Butterfield Project Hits a Roadblock

Chairman Joseph Barbaro, center, presides over Cold Spring Planning Board meeting. (L-R) members Arne Saari, Dick Weissbrod, consultant Ted Fink, Barbaro, member Joseph Immorlica. Unseen member Parge Sgro.

Village Planning Board wants public heard before proceeding with review

By Kevin E. Foley

The Cold Spring Planning Board has joined the Special Board for a Comprehensive Plan in raising substantive questions about the proposed Butterfield development. Three days after walking the site, the Planning Board decided to stop its formal review of developer Paul Guillaro’s Butterfield plan before it really began. Instead the board intends to organize a public meeting to obtain the community’s view of needs and concerns. In addition, at its March 6 meeting at the Village Hall, Board Chairman Joseph Barbaro asked consultant Ted Fink to assist him in drafting a memo to the Village Board outlining the principal concerns and reservations of the Planning Board and the rationale for public input early in the process. The board scheduled a workshop for final approval of the memo on March 20.

 Although the elected Village Board trustees have declared themselves the lead agency for reviewing the project, they are now confronted with deep doubts and some outright rejections of major aspects of the plan by the two appointed boards, which arguably contain much of the village’s collective planning wisdom.

As skepticism and opposition to the current plan mounts, the village is preparing for an election on March 20 to choose two of the five members who will ultimately vote on the future of any development at the Butterfield site. At the Philipstown.info candidates’ forum on March 8 the three aspirants, incumbent Chuck Hustis and challengers Tom Rolston and Matt Francisco, offered varied perspectives on the best way to address the issue.  However, they all agreed approval of any plans was likely a year away at best, which is certainly at variance with Guillaro’s expectations. Rolston said Guillaro had told him that day that he was frustrated with the expense of the process and the multitude of voices expressing   assorted views.

Based on the Planning Board’s usual scheduling of workshops for plan reviews, at least a month might pass before it begins to examine the latest plans provided by the developer. Given the critical comments the members offered about the present plan, it would appear it is in large measure dead on arrival.

Typically, the Planning Board holds a public hearing at the end of its review of a proposed project. The board does not usually permit public questions or comments during its workshops while they painstakingly go over an applicant’s site plans, asking for revisions as they proceed. But the scope and potential impact of the Butterfield project is clearly giving rise to non-typical thinking. The first sign of that was the Village Board’s decision to become the lead agency, superseding the Planning Board, which in this situation serves in a key, albeit advisory capacity, a position the members have groused about.

Barbaro led off the meeting indicating he believed the board needed to “take a pause,” later he called it a “full stop.”  He proposed instead the board discuss its general reaction to the plan so far, especially in the aftermath of its participation in the Saturday, March 3, site visit. Barbaro called the site walk “enlightening and interesting. I think it gave us a chance to really see what it is we have in front of us, at least from the applicant’s perspective what he is proposing to do with the land.”

He then called for holding a “charette” to involve the public in forming the Planning Board’s perspective on the project prior to the review of the detailed plans. “I want the community to tell us what they want. I don’t want to wait for a public hearing at the end.” Charette is a term of French derivation often used by professional planners and architects for a meeting wherein participants work collaboratively (usually in small groups) to arrive at solutions to a problem, sometimes in a time-sensitive manner.

Asked during the meeting what he thought the Village Board reaction might be to a delay in the process, Barbaro said his proposed halt had the support of four (unnamed) of the five trustees with the fifth’s position unknown.

 Barbaro’s critique of the plan was the sharpest. He underscored the need for the plan to be “tax positive,” meaning the village should realize revenue from the project rather than have to expend funds either for infrastructure needs or in school taxes. He also rejected the senior housing concept, a mainstay of the plan, preferring, he said, to see an emphasis on more retail shops and other business enterprises. Later in the meeting he argued “the best way to protect Cold Spring seniors was to protect their homes from rising property taxes.” Barbaro warned that apartments intended for a particular constituency could over time “through loopholes” change their purpose and that the village could see an unintended influx of young families with children causing a jump in school taxes.

The other members of the Planning Board had varied views on different plan aspects but formed a rough consensus around key issues they see as stumbling blocks to approval.  Some of the issues, subject to the board’s final review, will be in the board’s memo and form what Barbaro described as “the foundation of a plan for moving forward.” Among the issues were:

  • The Planning Board should be not be pushed unreasonably to arrive at a conclusion rather than conduct a thorough, detailed review of site plans.
  • The final plan should be compatible with the Cold Spring Comprehensive Plan.
  • A positive tax impact is needed and a fiscal study should be done to ascertain the impact of the plan.
  • Most agreed some number of senior citizen apartments, both market rate and subsidized, might be tolerable but they generally preferred a smaller number than the 87 units proposed and some thought other limitations might be desirable, such as permitting only one bedroom.  Some worried the subsidized apartments in particular would largely draw people from other communities with no roots in Cold Spring.
  • A municipal building with offices for local governments and a senior citizen center was seen as a positive element, but most criticized the current size, design and location on the site plan.
  • All agreed more green space should be preserved in a final plan and that the view of the site as people enter the village from the south should be improved and appear more consistent with the historical look of the village.
  • The present Lahey Pavilion is valued for its medical services and should be maintained with thought given to offering some form of emergency services.
  • Cul de sacs in the design ought to be replaced by through-roads that encourage “walkability” within the site and the village.

See some of Planning Board members discussing their concerns in more detail.

Board members also expressed concern about the developer’s expenses and rights as a property owner and the specter of litigation if the process drags on and becomes ensnared in questions of law and appropriate procedure. In addition to preparing the memo expressing the board’s view, Fink was also asked to see about having a detailed drawing done illustrating the Planning Board’s suggested changes to the site plan.
Photo by K.E.Foley

3 thoughts on “Butterfield Project Hits a Roadblock

  1. It would be nice if the planning board and all meetings pertaining to the development of our village be available to all. Its hard when planning board meetings are shoe horned into a little room at village hall. As if the planning board was not important to the village.(and the are) Also they are held the same time as village board meetings. It would be nice if all meetings were viedotaped and made available for public viewing.

  2. I wouldn’t call this a “road block” for Butterfield. I’d call it a rational, reasonable, cautionary approach to a very complex and important project that will have impacts for us all for many years to come. I applaud the planning board and appreciate the issues its members have raised. The opportunity for more community members to participate will help ensure a well-considered development that contributes to the excellent quality of life we have in the village. As to Mr. Bardes’s commment on the timing and location of the planning board’s sessions, I couldn’t agree more. Folks can’t observe and participate from the hallway.

  3. Both Ms. Foley’s and Mr. Bardes’s comments are spot on.
    This article’s headline should have read ‘Butterfield Trainwreck Prevented. Cold Spring Saved.’ or something similar. Words matter. From the beginning, the meme has been planted and assiduously propagated that we MUST HURRY, that we MUST APPROVE the builder’s zoning application, because if we don’t, THE SKY WILL FALL. That’s chicken-little nonsense. The first question I asked at a Special Planning Board meeting was what would happen if, at the end of the day, the Village rejected the builder’s application and the builder brought suit against the Village. I wanted to know if the fear of legal expenses was guiding the deliberations of any or all of the responsible Village Boards. I was told by several members (Mr. Armstrong, Ms. Impellizerri, Mr. Weissbrod) that it was not, because under law the builder was responsible for the Village’s as well as his own legal expenses. Assuming I was not hallucinating, then there is no compelling legal reason for undue haste. I’m sure no one wants legal wrangling, but neither should we permit ourselves to be railroaded into approving something that would fundamentally change this village for the worse.
    The more people have a chance to learn about the current proposal and can help formulate superior alternatives, the more likely it is that what’s built on the Butterfield site will be a development, not a desecration. That’s why deliberations on this matter should be held on days and at places that can accommodate everyone who wants to attend in person, including meetings at which no citizen input is permitted. Since many people’s schedules makes it difficult if not impossible for them to attend in person, it is especially important that all meeting be video recorded and that the videos be made as widely available as possible, on YouTube, on Phillipstown.info, on citizensofphilipstown.org/ , PCNR, and on the Town and Village websites. If one or more of these entities cannot accommodate the video, then they should at least prominently display links to site(s) that can.
    I urge everyone to continue paying close attention to this and related matters, particularly by attending meetings of the relevant Boards, if at all possible. Related matters include: The RFP for the sale of The Grove property; i.e, why was it issued at this time, when some Special Board and Planning Board members thought it’s reconstruction ought to be included in any Butterfield project. The inclusion of the Post Office in the Butterfield project. The proposed FoodTown expansion. The decision by the Village Board to make itself lead agency regarding the Butterfield Project, something it was not in previous projects (to the best of my knowledge) and something for which it lacks the necessary technical expertise.
    I also urge everyone to pay attention to the way the proposed ‘charette,’ aka community meeting, is structured. If it’s poorly structured, it will be a charade.