indeed it is. Its storage area near Croton Point Avenue is in a Gateway zone. She ought to know that a car dealership cannot operate without a place for storing new cars. Ms. Gallelli’s Gateway Law just as surely closed that business down by making its storage area illegal as would a stick of dynamite thrown through its showroom window. Her Gateway Law made it impossible for the owner to sell the dealership to anyone. She owes the public more explication and less querulous obfuscation.

Her lack of knowledge of how business in the real world operates was underscored when she induced the Village to bring suit against Exxon, the oil industry giant with a dealer-operated station at the corner of Croton Point Avenue, for wanting to erect a canopy over its pumps when every other gas station in town had one. Her reason: A canopy would obscure the view. The view! What view? Apparently she did not know that such canopies contain fire-suppression equipment that douse fires with foam if a fire should start near any of the pumps. Understandably, Croton lost that suit. I challenge her to reveal how much that misadventure cost the Village.

As for the Eckerd deal, anyone who didn’t have their head in a bag then knew that Irwin Katz, owner of the Chevrolet dealership, was furious with the village for targeting two identical businesses differently. His complaint also was that the Village had made it hard for him to sell the adjoining lot that has become known as “the Katz property,” what with Gateway Law’s unfair building placement requirements that could make a business uncompetitive with others. Finally, is Ms. Gallelli so naïve as to be unaware that at an attorney will base a suit on whatever argument has the best chance of winning? I said the basis was Croton’s actions, and it was.

What is the stated purpose of this controversial Gateway Law? It reads: “Croton’s commercial gateways are the major entry points from surrounding municipalities and roads. The physical gateway areas are comprised of the roads and surrounding properties a motorist or pedestrian encounters when first entering the Village. These areas create a sense of arrival and connection to the Village, and establish an image and initial impression of the community.” As evidence of its impracticality, you could fit all the pedestrians who arrive in Croton on foot in a year into a telephone booth.

This law is all about image and not viability. It only wants Croton to look pretty. Motorists entering Croton don’t give two hoots about what Croton looks like. They are entering for reasons other than shopping, and most of them are not residents. With the exception of those headed to ShopRite, most are merely passing through. Croton is unusual now that the main north-south automobile traffic artery bypasses it to make it a virtual backwater community. Croton merchants must subsist on the trade of Croton residents for survival. The only way to increase the profitability of existing businesses is to attract shoppers from outside of Croton. To do that, we must foster a climate that welcomes new businesses instead of declaring them to be an enemy.

It is the unfriendly Gateway Law’s unjustified banning of certain businesses that is most galling, and Ms. Gallelli conveniently sidestepped that issue. Two of the banned businesses draw customers from a wider territory: automobile dealerships and fast food restaurants of national chains. Drive-through windows offer many advantages. They require fewer short-term parking spaces. For parents with children in the car, they are a godsend, preferable to walking across dangerous parking areas, especially in inclement weather. The Gateway Law bans parking lots, but a park-and-ride lot in the northern end of Croton could create spaces in the Village’s station parking lot for the large waiting list of parkers who are without spaces.

The design requirements of the Gateway Law are much too prescriptive and restrictive. Zoning changes in the proposed law to accommodate the Harmon plan include increasing the floor area ratio that Ms. Gallelli now grudgingly admits was too small. But we have yet to hear so much as an “Oops, sorry” from her for the five wasted years in which not a single new business has come to Croton because of the Gateway Law’s hindrances.



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