Discusses possible changes

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Cold Spring’s Village Board took up the draft Comprehensive Plan on Tuesday night in a lengthy session, the first of several as the mayor and trustees parse the 102-page document and discuss changes. The board officially received the draft, prepared by the nine-member Special Board for a Comprehensive Plan-Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, on Dec. 14. The Special Board wrapped up the Comprehensive Plan-related phase of its workload in December, about four-and-one-half years after inception of efforts to develop a plan. The document is designed to guide village decision-making on matters involving village character; the environment and use of land, including the riverfront; economic development; services and infrastructure, and other elements of village life and governance.

During their initial go-round, joined by Ted Fink of Greenplan, the Comprehensive Plan consultant, and Stephen Gaba, village attorney, the mayor and trustees indicated they intended to make several changes to the draft. Gaba likewise urged them to soften the language by turning statements that the village should take action on a given issue to suggestions that the village think about doing so. From a legal standpoint, “I would like language saying ‘consider,’ instead of `establish.’ And make `action’ a ‘recommendation,'” Gaba said.

About 35 residents filled the meeting room at Village Hall for the Jan. 4 workshop, although the board took no public comments. “We’re really excited we have a good turn-out, Mayor Seth Gallagher announced as the session began. “But there’s not really a part for public” in the evening’s conversation, held to tap the expertise of Gaba and Fink. However, the mayor promised, the public would enjoy ample chances to comment as the board continues its review. “This process is going to continue.”

Gallagher and Trustee Airinhos Serradas, often bitterly opposed on issues, sometimes concurred that a proposal in the draft plan should be deleted or changed. For instance, in Point 3.1.7 (page 38) the draft asks the village government to “consider creation of a Conservation Advisory Council, CAC,” as described under New York State General Municipal Law. The Town of Philipstown uses a CAC to advise the Town Board and its subsidiary panels on such issues as conservation of wetlands.

“We’re so small,” Gallagher said. “Do we really need that here?”

“No,” Serradas put in. “It’s increasing the size of government.”

Joined by Trustee J. Ralph Falloon, Gallagher and Serradas also questioned creation of a Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee to guide village officials in implementing the Comprehensive Plan over time. The plan suggested formation of such a panel. “What legal power would they have?” Falloon asked. “Is that something we want to go to – having another board?”

“No more boards,” Serradas said. “We have enough boards.”

“I think we have agreement on that,” Gallagher answered. Gaba cautioned that “implementation of the plan will take years” and that village government -ultimately the Village Board – must determine “what provisions of the plan get implemented and the order in which they get implemented.”

Serradas questioned whether the plan was giving too much to non-profits. Point 1.5.2 of the draft (page 19) calls on the local government to “allow the village or an IRS-qualified land protection organization to be a recipient of conservation and building facade easements (see Glossary), which are voluntary agreements that can preserve land from development and may enable property owners who donate easements to receive tax deductions.” Gallagher replied that one possible application of the provision could be to preserve the old Butterfield Hospital lawn, a park-like expanse of green grass and scattered trees, or similar area. But Serradas suggested throwing out all of section 1.5, which, in addition to the reference to land easements, covers architectural conservation and use. Overall, as stated in the draft, the objective of the section is to “encourage preservation and adaptive re-use of historic structures.”

“I don’t like it, no – anything under 1.5,” Serradas announced. Fink assured the board members they can do whatever they want to the draft. “It’s now in your court, entirely, to deal with this document. ” Moreover,” he informed them, comprehensive plans “are a policy document. They’re not a document that actually changes the laws.”

“There’s a big difference between preparing a Comprehensive Plan,” the task of the Special Board, “and adopting a Comprehensive Plan,” Gaba added. “At the end of the day, this is the Village Board Comprehensive Plan. It’s your judgment as elected officials as to what actually goes in it.”

Potential development of the old Marathon site on Kemble Avenue, also figured in the discussion. Once the home of a battery factory that spewed toxic pollution into the Hudson River, the site continues to be monitored by the federal Environmental Protection Agency after a Super-fund clean-up about 15 years ago. A large tract, it resembles a farm meadow, enclosed by a high fence. The plan says the village should “ensure that development of the properties in the Marathon area, including its neighbors, the West Point Foundry Preserve and old Campbell estate, “results in improvements that are well integrated in the fabric of the community; protect the natural environment and the health of residents; [and] promote the economic health of the village through positive tax impact and economic activity.” Serradas said the Comprehensive Plan could make the village liable for more legal action over the Marathon property. He also noted that “I’ve never hidden the fact I’m for property rights.”

“If you do nothing, the site is zoned for industrial use,” but citizen forums and other venues during the plan’s drafting made clear many residents would oppose returning the property to industrial use, Fink observed. “In my estimation,” the draft Comprehensive Plan “would provide greater flexibility to the landowner. The attempt is to provide for a much better level of development for the village” while offering the property-owner as more options, he said.

“There is no vested right to a zoning designation,” in any case, Gaba said. He advised the board to not confuse the Comprehensive Plan process with rewriting of zoning laws. “When you get a around to enacting the zoning [law changes] is the time to worry about that,” he said.

The board is expected to resume its review of the draft plan on Jan. 12, at another workshop.  Serradas expressed concerns too few residents might know about the plan and related activity. However, the Comprehensive Plan development process has involved more than two dozen public forums – plus regular meetings of the Special Board and other boards where the work was discussed – since fall 2006. “We’ve been at it for more than four years,” Falloon commented. “If you don’t know by now.”

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as Philipstown.info) in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government