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The Natives Are Restless Tonight

November 13, 2009

To the editor:

It has always been a travesty on the word “planning” for Croton to pursue a special zoning change to rescue an ailing Harmon from itself, while ignoring its other commercial areas also in need of support. Monday night’s public review only underscored this judgment. To propose piecemeal changes in Harmon while not having the faintest idea of the state of Croton’s commercial (i.e., retail) economy borders on the criminal.

Proponents blithely continue to close their eyes to the realities of geography, the isolating Expressway, Croton’s small customer base and especially its five noncontiguous shopping areas that make the development of a central shopping area an impossibility. Encouragement of tourism to aid local businesses is never considered. Yet it would cost almost nothing and require no enabling legislation.

The plan’s basic objective is to get the Harmon shopping area to pull up its socks, so to speak, all the while ignoring Croton’s other troubled shopping areas. Proponents claim that Harmon is unattractive, but could be transformed into a veritable Fifth Avenue of strolling families and shopping activity through the simple medium of a zoning change. Whenever someone starts by saying, “Friends who come to visit immediately remark on how awful the Harmon shopping area looks,” you know the baloney is going to be sliced very thick. Why aren’t proponents equally concerned about the Upper Village that has at its heart a shuttered, highly visible and starkly empty Wondrous Things storefront?

No matter what we do to zoning in Harmon, as a nascent Fifth Avenue it is always going to be “blighted” (their word, not mine) by three gasoline service stations and an automobile body repair and repainting shop in close proximity along one side of South Riverside Avenue. I am not for a moment suggesting that these businesses should go. They are necessary, profitable and very much a part of Harmon, plus they offer local employment opportunities. But how their continuing presence is going to make the “revitalized” Harmon shopping area look like a cross between the Champs Élysées and the Las Vegas strip is never explained.

The standing-room-only crowd at the meeting was unified and vociferously loud in its opposition. Only after the anti-zoning-change speakers had drifted away did a few timorous advocates, largely from areas other than Harmon, show themselves. Offering little in the way of concrete support, the best they could muster was “Why not give it a try?” as though the ill-considered zoning change were nothing more than a faddish TV 30-day dieting plan.

Croton can be thankful it has more lawyers in residence than nail salons and pizzerias. Early on, the opposition unlimbered some big legal guns to advance their cause, and these were hard acts to follow. Legal objections to the Environmental Assessment Form, in fact to the entire process itself, flew thick and fast. Village attorney James Staudt, who is not a resident and who had given a perfunctory blessing to the plan at the start of the meeting, could hardly have felt comfortable under the barrage of citations. Then again, litigation always brings humongous hourly billings, a factor proponents should keep in mind. Memories of the legal cost of ousting Metro-Enviro still rankle.

The rezoning plan has been shown to be fraught with faults and legal hazards. For the mayor and village board to move this plan forward without addressing these would be the height of irresponsibility. At the very least, they should be required to prove that each defect has been considered and corrected. Last March’s election was by no means a landslide. The two incumbents up for re-election would be wise to recognize that reality. Next March is only four months away.

— Robert Scott, Croton-on-Hudson


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