Members Clash Over Comprehensive Plan Form and Content

 By Michael Turton

It may only be a month until the draft of the new Comprehensive Plan for Cold Spring is unveiled to the public but it appears that the Special Board still has a lot of work to do before a majority will be able to agree on the plan’s content. The Special Board met on Sept. 2 to consider two key chapters of the plan – the riverfront and economic vitality – and it was obvious that there is still much internal disagreement.

The Riverfront
Anne Impellizzeri, who chairs the Riverfront Coordinating Group, said that there is a “fair degree of nervousness” on the part of Boat Club members over proposed new uses. One of the recommendations being considered is to winterize the club’s largest room, making it available for groups and community organizations year round. Impellizzeri said that such uses “are a potential source of revenue.”  The working group is awaiting input from the Boat Club before finalizing its recommendations.

Cold Spring Boat Club (Photo by Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong)

The Comprehensive Plan will also address the clean up of coal tar at the Boat Club site. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation plan will only remove coal tar from beneath the parking lot behind the club. The Special Board agreed at its last meeting that the draft plan will recommend that coal tar also be removed from beneath the club building along with “almost all” of the contaminated material on site. Special Board chair Mike Armstrong said that if the building is torn down in order to remove the coal tar it will create new opportunities to reconfigure the building, a move that could enhance the community’s use of the facility.

One proposal, with considerable early support in the planning process, is now being questioned by two members of the Special Board. Planning Board liaison Karen Doyle and new Special Board member Anthony Phillips both spoke against the “river walk” as is currently proposed. The trail would take hikers along the riverfront north from Dockside Park to Little Stony Point Park and then loop back into the village. “Why should it go to Little Stony

View from Little Stony Point (Photo by Mike Turton)

Point? It’s outside the village,” Phillips said. Cold Spring’s former mayor also said that he didn’t think hikers would use a looped trail because most don’t go to Little Stony Point, opting instead to head directly to Breakneck Ridge from the train platform. Karen Doyle agreed. “I don’t think the trail should go to Little Stony Point. It should link to Mayor’s Park instead.”  Armstrong said that a looped trail would also serve residents and would encourage hikers to return to village to purchase goods and services.
Phillips also expressed strong views on Cold Spring’s docking facilities, suggesting that installation of floating docks be considered at Dockside Park to serve ferries and other larger craft. Until now the main dock at the gazebo has been suggested for that purpose. Phillips said there have been problems

Dockside (Photo by Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong)

with larger boats tying up at the main dock this summer – including the fire boat John Harvey which recently became stuck at low tide. He also said that using the main dock for larger boats interferes with people who want to fish or go crabbing. “The village getting stewardship of Dockside opens up new possibilities” Phillips said.  Cold Spring is negotiating the management of Dockside Park which is owned by New York State. “All I ask is that floating docks [at Dockside] be considered” he said.

Economic Vitality
Discussion of the Economic Vitality chapter was vigorous if not downright nasty as board members clashed over which version of the chapter should be discussed; how goals differ from objectives; who should lead the discussion and even what grade might be assigned to some of the writing.
The debate over which version of the chapter should form the basis of discussion was long, confusing and at times bore a remarkable resemblance to Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” routine – although not nearly as humorous.  At issue were two distinctly different renditions of the chapter –  one edited by Armstrong several days prior to the meeting and one submitted by Marshall Mermell, chair of the Economic Vitality coordinating group, about an hour before the meeting started.

The first bone of contention was the chapter’s stated goal. In Armstrong’s version the goal of the measures outlined in the chapter would be “To enhance the economic vitality of the village.” Mermell’s version begins in the same manner, but adds several specific areas to be addressed – such as diversifying the property tax base and relieving property tax burden on villagers. Board member Catherine Square said she felt that Armstrong’s version did not say enough and asked, “What are we saying?” When Armstrong responded emphatically, emphasizing each word in “To-enhance-the-economic-vitality-of-the village,” Square was clearly offended and said, “Don’t yell at me!” At one point she unsuccessfully proposed a motion to have Mermell lead the discussion rather than Armstrong.

Armstrong commented that Mermell’s goal was too long. Co-chair Impellizzeri agreed, saying that many of the revised goal’s additional points were actually objectives. Special Board secretary Marie Early said that the revised goal was a “run-on sentence” which, “if submitted to an English professor, would receive a “D” grade.” Square, a member of the Economic Vitality coordinating group, said that she would give the goal an “A”.  Mermells’ version of the chapter also departed from the agreed upon format for the comprehensive plan document. That format begins each chapter with broad “goals,” moving to specific “objectives” and on to clearly defined “actions.” Neither version was distributed, but it appeared that Mermell’s version was written in a more narrative form and not broken down into goals, objectives and actions.

Mermell didn’t take kindly to the criticism of his coordinating group’s efforts saying that he was “a bit miffed” at the suggestion that his committee was not doing its job. Karen Doyle tried to calm the discussion. “Everyone is doing their very best. We just seem to be in a battle of documents.” In the end it was agreed that Mermell will rewrite the chapter to conform to the goal-objective-action format. It remains to be seen what form the chapter’s goal will take.

Role of Planning Board also discussed
When the Village of Cold Spring adopted the current Comprehensive Plan in 1987 the village Planning Board played a key role in drafting it. New York State law was revised in 1994 and the village board is no longer obligated to consult with the planning board before adopting the new comprehensive plan. Armstrong insisted, however that ‘It’s vital that the Planning Board be involved.” This was perhaps the only issue where there was no disagreement. The Special Board will recommend to village trustees that they ask the Planning Board to review and comment on the draft Comprehensive Plan before the formal public hearing hosted by the village.

2 thoughts on “Members Clash Over Comprehensive Plan Form and Content

  1. I read with interest the description of the Comprehensive Planning Board’s recent meeting, particularly the details about proposed waterfront usages. My wife and I have lived just one block back from the waterfront, but I speak only for myself here.

    Former Mayor Tony Phillip’s suggestion that floating docks be installed at Dockside for larger boats, such as the fireboat JOHN J. HARVEY and the tug PEGASUS and the floating waterfront museum, is, I’m afraid, a non-starter, at least at this point. The Dockside property is visually uninviting and I have to wonder what anyone would think being dropped off there. Whereas anyone coming ashore at the dock knows exactly where they are. Unless and until Dockside is again an attractive property, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to put in there.

    As well there are depth considerations; that cove north of Dockside is shallow. Tony Philips is right to mention that the fireboat ended up briefly resting on the bottom. The tide was unusually low that morning, but as soon as it began to flood again the boat was afloat and on its way back to Manhattan. There was no damage to the dock or the boat.

    I spent this last weekend helping with the waterfront museum – the old Lehigh Valley freight barge – that came up on Friday evening. People were thrilled that it was there, residents and visitors alike. Some 2500 people came to visit the barge. The folks who were crabbing did not complain. In fact we had a number of pleasant conversations with them. They still had both the north and south sides of the dock to work from and no one seemed to mind.

    Docking boats at the dock needs better organization. We need to have ordinances in place to say who can and cannot dock and under what circumstances. For example, while we might not charge a non-profit boat such as the fireboat a docking fee, what about the RIVER ROSE, clearly a for-profit boat. We need to look at some further modifications to the rail on the west side. The barge folks had to jury-rig their gangway and we all agreed it would be a lot easier and safer for folks to come aboard if we’d been able to move another section of railing.

    I think it’s thrilling that the village – one of the few on either side of the river with this kind of waterfront access – is turning its face toward the river again.

    So let’s not argue about welcoming folks off the river. Let’s make it work for everyone.

  2. One correction to my earlier comment. I meant to say that we have lived just one block from the waterfront since 1980, 30 years this coming November.