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Mixed (Up) Use Coming to Croton

October 28, 2009

To the editor,

Croton today is on the brink of making a major decision. The subject at issue is mixed use. And what is mixed use? In Colonial America it was the way of life in towns and villages. It featured a tightly clustered mix of stores, houses, churches, local government buildings, and civic uses within walking distance of one another.

During the 19th century industrialization brought factories and commercial uses that were sources of objectionable noise and odors, and often were hazardous to public health. To protect residential property values, early zoning focused on separating uses and buffering them from each other to minimize nuisances. The movement to return to mixed use in urban areas was sparked by Jane Jacobs in her seminal 1961 work titled The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Paradoxically, Croton’s existing zoning permits mixed use in the form of housing on a single floor above retail stores. Proposed legislation would more than double the amount of residential space available in commercially zoned areas as apartments above retail establishments and in ground-floor space behind them. I have been a vocal opponent of this legislation on many grounds:

(1) The total lack of research into the current retail picture in Croton. It may very well be that Croton needs less retail space rather than more.

(2) The failure of proponents to explore the impact of the legislation on the projected school population.

(3) The inadequacy of parking and the lack of outdoor space for children and pets. Because of higher densities in mixed-use developments and the commercial/office component, parking space requirements always exceed those of residential development.

(4) The total lack of adequate controls to protect the village. This mirrors the 2004 Gateway Law that bans fast-food restaurants without defining what constitutes a fast-food restaurant.

(5) The total lack of architectural standards. The only architectural requirement in the Harmon report was that the third floor within the roofline be designed as “dormers, or gables, or other architecturally pleasing design possibilities.” Even this vague and unsatisfactory requirement is missing from the proposed legislation.

(6) Technically naïve, the proposed legislation also provides for ground floor residential space behind retail space. Yet any first-year architectural student knows that retail and residential ceiling heights vary greatly and mixing them on one floor will impose additional design and construction costs. The large, high-ceilinged ground floor space without supporting columns needed for commercial uses may not be architecturally compatible with the smaller scale of walled residential space above it or behind it.

(7) Construction costs for mixed-use development currently exceed those for single-use buildings of similar size. Unanticipated architectural challenges include fire separations, sound attenuation, ventilation and egress.

(8) Mixed use developments are seen as too risky by many developers and lending institutions because economic success requires that the several different uses all remain in full occupancy. Short-term discounted cash flow has become the standard method of measuring the success of income-producing properties, making single-use properties more attractive for investment.

(9) There has been a total lack of cost analysis and feasibility studies, yet the legislation is touted as an economic panacea for Croton.

With so many issues still unaddressed, I urge all residents of Croton to turn out at the village board meeting on November 2 and demand an answer to the simple question, “Why the hurry and the mindless disregard of citizens’ legitimate concerns?”

— Robert Scott, Croton-on-Hudson


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