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Backing into Zoning Change, #10

February 23, 2009

Ten Hurdles the Harmon Proposal Cannot Overcome. A Checklist

  1. The Expressway. This limited access 9.2-mile highway bypasses Croton, leaving it cut off from the main north-south flow of traffic. Croton has never been the same ever since it opened in 1967. Some 40,000 vehicles detour around Croton daily at 55 miles an hour or more. Croton’s customer base is thus essentially reduced mostly to Croton’s population, approximately 8,000 persons.

  2. Five widely separated shopping areas. These have their roots in Croton’s history, as described in Nos. 4 and 5 of this series. The lack of a single, cohesive shopping area creates special problems of geographical separation for Croton that can never be overcome.

  3. Higher taxes for owners, more than 50% of which are school taxes.

  4. Higher rents for renters.

  5. Lack of a “magnet.” A bank or post office draws shoppers to a shopping area. Croton Commons, ShopRite and Van Wyck all have this added benefit. Harmon does not.

  6. Less-than-ample traffic. “Traffic” in this sense refers to traditional foot traffic. Strolling shoppers are important to the economic health of shopping neighborhoods. Only Grand Street has a semblance of foot traffic and leisurely shopping. Harmon has no foot traffic, in part because of the presence of three of Croton’s four gas stations. The Harmon proposal will not give Croton a “downtown,” as candidate Restuccia claimed.

  7. Inadequate parking. Finding parking spaces in some Croton neighborhoods is always a problem, notably Harmon, the Lower Village and Grand Street. The Harmon plan anticipates multiple use of parking spaces by residents and shop customers, a solution fraught with problems.

  8. Competition. The huge Town Center and Jefferson Valley Mall and the smaller Beach, Arcadian and Chilmark complexes continue to give all Croton merchants competition. Newer Harmon merchants without an established clientele would suffer more than long-established stores.

  9. Low level of community loyalty. For years, the Leo family owned The Video Connection in Croton Commons. When the Blockbuster chain opened a store nearby, The Video Connection tried to hang on. Did Croton residents support the local, family-owned business? They did not. They flocked to Blockbuster. The Video Connection closed soon after. So much for community loyalty.

  10. Overly ambitious zoning. Croton may currently have too large an area zoned for commercial use, resulting in more retail spaces than there are potential tenants to fill them. This is a topic Croton has never wanted to explore, but perhaps it should do so now before it considers adding a large number of additional commercial retail spaces than are needed by its comparatively small customer base.

— Robert Scott

On February 26, 2009 9:05 AM, Robert Scott said:

On February 23, my #10 described ten hurdles that any new business in Harmon would have to overcome in order to be success. In his rapid response to my #10, Mr. Murray throws the word “false” around with the abandon of a suburban gardener casting grass seed on soil readied for a new lawn. Others have spoken in support of my case. I am constrained now to answer his comments:

He accepts my (1) and (2) hurdles of the Expressway and the five fractionated shopping areas, but says that these have been taken into account. Any merchant interested in growing a business would hardly choose Croton with its fixed customer base and absence of reasons for motorists to leave the beaten path of the Expressway. And nothing can be done to change the considerable hurdle of Croton’s fractionated and widely separated shopping areas. Call me a prophet of doom and gloom, but these two hurdles are stark, immutable realities.

He calls false my (3), a statement that taxes on the new buildings constructed under the Harmon plan would be higher. In his patronizing letter to The Gazette, Trustee Olver almost salivated over the prospect of having new businesses in Harmon to which appreciably higher taxes could be socked, thus taking the tax burden off the backs of residents.

He calls false the logic of my (4): if taxes are raised, rents charged by landlords will necessarily have to be raised—unless certain basic laws of economics have been repealed. You cannot expect landlords to absorb higher taxes without recouping the increase in higher rents.

He calls false my (5) about the lack of a “magnet” in the Harmon area. He counters by saying that “the HEDC Recommendations recognize that a traditional ‘anchor’ store would not consider an area like Harmon.” I said “magnet,” and referenced banks and the post office. These are totally different from his big-box “anchor” stores of malls (such as Macy’s or Wal-Mart) that he mistakes for magnet stores. Magnet stores are destinations that people must go to; the shopping in other nearby stores is almost incidental. The Harmon plan calls for no bank as a magnet, or magnets of any kind.

He calls false my (6). In it I pointed out the unsuitability of the Harmon area to foot traffic when a large portion of it is given over to three gas stations. He says that if we put additional shops in the area, foot traffic will blossom, 2,000 strong. One of the remarkable qualities about Croton is the lack of pedestrians to be seen in any area in daylight or evening hours. We are just not a community that walks, strolls, saunters, ambles or wanders.

He calls false my (7). It pointed out the impracticality of shared parking, which envisions parking spaces during daytime to be occupied largely by customers of shops and professional offices and overnight by the automobiles of residents. What happens if apartment residents need to park during daylight hours because it’s a holiday, or they are ill and staying home, or they work at home? Given the proximity of the proposed parking areas to the station, my guess is that they will attract commuters who will park there to take advantage of the short walk to the station. How does Mr. Murray propose to sort out professional tenants from shop owners, shop owners from residents, residents from customers and customers from commuters?

He calls false my (8) in which I said that every Croton shop has competition from shops in the Town Center and the shopping complexes in Peekskill, Briarcliff and Ossining. He says that the new shops will meet an “identified unmet demand in Harmon that is Croton-centric and would not compete with existing shops elsewhere.” Why aren’t shops meeting that unmet demand filling the existing empty storefronts right now? And what, pray tell, is a Croton-centric shop? One that sells picture postcards of Croton?

He dismisses my (9) about Croton’s notoriously low level of customer loyalty to local shops. Nevertheless, it is a reality. Ask anyone who has ever owned a business in Croton. The picture is brightening somewhat, but it has been a long, uphill fight.

Wonder of wonders! He agrees with my (10) suggesting that the possibility should be explored that Croton simply may have too much of its area zoned for commercial use. What may have made good sense in the 1950’s when the zoning areas were first laid out is not true today. The reason? The siphoning effect of the Expressway that has taken through automobile traffic away from Croton and out of consideration as a source of potential customers.

On February 23, 2009 4:38 PM, Kieran Murray said:

Mr. Scott et al:

See my responses to your 10 hurdles list:

1) True, and the Harmon Zoning Change Recommendations are designed to address this very fact by creating smaller, more economical commercial spaces to address the LOCAL unmet demand. We took the very challenge you address here into consideration when designing the zoning recommendations.

2) True, and again the Harmon Zoning Change Recommendations are designed to address this very fact by creating smaller, more economical commercial spaces to address the LOCAL unmet demand that DOES NOT OVERLAP with businesses in the other commercial districts. The Danth study identified 14,000+ sq ft of demand specific to HARMON ONLY and taking into account its specific geographic and competitive challenges.

3) False, A completely revitalized Harmon would yield a POSITIVE NET INCREASE IN VILLAGE TAX REVENUE of 174% AND A MINIMUM OF 6% NET INCREASE FOR THE SCHOOL DISTRICT! How can you make statements like this without providing one shred of math to back it up??

4) False, How would an increase in supply result in higher rents? Your statement does not make sense and you provide absolutely no backup for this assertion.

5) False, the HEDC Recommendations recognize a traditional “anchor” store would not consider an area like Harmon due to the 180 degree trade radius and small lot sizes. Smaller locally focused businesses are where the demand in the area lies and smaller commercial spaces are what these type of business owners need.

6) False, there are over 2000 people within walking distance of Harmon, most of which have an easy, flat walk to the area. This foot traffic alone along with inhabitants of the residential component in the envisioned mixed use buildings will give this area plenty of foot traffic and a small scale downtown feel as candidate Restuccia claims.

7) False, our common sense approach to shared parking coupled with the fact that every property is required by our recommendations to have SELF CONTAINED parking makes your statement untrue. Currently, many buildings in Harmon DO NOT have enough parking to meet current zoning requirements and are non compliant as they sit today.

8 ) False, the type of identified unmet demand in Harmon is Croton centric and WOULD NOT compete with large regional malls as you suggest.

9) I do not see how this is applicable to Harmon directly, and even if it were no zoning change can control personal preference.

10) True, Mr. Scott here we agree. Houses converted to commercial space are unfair cheap competition for the true commercial spaces in Croton and it is a problem that should have been addressed long ago. It bothers me every time I drive through the upper village and see the only true commercial buildings in the area vacant while a number of businesses enjoy cheap rents in converted houses a half a block away. It’s wrong just like illegal apartments are wrong. Those who are not following the rules benefit at the expense of everyone else (who do follow the rules).


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