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Backing into Zoning Change, #13

March 12, 2009

As readers of this series know, I have been against unilateral planning for the limited area of Harmon largely to save one historic building. Spot planning should be discouraged not only because it represents bad planning but also because it can lead to attempts at spot zoning that is illegal in New York and other states. Unilateral, piecemeal study of individual areas flies in the face of the very concept of planning. Either study and plan for all of Croton, or not at all.

When areas are considered individually, we create situations in which one area gets attention and other areas resent being shortchanged. It has never been proved that concentrating on improving one area will “lift all boats.” In today’s scary economic climate if Croton genuinely wants to attract new businesses to occupy its empty storefronts, I suggest that a proactive use of time and limited funds would be to establish a Croton Business Development Authority (CBDA) reporting to the Mayor and Board and staffed by volunteers with management skills to serve as an impartial central clearing house for information.

As every scientist knows, before decisions can be made, data must be gathered. The initial task of the CBDA would be to collect and compile data about each empty property—from dimensions and amenities to amounts and terms of lease or purchase. The collected data would be assembled in a “blue book” for prospective buyers or tenants, including photos of the interior and exterior of each property, as well as adjacent properties and neighborhoods to capture their flavor. This would enable “one-stop shopping” before visits are made to selected properties. When occupied locations become empty and available, these can be added to the Blue Book. Once properties have been sold or rented, their Blue Book pages can be removed for possible future use after being updated.

At present, entrepreneurs must seek out and negotiate with individual owners or landlords. A CBDA could bring together prospective buyers or tenants and owners or landlords, and act as a facilitator, negotiator or expediter, smoothing out rough spots and, in particular, speeding up the permit process. As anyone who has ever appeared before village boards knows, they tend to move at a leisurely pace ill-suited to changed times. An important aspect of the work of the CBDA would be to explain to entrepreneurs how to navigate Croton’s complicated permit process to avoid “had-I-but-known” remorse. I invite your questions, comments and suggestions. #14 will include answers to FAQs.

— Robert Scott

On March 13, 2009 10:40 AM, Anonymous said:

Dear Mr. Scott,

Thank you for your excellent suggestion.

I think it is a wonderful idea and one which should be undertaken no matter who emerges victorious next week. The village needs an outreach program to identify and attract the type of businesses and retailers which fit the village’s character. This would benefit not just village residents but through commuters and day visitors as well. Regardless of next Wednesday’s outcome I would be pleased to be a part of just such an initiative.

In fact, it is such a wonderful idea it was espoused in very similar detail on page 36 of the Harmon Zoning Change Recommendations. Please see the heading District Marketing Campaign, where it states that the “recommendations will only be effective if owners and potential developers know about them”.

Additionally, the very same page has a section called Approval Process Streamlining which is similar to your suggestion of helping “entrepreneurs navigate Croton’s complicated permit process”. Another great suggestion, and one which was thoughtfully included in the report presented to the village board in August and October 2008.

The report was well thought out by smart concerned residents and when the board majority took no real action on this I found myself called to do something.

Respectfully,

Ian Murtaugh



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