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When Government Works Against a Community's Best Interests

August 17, 2009

To the editor:

NOTE: The following is the text of my letter to The Gazette of July 30, 2009:

Governments often work in ways contrary to the interests of those who elected them and whom they profess to serve. Croton is an example of this. With local retail businesses struggling to survive, Croton’s government recently waived permit requirements for itself and cut a rent-free deal with a for-profit corporation. By installing a so-called “farmer’s market” on public property and providing village traffic control personnel without so much as a public hearing, Croton facilitated competition with local food businesses, making their survival more unlikely. All the while it sheds crocodile tears over the sad state of retail business in Croton.

The controversial Harmon plan is another glaring example. It proposes to make substantial changes in the flawed Gateway Law, a poor foundation on which to construct anything. A small army of critics is attacking these changes that will affect all Croton neighborhoods. I am one of them. The Gateway Law mandates that new development in the Harmon area be designed “to enhance the district’s small-scale character.” Yet an examination of the plan for Harmon proposed by the committee’s consultant reveals a gross departure from those guidelines.

For the three lots described as the Dodge property, the plan shows a building containing 24,800 square feet of total floor area. Such a building would enclose 289,325 cubic feet of space. By any standard, that’s one helluva bulky building. Behind this massive structure will be an equally large parking lot, illuminated at night, containing 47 parking spaces to serve 16 retail or professional units and some 40 residential units. Despite its enormous capacity, 47 spaces are admittedly inadequate for the building’s needs. The consultant’s solution is for parking spaces to be shared by residents and outsiders in what can best be described as an intricate game of musical chairs played with automobiles.

Unfortunately, too, the Harmon committee neglected to point out to the consultant that the corner lot was a site of historical significance—namely, Harmon’s first and oldest building, the original sales office of Clifford B. Harmon. Their totally unacceptable plan calls for its destruction.

I am a firm believer in the natural superiority of women. Studies have shown that women excel in a wide variety of areas: intelligence, physical and emotional health, sensory perception, sociability, and longevity, to name a few. As caregivers women are unsurpassed. I showed the consultant’s layout to my wife, Edith. It took her about three minutes of study to detect the fundamental flaw in the plan. “Where’s the open space? Where will the kids who will live in these apartments play?’ she asked. “Will their mothers caution them, ‘Go outside and play—but watch out for traffic. And don’t play in the parking lot. It’s dangerous with all those cars backing up.’?” The nearest of Croton’s too-few playgrounds is almost a mile away, my wife pointed out.

In the 1930s many small retailers got their start by “living over the store.” This gave them reasonable rent and a way to work long hours in the family delicatessen at street level. The Harmon plan is a bastardization of that concept. Croton’s planners seem bent on creating a veritable rabbit warren of retail stores, professional offices and barely habitable attic apartments. By injecting a large number of transient renters into a suburban commercial neighborhood, they will re-create an overcrowded urban landscape—the very conditions many Croton homeowners fled the city to escape.

Opponents of the Harmon plan have taken to calling the eventual result a “housing project,” an appellation that upsets proponents. I prefer to describe it as a “visual blight certain to be sparsely tenanted and a totally unacceptable slum.”

— Robert Scott, Croton-on-Hudson

On August 25, 2009 9:54 AM, Adam Schmidt said:

Robert,

While I have thoroughly enjoyed your posts and agree with the arguments presented, the point about a lack of ‘open space’ for these proposed apartments (an apparent mistake) might be the only thing that actually works for the plan. No open spaces would mean that couples with kids would be less-likely to inhabit these rental units…leaving them to the commuter class and in turn, not having an adverse affect on the schools.

ps. potential topics for future posts:

  1. When is 28 Police Officers too many? An investigation into the salary practices of unionized village employees.

  2. School Teacher Hiring Preferences of the Croton Harmon School District: When is the Columbia Pedigree no longer an affordable (or effective) option?

  3. Or combine them into a piece on Union workers and pay vs. the effects on a community budget…whereas all other businesses have the ability to rationalize their budgets during a recession by letting go of staff while Unions force our budgetary trend ‘from the bottom left to the upper right’

Appreciating the commentary Robert!

  • Adam Schmidt

On September 11, 2009 12:41 PM, Robert Scott said:

I apologize for not noticing the comment of Mr. Adam Schmidt. Comments on Crotonblog have been desultory lately, and my postings are at the unpredictable whim of the webmaster, so I do not check entries with great frequency.

I am grateful to Mr. Adam Schmidt for his comment and his compliments. Although not providing enough open space in a planned development might tend to discourage rentals by families with children, that’s not unlike tolerating pot holes in village streets because they keep motorists from speeding. I certainly have nothing against children. They are the hope of the world—although I cannot blame young people for their unhappiness with the planet we are leaving to them. What surprises me is that young people are not more upset over their tarnished legacy.

The basic problem I had with the Harmon plan’s lack of open space stems from the zoning code requirement that a minimum of 15% of every site plan should be given over to open space—and parking slots do not qualify as open space. A consultant to whom this village paid tax money generated the plan. We can reasonably expect that advice we get from a firm purporting to be experts on zoning will at least conform to Croton’s existing legislation.

I should be interested in learning more about the other subjects Mr. Schmidt mentions. It is not exactly clear which police department Mr. Schmidt is referring when he speaks of a 28-person department. The last time I looked Croton’s had a complement of only 20. I do not believe that any group concerned with public safety should have the ability to use the threat of a strike as a negotiating weapon. By way of disclosure, in the course of my lifetime, I have belonged to two unions: the Teamsters Union, while I was working my way through college, and the Newspaper Guild. My experience in each instance was salutary, since both industries were rife with employer abuses



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