By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
The Cold Spring Village Board turned a last-minute look at the draft Comprehensive Plan into a nearly four-hour editing marathon Thursday night (Jan. 27), before a three-man majority deemed it sufficiently “done” to present at a public information meeting next Tuesday. Only 48 hours after completing their line-by-line review of the approximately 100-page document, the mayor and trustees went back into it to make a dozen additional changes. Their focus ranged from the former Marathon battery plant on Kemble Avenue, to crosswalks, user fees, a ban on converting retail space to residential apartments, facilities for senior citizens, and term limits.
As the clock inched toward 11:30 p.m. and they reached the end of the text (again), Mayor Seth Gallagher and Trustees Bruce Campbell and J. Ralph Falloon voted that the revised draft be readied by Village Clerk Mary Saari for dissemination of copies to the public. “This is what we want to ask for public comment on,” Gallagher said of the further-tweaked text. For purposes of public discussion, “we’re going to adopt what we have here so far tonight.” Trustee Charles Hustis voted “no” on the initiative. Trustee Airinhos Serradas avoided either a “yea” or “nay” and chose to abstain. “I want to see the final document,” he said. “Do you want to present something that’s potentially minor or full of errors?”
The board scheduled its public information presentation on the draft for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 1, at the Parish Hall of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, on Chestnut Street at Main Street. As Village Attorney Stephen Gaba noted, board members can still make changes if necessary after that meeting or even after the full, formal public hearing, expected to occur March 1, should enough issues arise to warrant it.
Contracts for sewer grouting and snow piles
In other action Thursday, by a 5-0 vote the board approved a $19,000 arrangement with Lash Contracting Ind., of Latham, N.Y., for grouting sewer lines, one of various water and sewer infrastructure needs demanding money and attention. According to Mayor Gallagher, the project involves pipes “running down Main Street here.” Likewise, the board likewise voted unanimously to adopt an agreement with Butterfield Realty L.L.C. to allow the village Highway Department to pile snow at the old Butterfield Hospital site, at no charge.
Marathon property concerns
As it worked through the Comprehensive Plan draft again, the board deleted recommendations that the village “continue to engage in dialogue with the owner of the Marathon site on the plans to preserve a portion of the property as open public space, possibly for active recreation (swimming pool, track and ball fields and/or a dog run)” and “ensure that any parking development on the Marathon site is secondary to other principal uses of the site, hidden from surrounding uses, and promote the use of pervious surfaces for such parking areas.” It also modified a related recommendation to refer to large tracts overall, not just the Marathon site. “When such a property is being developed,” the new language states, the village should take several steps:
- “Engage in dialog with property owners to keep development on a scale in terms of streetscape and mix of structure-size that is consistent with the character of a community, in part by limiting the number and size of residential units.
- “Explore the possibility of conservation developments where a minimum amount of protected open space is mandated by the subdivision review process.
- “Consider amending the Subdivision Regulations and Zoning Law to permit conservation subdivision, with the four-step design process that identifies unbuildable lands, and special features of the site around which development is designed.
- “Prohibit gated communities, cul de sacs, dead ends and private roads, except in the case of private roads where public access is not impeded or denied, and where water and sewer are provided in compliance with village standards.”
The board deleted a recommendation that Cold Spring “consider charging a utility tax of 1 percent,” after voting two days earlier, 2 to 2, to keep it. Gallagher described the utility tax as “a different way to raise money” and pointed out that “we have it now with the cable [TV].”
“I’d rather not have it in there. It’s another tax to the municipality,” Serradas said.
“We can still do it if we have to,” at a later date without mentioning it in the Comprehensive Plan, Falloon said. “Anything that says ‘tax’ I don’t want to see.” He then voted with Serradas and Hustis on the successful bid to remove the recommendation.
Garbage collection fee
Following several minutes of discussion, the board kept a recommendation that the village investigate charging a garbage-collection fee similar to those for water and sewer system usage.
“It’s just another tax. I disagree with it,” Serradas objected.
“The people who produce the most garbage would pay more,” Gallagher said, giving the underlying user-fee premise: “If you don’t use it, you don’t pay for it.” If Cold Spring adopted a user-fee for garbage collection, he said, “the garbage portion of the budget, $100,000, would not go to your general tax bill.” He suggested that the user fee might encourage more recycling.
“It’s possible your overall tax burden would go down if this was done, even with these user fees,” said Marie Early, a member of the Special Board for a Comprehensive Plan.
“As long as I’m not paying twice, I’ll consider it,” Falloon said.
Ban on storefront conversions to apartments
The board added a recommendation expressing village opposition to conversion of ground-floor shops, such as those on historic Main Street, into residential apartment units. The measure states: “To ensure the health and continuity of storefront businesses in the Main Street and Chestnut Street business districts, B1 and B2, prohibit new residential uses for grand-floor storefronts, and, over time, encourage conversion of first-floor residential units to retail or service uses for units that previously had been commercial businesses with storefronts.”
“I don’t understand that at all,” Hustis remarked.
Gallagher said that landlords can find it tempting to redo a storefront as a residential unit. “This is basically saying ‘we’re against that.’ The reason is you’re going to lose a business. Once the few go, you no longer have a destination for businesses. And people don’t come” to visit and shop. The ideal is a mixture of uses for buildings, he said. “They’d have upstairs apartments, downstairs businesses.”
Senior citizens and veterans got a special mention. Serradas successfully proposed the board expand a line advocating that Cold Spring “provide facilities for a community center serving residents of all ages” by adding the words, “including veterans.” At Gallagher’s urging, the board similarly added a new recommendation that the village “support development of a facility for seniors that accommodates the preparation of meals on site and is adequately sized to allow social activities.” To “improve walkability,” the board also added a call to “install three crosswalks across Route 9D (Chestnut Street) between the Main Street (Route 301)-Route 9D intersection and Benedict Avenue.”
Board members split on the merits of term limits. An earlier version of the Comprehensive Plan had recommended term limits for those appointed to the village’s standing boards, such as the Planning Board or Historic Distinct Review Board. Hustis proposed that the term-limits recommendation be re-instated; he and Serradas also urged that it be expanded to include elected officials as well (barring them from running for office beyond an unspecified number of times). For the standing boards, Hustis said, a term limit “causes a turn-over. You don’t want the same people over and over again. It encourages more people to get involved.” Campbell said he would favor applying term limits to service on appointed boards, but not to elected officials.
Gaba counseled that the question involves government structure, which “doesn’t belong in your Comprehensive Plan. Term limits are a somewhat controversial topic. Your Comprehensive Plan is going to have enough controversy around it to begin with, anyway.” If the board wants to pursue a term limits regulation, he added, “you should consider it as a stand-alone local law to be debated and considered on its own merits.” Serradas and Hustis then voted to add a provision on term limits for both appointed and elected officials. Campbell, Falloon and Gallagher opposed it, and the measure failed.