By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
After nearly a year of discussion, attempts Tuesday night to postpone action yet again, and interventions from the audience urging progress, not procrastination, the Cold Spring Village Board set a $250 fee for businesses for a waiver in lieu of providing off-street parking. The Sept. 14 action came during the board’s regular monthly meeting, with Mayor Seth Gallagher and Trustees Bruce Campbell, J. Ralph Falloon and Charles Hustis voting for the fee and Trustee Airinhos Serradas against it.
At its meeting in July, the mayor and trustees had enacted the waiver law, proposed last November. But it did not set the fee in July and instead considered the amount in subsequent discussions, gravitating at the Aug. 25 meeting toward $250 per parking space. Under the waiver provision, new businesses in the B1 and B2 districts, essentially those in the Main Street and Chestnut Street corridors, can obtain a waiver from a zoning requirement that they provide a certain number of off-street parking places. To fulfill the obligation, establishments often have rented parking places from other businesses at rates of $60 to $100 per space monthly, with five-year leases. Now they will be able to pay far less, in a one-time charge, by applying for a waiver to the village Planning Board, which would make a recommendation to the Village Board. The latter would officially grant the waiver. Although aimed at new businesses, the waiver would be available to existing establishments preferring to pay the lesser village fee instead of renting off-street parking privately.
Serradas expressed disagreement with the waiver law for various reasons. For one thing, he said, the new law “basically circumvents the zoning board.”
“It’s an alternative to the zoning board,” Village Attorney Stephen Gaba replied, adding that applicants could opt to seek a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals to avoid the whole off-street parking requirement and trips to the Planning Board and Village Board. (However, because the ZBA endorsed the waiver law, the odds of getting a variance seem mixed.)
Serradas also likened the waivers to phantom parking places. “How do we provide a fee for a waiver when we physically don’t have a parking spot? This is cyber parking.” He advocated charging nothing for a waiver and termed the fee “another tax. That’s all it is. I don’t want to tax the business owners.” Instead of fees, he recommended installation of parking meters. “Parking meters would solve all this and it doesn’t impose any unfair and discriminatory fee for something the village doesn’t own,” he said.
“It’s not an imaginary parking space,” Gallagher responded. “We’re saying they don’t have to provide a parking space; we’re giving them a waiver for that. In ex exchange they pay a fee” that can help the village maintain its municipal lot and meet other parking expenses. And parking meters are for on-street parking. They wouldn’t change our code, which requires off-street parking. I’d like to stick to the focus “¦ which is to set a fee.”
At least twice Gaba reminded everyone that “the local law is on the books; the waiver adopted. The only issue now is how much you want to charge.”
“I actually want to make the motion that we repeal the parking waiver law,” Serradas announced. Gaba answered that a law cannot be repealed by a simple motion. “You need a new local law repealing the existing local law.”
Serradas and Campbell sought to delay setting a fee until the board could hear from more business owners. Gallagher objected. “It just postpones the thing. I honestly can’t see the purpose in doing that. We can always lower” the fee from $250 in the future, he said. “But we need to start somewhere.” He said the fees would help save taxpayers money, by providing revenue other than property taxes.
However the motion to set the matter aside passed — only to prove short-lived after audience members spoke up. Former Trustee Lynn Miller, who recently opened Go Go Pops, a small refreshment shop, urged the board to adopt the $250 fee. “We’d like to put seats inside our business. At this point we can’t. There’s no place for us to rent off-street spaces,” she explained. “We would be glad to pay $250 per space as a one-time fee. I’m frustrated that this is continuing to go on month after month after month and you guys won’t make a decision.” She also criticized the long-standing system. “Right now, you go before the Planning Board with a great idea for a business that would make a terrific contribution to the business climate in our village and you get shot down because the Planning Board says, `well, the parking you’ve got, two blocks away, nobody’s going to use.’ Or they just arbitrarily say, ‘no that’s not going to work.'” Prospective proprietors “run because of these seemingly arbitrary laws you can’t comply with,” she said.
One entrepreneur, Benny Zaken, who intends to open a Main Street business, also backed the waiver fee. “What’s going to hold me up from opening is the issue before you,” he said. “I’m a newcomer. I’m willing to pay. What more do you need to know?”
Campbell then offered a motion to return the matter to the table for action. The motion passed. Within minutes, the board adopted a formal resolution setting the $250 fee, with Serradas the only one opposed.
Village resident Thomas Ambrose called for more decisiveness in the future. “It’s disturbing that a simple task is put in front of the board, to set a price on an existing law, and it gets mired [by] such obfuscation about whether the law should exist,” he said. “It’s a simple question: ‘Here is the law; how much is it going to cost?'” He cited a “dramatic decrease” in the number of local businesses in five years. “Simple questions like this need to be addressed and dealt in an expedient and professional manner, not lost in personal issues” over repealing a newly enacted law, he said. “You need to move forward to improve lives. That why you guys were voted into being the board, to address these issues expediently and efficiently.”