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Strange Doings in the Name of Zoning

September 8, 2009

To the editor:

The following is the text of my letter to the editor of The Gazette, dated August 13, 2009:

Continuing a detailed study of the flawed Gateway Law to which zoning changes will be added, here are a few of the Law’s flaws that professional planners have already bestowed on us: (References to the Gateway Law hereafter will be to “the Law.”)

Flaw No. 1 is in the fallacious concept that if we “upgrade the image and strengthen the visual identity of the Village,” visitors will automatically come to Croton regardless of the nature of the merchandise or services its shops offer.

Flaw No. 2: In the Harmon area, the Law calls for new buildings to be “designed to enhance the district’s small-scale character.” But the character of the buildings in the vast urban renewal project and associated parking areas envisioned under the proposed zoning changes give the lie to the phrase “small scale.”

Flaw No. 3: The Law next mandates a very questionable scheme. Here’s what it proposes for Harmon: “To reinforce the area’s role as a gateway, the Planning Board shall encourage the design and placement of a distinctive gateway feature such as a clock or sculpture near the corner of Croton Point Avenue and South Riverside Avenue.” Erecting a clock or a sculpture approved by the Planning Board with an incoming business footing the bill? I’m not making any of this up. It’s right there in the Law at 230-20.6-4

Because the avowed function of gateways is to give visitors “a sense of arrival,” why not a small Statue of Liberty with a variation on the Emma Lazarus sentiment carved into the base? “Give me your energized, your wealthy, your eager customers yearning to spend freely.” In other gateway areas, how about an impressive fountain, heroic statue or perhaps a miniature Arc de Triomphe? The sky’s the limit in beautifying Croton for new arrivals.

Flaw No. 4: In the Municipal Place area, the Law stresses the need for increased pedestrian facilities such as sidewalks, despite the fact that the layout and facilities of the area encourage and favor automobile usage. Pedestrian traffic is non-existent here, and it is still worth your life to try to cross Maple Street to get from one part of this gateway area to another on foot.

Flaw No. 5 is the designation of the North End area as a commercial gateway. In this area, a veritable Siberia for commercial development with no access from the Expressway, the Law is ultra-specific about prettification: “New development, landscaping and streetscaping shall be designed to preserve the district’s residential and rural feel from the village boundary line to Warren Road.”

The Law calls for sidewalks to be constructed on Warren Road from the village line south to Warren Road and west to the bridge over the Expressway. Preferential consideration is also given to site plans featuring “stone walls consistent with existing built walls along property lines to screen parking.” Street trees and shrubs should be planted on the east side of Route 9 and the west side of 9A (both are State roads and the designated roadsides are now heavily wooded) “to form a buffer between these roads and the North End gateway properties.”

In the course of human events, the power to write legislation controlling zoning in their immediate neighborhoods is not given to ordinary citizens. Section 20-3-E of the Village Code of Ethics calls for disclosure by public officials of any interest in legislation. It so happens that among the driving forces behind the passage in 2004 of the Gateway Law was an appointed Village official living on Briggs Lane off Warren Road, immediately adjacent to the North End gateway area. Because there was no disclosure, disqualification or recusal, it would seem that “somebody’s gotta lot of splainin’ to do.”

— Robert Scott, Croton-on-Hudson


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