Planning Cold Spring's Future

By Michael Turton

Reporter’s Note:
“Change is inevitable – and there are only two kinds of change.  The kind you plan for and the kind you don’t plan for.” Those words were spoken at a seminar I attended many years ago by someone whose name, title and credentials I have long forgotten. He was speaking about communities across the U.S. that serve as gateways to National Parks. His photographs dramatically illustrated that while some of those villages and towns changed over time to become better places to live, taking full advantage of their geographic good fortune – others went tragically downhill in spite of their envious location. None remained the same. In that speaker’s view, the difference was in how effectively the communities planned for change. I was reminded of his comments a week ago while in a local restaurant. A life-long village resident came up to me and commented on the ongoing effort to create a new Comprehensive Plan for the Village of Cold Spring. “It’s a waste of time” he said.
Whether or not that resident’s negative view of local planning is borne out remains to be seen. In large part it depends upon whether or not Cold Spring is able to take full advantage of its own geographic good fortune. But, for better or worse, or somewhere in between, the new Cold Spring Comprehensive Plan, five years in the making, is almost complete. The Village Board is now in the process of reviewing and revising the draft.  If winter weather cooperates, something that it seems will require some luck, a final public information session will be held on Feb. 1 with a formal public hearing, the final step before the plan is adopted, scheduled for March 1.  
This article is not intended as a complete summary of the 102 page Comprehensive Plan document, but rather puts the plan in context, provides important core information and lists some significant highlights. The complete draft plan is available on the village website .

How well do you know your village?
In addition to its view to the future, the Comprehensive Plan provides a pretty interesting text book for anyone who wants to understand the history, geography, makeup and current trends that make Cold Spring what it is today. There may still be heated debate over some of the plan’s recommendations but equally interesting is the factual information presented in the plan – information that provides the “back story” to the entire document. Consider the following examples. The village had a population of 1,788 in 1950, which 50 years later had only increased to 1,983. In stark contrast is the number of Metro-North riders from the Cold Spring station that increased from 120,000 in 1978 to 353,000 riders in 2009. In terms of planning, what is suggested by the fact that the number of people in the village earning less than $25,000 is almost identical to those earning between $75,000 and $125,000? Perhaps nothing illustrates how much Cold Spring has changed over time than this: of the 952 current Cold Spring residents who are employed, only 170 work in the village. Compare that to 150 years ago when 700 iron workers earned their living at the West Point Foundry. 

The Comprehensive Plan: one very basic question
While it goes into considerable detail in the form of seven major goals, dozens of objectives and many recommended actions, the Comprehensive Plan, in its own words, attempts to answer one very fundamental question:  “What do we want for the future of our Village?” The “we” in that statement has been a significant part of the planning process, beginning with a survey of all households  in 2007. Twenty percent of the surveys were completed and returned. (Ten percent is generally considered to be an excellent response rate.) When asked what things they liked best about Cold Spring, residents’ top three responses were the small town atmosphere, the natural environment and the people.  Asked what they would change about the village, the largest response by far dealt with public institutions and infrastructure – of which parking topped the list along with comments about leadership, non-elected boards, law enforcement, sidewalks, schools and taxes. In terms of what people most wanted to preserve for future generations the natural environment and architecture and historic resources came out on top. The complete survey is included in the draft document, much of it in easy to read charts and graphs. It presents a fascinating series of snapshots as to what people view as most important in their lives as village residents. 

Where the rubber hits the road
The most important aspect of the Comprehensive Plan, once adopted by the Village Trustees, is that all village land use regulations “must be in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan under state law and all plans for capital projects in the village by other governmental agencies including the state and federal levels must take the plan into consideration.” Those regulations include such things as zoning, historic district law, sign ordinances, and subdivision regulations. It will also guide local decisions regarding funding and capital projects and will likely help the village when it borrows money and applies for grants.
       Updating Cold Spring’s zoning will be one of the most significant and difficult tasks the village board will face. The need for new zoning is reflected in the summary section of the draft plan which states, “When zoning was introduced in 1967 it generally followed a suburban model for people with cars, which, despite subsequent amendments, is inconsistent with ( Cold Spring’s) past and would not permit most of the current village to be built.” In other words, the right zoning was put in the wrong place. The big question is whether or not  the village board is committed to turning the plan’s recommendations into reality. A common criticism is that after the 1987 Comprehensive Plan was adopted its recommendations were ignored.  One of the more candid comments in the current draft states “This plan will be useless if it simply sits on a shelf.” Given the amount of public involvement in formulating this new Comprehensive Plan – from the large response to the survey of residents to numerous well-attended public meetings, it seems that current and future village boards will ignore the new plan at their own peril.

Village of Cold Spring Zoning Map (Courtesy of Village website)

What’s in a word? Recommendations vs. actions
The Special Board, that drafted the recommended Comprehensive Plan, structured the core of the document on three levels. Seven broad goals each include several more tangible objectives, which in turn list numerous specific actions aimed at meeting those goals and objectives.  In its ongoing review of the draft, the village board is often opting to change the term “action”  to “recommendation.” That seemingly small change gives trustees considerably more wiggle room. A “recommendation” is just that – – a suggestion with no obligations attached. An “action” strongly implies that the board must implement what the document suggests. The document uses terminology common to the field of municipal planning, however it does include a glossary to help out the lay person. 

Goals: the Plan’s compass
Goals, like motherhood and apple pie, are pretty hard not to like. They are broad statements of intent that act as a compass – providing direction for the plan’s more specific objectives and recommendations. The draft Comprehensive Plan contains seven goals: 

  • Preserve and enhance the small town, historic, neighborly, diverse and safe character of Village life.
  • Take full advantage of our location on the Hudson River.
  • Protect the natural environment and conserve energy.
  • Enhance the economic vitality of the Village.
  • Ensure that community facilities and services meet the Village’s needs and are efficient and affordable.
  • Control property taxes.
  • Integrate new development with the traditional Village. 

A glimpse at the details  
It is impossible to capture everything that the Comprehensive Plan recommends for Cold Spring’s future in one article. The first goal alone contains 14 objectives encompassing more than 70 specific recommendations. What follows is a representative sampling of the objectives and recommendations for each of the plan’s seven goals. To get the full picture residents need to look at the complete document. It is a surprisingly quick read and the plan’s suggestions have been greatly condensed. Objectives and recommendations have been edited or combined and many points that others may consider quite significant have be omitted. 

Preserve and enhance the small town, historic, neighborly, diverse and safe character of Village life.
A sampling of the objectives include: improve current zoning; protect historic neighborhoods outside the current historic district,  provide a variety of housing types, improve the Historic District Review Board process and make the village more walkable.
       Some recommendations listed to help achieve those objectives include: establish a Comprehensive Plan Working Group to help implement the plan; use form-based standards for new construction and reconstruction; avoid  rigid regulations and encourage innovation within the historical context of the village; allow adaptive reuse of historic structures; map missing and substandard sidewalks; install traffic calming devices to improve pedestrian safety; develop a strategy for recruiting community volunteers and assess the implications of moving the Village Hall, Fire Company and the Police Department away from Main Street. 

Take full advantage of our location on the Hudson River.
Objectives include: improve boat access at the Main Dock; work with the Boat Club to enhance benefits to its members while increasing benefits to residents and generate revenue for the Village; develop a River Walk for pedestrians and bicyclists; develop and implement a plan for Dockside Park and encourage community events at the riverfront.
       A sampling of specific recommendations include: investigate the use of a floating dock at Dockside Park for temporary docking of ferries and other boats, consider including a path along the river, benches, restrooms, a trail up Dockside hill with a lookout, a small pavilion shelter, picnic tables and a small parking area, keeping the area as “natural” as possible; support creation of signage and a map for multiple pedestrian paths through the Village; provide a seasonal food and beverage concession at Dockside, offered first to local businesses; establish a system of seasonal permits and fees for kayaks and canoes similar to the system used in state parks. 

Protect the natural environment and conserve energy.
The plan suggests the following objectives: establish and implement a 20-year plan to protect and enhance the natural environment in the Village; ensure that areas of scenic significance are protected and that new development avoids or minimizes impacts on natural resources; upgrade storm water management; protect and enhance trees and improve energy efficiency and economy.
       Some of the specific to recommendations include: identify natural and cultural resources worthy of Critical Environmental Area designation under SEQRA; identify and map steep slopes and consider protection measures; implement a shoreline protection plan; require submission of a resource analysis map to assist in subdivision or site plans taking a site’s natural features into account; allow the Village to accept conservation easements; ensure remediation of contaminants at the Marathon and Boat Club sites; develop and implement a local storm water law emphasizing the use of low impact development techniques; create a tree planting plan; conduct an energy audit for the village government and formally review options for alternative sources of energy; explore use of low-wattage street lighting; encourage development of businesses that design, construct or supply green technologies; identify ways to encourage use of alternative or renewable energy technologies by residents and village businesses, including wind power, micro hydroelectric.  

Enhance the economic vitality of the Village.
Objectives to help achieve this goal include: encourage businesses that provide local jobs, convenient services to residents, sustain property values, or provide tax revenue; make Cold Spring a destination for visitors to shop, dine, be entertained, enjoy nature and cultural events, and stay overnight; increase the number of residents who work in the Village; make Main Street accessible, attractive and well maintained; make the Chestnut Street area safer and more attractive.
       A sampling of recommendations intended to achieve those objectives include: encourage commercial uses and “clean” light industries; reduce the amount of required off-street parking; set size limits to prohibit “big box” stores and limit large chain stores; maintain and enhance year-round opportunities for sustainable tourism; support the creation of a marketing plan for Cold Spring; amend home occupation regulations to permit home occupations and telecommuting; improve access to parking; consider development of new facilities on Main Street that serve residents; encourage such retail categories as health/beauty/fitness services, art galleries, and specialty shops;  in the Chestnut Street commercial area improve traffic flow, install benches and consider planting street trees. 

Ensure that community facilities and services meet the Village’s needs and are efficient and affordable.
The draft plan outlines some 17 objectives to reach this goal. Principle among these are: provide adequate, efficient, and safe facilities for the Cold Spring Fire Company; provide a community center serving residents of all ages and government administrative offices; improve the efficiency of the sewer system; protect the Cold Spring watershed and the safety of its water supply; make garbage collection and recycling more efficient while providing incentives to recycle; retain the Cold Spring Post Office within a commercial area; make truck deliveries to businesses and stores safer and less disruptive; improve Village zoning, land use regulation enforcement and the regulatory approval process; investigate ways of saving money through shared intergovernmental services and consolidation.
       Some specific recommendations intended to meet those objectives include: fund construction of a new firehouse at the current location, Butterfield Hospital site or Cedar Street; assess existing facilities and determine the feasibility of funding a community center and government offices at the Butterfield Hospital site or other locations; work with the Town to ensure the establishment of the Philipstown Aquifer District; develop and implement a watershed protection plan; consider charging for garbage collection with user-fees; provide incentives to recycle; consider cooperative agreements with other local governments to address such administrative functions as code enforcement, permitting and database management. 

Control property taxes.
This is one goal no one would argue with. Objectives aimed at achieving it include: seek additional sources of revenue to offset property taxes; pay for more services through user fees rather than property taxes; strengthen financial management to control costs; maximize tax contribution of properties in the Village; control costs for government services and make the best use of borrowing to cover capital projects.
       Some specific recommendations meant to meet those objectives include: investigate installation of parking meters as a significant revenue source; investigate funding garbage collection though user fees; consider charging residents on private streets for snow removal; review and report on all personnel costs annually, including contracts and pension obligations; establish a Financial Advisory Committee; encourage commercial, “clean” light industries and mixed-use development to generate more tax revenues; evaluate bond funding options; investigate the advantages and disadvantages of consolidating assessment services throughout Putnam County.

Areas with Potential: integrate new development with the traditional Village
The draft plan identifies nine areas as having significant potential for development or redevelopment: Foundry/Marathon/Campbell area; Village Garage; Butterfield Hospital; The Grove; Village Hall; Cold Spring Fire Hall; Philipstown Town Hall; Mayor’s Park and St Mary’s Lawn. The goal in  considering the future these properties is “to apply the vision, goals and objectives in this plan to all new development”¦” The objectives listed for these unique sites boil down to making the “best possible use” of each – – ensuring that their development and use complies with the Comprehensive Plan. The debate will always be over what the “best use” actually is. 

Foundry/Marathon/Campbell: The plan’s overall objective for this 113 acre area is to ensure that any development is integrated in the fabric of the community; protect the natural environment and the health of residents and promotes economic health through positive tax impact and economic activity.
       Some of the related recommendations include: ensure that the cost of any new infrastructure is made a pre-condition of development and paid for by the developer; amend land use regulations to require that appropriate scale, setbacks, streetscape and design features are consistent with Village character; protect views of the ridge from the Foundry Trail and Foundry Cove; consider rezoning the former Marathon site for mixed uses such as residential, recreational, open space, work-live, small retail business and office uses; rezone the Foundry and Campbell areas to Recreation Public Park or other designation that is publicly accessible and primarily open; develop uses of the Campbell property that provide for public access and result in possible revenue to the Village, while minimizing the impact on residents of adjacent areas. 

Village Garage: This site is recognized for having some of the best views along the entire Hudson River. Recommendations include: identify alternative locations where current uses could be accommodated; identify and promote the site to potential investors for alternative uses which would generate revenue for the Village – such as a small inn or meeting facility; set aside part of the site as public open space, including a path and overlook with views of the river; consider the potential need to expand the sewage plant. 

Butterfield Hospital: The future redevelopment of the site is still up in the air as the Putnam County legislature considers possible acquisition. The plan’s recommendations include: consider locating police, village administration, highway department offices, and courts on site; consider using part of the site for private offices, research or other revenue-generating uses; consider relocating the Cold Spring Fire House to the site; encourage relocation of the VFW Hall, American Legion and the Philipstown Volunteer Ambulance Facility to the site; promote preservation of the Butterfield lawn as a “Village Green.” 

The Grove: The objective for this site suggests that its best use may generate revenue for the village – from a sale or lease as a private home or Bed & Breakfast. Recommendations include: consider planning for the Grove in conjunction with the Butterfield site; maintain the site’s status on the National Register of Historic Places; consider the feasibility of a public/private joint venture with a for-profit company or non-profit organization; identify potential alternative uses that could generate revenue for the Village. 

Village Hall and Fire Hall: If the Village Hall and/or Fire Hall are relocated, the plan suggests that the sites may have potential for generating revenue for the Village through sale or lease for commercial uses. Recommendations include: evaluate alternate uses of all or parts of the properties; consider the feasibility of public/private joint ventures with a for-profit company or non-profit organization; identify and promote alternate uses for all or part of the sites to investors. 

Philipstown Town Hall: The plan recommends that if the Town Hall is relocated that adaptive reuse of the site be encouraged.  

Mayor’s Park: In order to ensure the park’s preservation the plan recommends that it be rezoned as recreation and to increase revenue generated by further developing user fees. 

St. Mary’s Lawn: The plan recommends that the lawn remain as open space, possibly through a conservation easement or through re-zoning. 

Last Opportunities for public comment

The Village Board continues a line by line review of the Draft Comprehensive Plan at its open, public meetings. Before the plan is adopted there will opportunity for public comments and questions at a public information meeting scheduled for Feb 1. The public hearing to be held in early March is a formal, procedural requirement which usually does not include public comment.  View the complete Draft Comprehensive Plan on the Village website, click here.

One thought on “Planning Cold Spring's Future

  1. Thanks for your summary of the Comprehensive Plan. An important correction, though: the formal Public Hearing (March 1) is all about hearing from the Public. That is, the public will have an opportunity to be heard. (The focus is not to explain the plan, but to hear comments about it.) The intention of the Public Information meeting (Feb 1), on the other hand, is for Q and A — to both hear from the public and respond to questions about the plan.