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Painful Truths about Croton Planning

September 18, 2009

To the editor:

The following is the text of my letter to The Gazette of August 20, 2009:

In planning Croton’s future, three indisputable facts cannot be changed:

(1) The Expressway has effectively made Croton a backwater by cutting it off from the flow of north-south automobile traffic, estimated at 40,000 vehicles a day. Each transit by a motorist bypassing our village at 55 mph means one less potential customer for Croton businesses.

(2) Croton lacks a single, centralized shopping area. Over the years, Croton planners allowed five widely separated and non-contiguous shopping areas to evolve, each heavily dependent on the automobile. Pedestrian traffic between the respective shopping areas is nonexistent because of their wide separation.

(3) Croton planners also allowed its downtown to be blighted with three giant supermarkets and their large, unsightly automobile parking areas. These encourage automobile usage and further discourage pedestrian traffic.

This may not be a picture of “the Croton we want.” Nevertheless, it’s the Croton we’ve got, and we must make the best of an unhappy situation. Planners must accept that the above special conditions make Croton different from other villages. I don’t care how many communities with centralized shopping areas our expensive hired consultants may have advised; they cannot overcome Croton’s atypical handicaps. Otherwise, any monies spent will be wasted.

Planners must stop treating Croton as a community with conventional planning problems. They should accept Croton’s unusual situation before plunging ahead with off-the-shelf, standard-issue solutions. Merely giving Harmon a hasty cosmetic makeover that violates common sense is not planning.

I have railed against the flawed 2004 Gateway Law incorporated into the Zoning Code and against the proposed Harmon-inspired changes to it. Its proponents have stubbornly clung to flagrantly erroneous beliefs: (1) that planning efforts should be concentrated on a single shopping area at the expense of the other areas; (2) that there are three magical, mystical “gateways” to Croton; (3) that all motorists who enter Croton are here to shop, so Croton must be made pretty for such shoppers from other communities.

Every community has its delicatessens, pizza parlors, supermarkets, hardware store, branch bank, and post office supplying basic needs of its residents. Croton’s underlying problem is that it lacks a “magnet” store or stores that would attract customers from elsewhere. Briarcliff Manor, for example, has a Radio Shack. When I need an electronic gadget, I travel to Chilmark. After a brief existence here, Croton’s sole magnet store, Blockbuster, is now in the process of closing.

The only businesses that manage to thrive here are those that supply basic needs—“the butcher, baker and candlestick maker.” Ironically, Croton’s Gateway Law specifically bans automobile dealerships and national chain fast food restaurants. Yet each of these categories represents a magnet business with the potential of attracting the very customers from other communities that Croton sorely needs.

The truth is Croton planners lack basic knowledge of the community so necessary for intelligent planning. Croton has no inventory of the stores, empty or occupied, in each of Croton’s five shopping areas. We have no idea of their sizes, amenities, and rental terms or even what they offer in the way of goods and services. Hard to believe, but no planner can identify how many delicatessens, restaurants, pizza parlors, or nail salons exist in Croton, nor can they tell me where they are located.

Equally nonexistent is a reliable, controlled census and projections of its school population and expected growth. Croton has no idea of the number of apartments that exist in the village, yet planners are contemplating adding more apartments in crowded human rabbit warrens. School taxes form the major portion of each taxpayer’s tax burden.

That planners in Croton should be actively engaged in planning for this village’s future despite their lack of fundamental knowledge about the nature and state of its current business and residential communities is staggering, to say the least. What Croton needs is more information, not more legislation.

Croton and other communities in Westchester have just been dealt a double whammy. One is the workforce legislation calling for mandatory affordable housing now awaiting the governor’s signature. The other is the agreement recently reached between the county executive and the federal government mandating affordable housing for minorities. The fact that Croton receives no credit for the impressive results achieved by the Croton Housing Network is only one of the many disquieting aspects of the wrenching changes.

Apparently unforeseen by the Village, the two events in quick succession came as a complete surprise. Until the questions they raise are answered, it would be suicidal for Croton’s present administration to push ahead mulishly in its headlong rush to expand the flawed Gateway Law by adding apartments whose need is highly questionable. Its first order of business should be to fill the enormous gap in information about the nature of the ventures that manage to thrive in the village and the future burdens on its school system.

— Robert Scott, Croton-on-Hudson


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