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Croton's Litany of Economic Body Blows

July 27, 2009

To the editor:

NOTE: It is my considered opinion that the editor of a newspaper and its readers should enjoy the exclusivity of a letter to the editor for at least as long as that paper’s issue is on newsstands. I have been persuaded by several requests to make the contents of my letter published in The Gazette July 9 available to a wider readership by posting the contents of local blogs. This I am doing now.

Proponents of the so-called Harmon Plan are touting the revitalization of the Harmon business district as the way to get Croton out of its economic doldrums. My primary problem with this scheme is that it is spot zoning, a practice specifically forbidden by law. As usual, when differences arise about planning in Croton, ignorance of the facts rules the day. What proponents lack are a grasp of history and knowledge of current conditions.

A single cohesive shopping district along a main thoroughfare characterizes most Hudson River villages. Not so in Croton, which has five separate and distinct shopping areas, or “nodes.” These are listed here in their historical sequence: (1) Riverside Avenue (the remains of the former Lower Village), (2) Grand Street (the Upper Village), (3) Harmon, (4) Van Wyck, Croton Commons and the lower end of Route 129, (5) ShopRite Plaza and environs. Next, consider the doleful economic impact on Croton of the following events.

1923: Westchester acquires Croton Point, converts it into a park and takes its 508 acres off Croton’s tax rolls. No other village has so much public space within its borders yielding no tax revenue.

1950s to 1960s: The heart of Croton is devastated by the successive construction of three large shopping centers and their unsightly giant parking lots that should have been located at the periphery of the village. Croton added to its automobile blight by creating and paving a gigantic station parking lot capable of holding almost 2,000 vehicles—a veritable sea of parked cars stretching as far as the eye can see. These are self-inflicted wounds that beautification of other commercial areas today can never offset.

1967: The 12.9-mile long Croton Expressway opens, the only completed portion of a limited-access superhighway intended to link the Thruway at Tarrytown with Route I-84 at Beacon. Croton is thus effectively by-passed by north-south automobile traffic. Construction of the Expressway also destroys a thriving commercial area in Croton called the Lower Village.

1970: The Penn-Central Railroad declares bankruptcy on June 21, depriving Croton of its largest taxpayer and the revenue from its more than 100 acres of rail yards, shops and station.

2004: Croton enacts the calamitous Gateway Law. Not only does it specifically prohibit certain kinds of businesses, it imposes a totally impractical floor-area ratio on new construction. In five years, not a single enterprise that would be subject to the 2004 law has come to Croton. For 42 years some 40,000 motorists each day have sped past Croton on the Expressway. The most successful businesses in Croton have all been those largely able to subsist on the patronage of Crotonites.

No other village in the Hudson Valley has been subjected to such a chain of massive economic setbacks. Yet, ignoring the above realities, proponents of the Harmon Plan see adding modern retail storefronts as a magical solution to what they describe as Harmon’s image problems. They claim that such changes will result in additional foot traffic and yield higher tax revenues.

The plan also blithely doubles the apartment space permitted over stores, improbably describing potential tenants as “city dwellers who want to dip their toes in country living.” It also proposes to overcome the extreme shortage of parking space in Harmon with an impractical shared-parking concept.

Croton still lacks a business-development agency to encourage new business. It has no inventory of commercial properties in the village, and no idea of their dimensions, amenities or current rents. How can any development plans be contemplated when we have no idea of Croton’s business picture today? It may very well be that Croton should be reducing commercially zoned areas instead of expanding them.

One of the objectives of the Harmon Plan committee has been to save face for those responsible for the Gateway Law by quietly changing the floor-area ratio to a realistic number. I challenge them to come forward and acknowledge publicly that the floor-area ratio fixed in 2004 was wildly aberrant for Croton’s commercial properties.

Robert Scott, Croton-on-Hudson


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