Candidates Agree on Citizen Participation in Butterfield Debate, Disagree on Details

Moderator Gordon Stewart and candidates Francisco, Rolston and Hustis (L-R) forum for trustee election March 20

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Cold Spring’s three contenders for two open trustee posts on the Village Board last week agreed on the desirability of strong citizen participation in shaping the Butterfield Hospital redevelopment and on the need to consider consolidation of government services.

The three (in alphabetical order) Matt Francisco, incumbent Trustee Chuck Hustis, and Tom Rolston, traded opinions at a March 8 public forum sponsored by and held at the online newspaper’s office at 69 Main St., with Publisher Gordon Stewart as moderator. Along with trading opinions on issues, the three candidates discussed their reasons for running. Rolston and Francisco attested to their love for the village after moving from the Midwest, Hustis cited his interest in bringing a youthful perspective to village governance.

As it has dominated meeting agendas for the last two months, the proposed development of the Butterfield acreage on the southern end of Cold Spring occupied much of the conversation. “I think everybody’s voice should be heard” on the Butterfield project, said Francisco, a nine-year resident of the village who works as a professional project manager, often for property owners,

A large group attended the forum.

in New York City and has a background in financial and information technology management as well. “I think it’s very important that everybody stay diligent, starting with the Village Board,” he continued. “I’m completely in support of development there,” provided it is the right type, he said. “What would be my guiding principle is it be tax-positive” and not cost the village more in infrastructure and support than it generates in taxes. He criticized the “massing,” size, and layout of buildings in developer Paul Guillaro’s current blueprints and recommended efforts to find common ground between the developer’s interests and those of the village. Among other items to explore in advance he included the question of the need for more senior-citizen housing (a large component of Guillaro’s plan) in Cold Spring and the financial ramifications. “We have a very high tax rate here. So unless we’re all ready for the bill just to go up, up, and up, we need to figure out exactly what impact this will have on us.” Ultimately, he said, the Butterfield project “could be a really fantastic development or it could be something else. As long as it’s the will of the people and we all end up with something we want, that’s good development.” Francisco described the property itself as “a perfect site for development … it could be an incredible asset to the village.” But he urged that the process of local government review and approvals not be rushed. “An aging building that hasn’t been touched, I think, is better than the wrong development.”

Incumbent Trustee Charles Hustis

Hustis took a different aesthetic stance. “My view of Butterfield is that anything developed up there would be better than the eyesore up there now,” the abandoned old hospital building, he said. “We don”t own the property. But whatever is developed there has to be consistent with the character of the community.” He, too, favored analysis of the effect of more senior housing on the village, scaling back the size of the structures, and for no precipitous decision-making. “People have to be heard. We can’t rush this project through,” Hustis said. “There should be ample opportunities at the village level for the public hearings on creating the zoning district and at the Planning Board for their site-plan review.” For fulfillment, Guillaro’s intentions require a change in zoning, a task for the Village Board, while his designs must obtain Planning Board approval. Public input “helps shape the plan; it shapes the site plan,” Hustis added. “It takes multiple rounds to get something perfect,” he said, comparing the process to sculpting clay. “It’s going to have healthy debate. We”re not going to agree on a lot of things. But in the end I think it’s going to be a property and a development that people are going to be proud of in the community and that’s what I”m looking forward to.”

Tom Rolston

Rolston pointed out that he lives almost on top of the Butterfield site and “I’m obviously very concerned.” He noted that he is also a business acquaintance of Guillaro and recalled that Guillaro built the townhouses on the former lumberyard site, on the Hudson shore. “Cold Spring should be very proud of that” waterfront complex, which emerged after lengthy and fierce public debate, Rolston said. Like the others, he expressed skepticism about the level of senior housing and outlined the problem of displacement that can result from such development: Aging residents move from larger, single-family houses into senior complexes and the village homes they vacate then house families with children whose educational needs drive up school expenditures. Rolston called for mixed-usage at the Butterfield site, including offices for lawyers, accountants, or similar professionals, and for “live-work” quarters for artisans, craftsmen-women, and artists. “This brings in money to our revenue [base],” he said. He, too, said the village should not shrink from a bit of give-and-take with Guillaro. “We have to be able to negotiate with him.” Hustis and Francisco seconded the idea of live-work and offices or other mixed-use arrangements at Butterfield.

Rolston endorsed Guillaro’s concept of including a Village of Cold Spring-Town of Philipstown-Putnam County municipal building on the Butterfield grounds. “We need that building. The county needs it. The county has no representation in Cold Spring and Philipstown,” he said. Like Francisco, he emphasized the need for the development to be tax-positive and produce “ratables. A point I’ve made very clear to Paul [Guillaro] was that we need more ratables. We pay a lot of taxes in this village. We must keep the Butterfield project tax-positive.”

Matt Francisco

Butterfield approval end-point
The three candidates predicted it would take months to finish the approval process for Butterfield. Rolston said he anticipates reaching the final approval stage by the “end of the year.” Francisco estimated it would take “roughly a year” and Hustis also picked “March of next year” as the end-point for sign-offs. Rolston noted that Guillaro dislikes the prospect of extended delays. “Every time he goes to one of these meetings it costs him $2,000″ in consultants” fees, Rolston explained. “He doesn”t want to go through this” protracted procedures and also is frustrated by the divergent opinions and apparent lack of unanimity on the part of the Planning Board, Village Board, and others, Rolston said.

Francisco termed it “a fair charge that he [Guillaro] is not getting a clear message from the boards. I think it also should be understood that this is one of the largest development projects they’ve ever seen. So I think we have to give them a little bit of a learning curve to figure out how to do this.”

“Isn’t that our job” on the Village Board, if elected, Rolston interjected. “Isn’t that our job as the five members of the council, to provide the leadership … because we”re the guys in charge?”

“It absolutely is our job,” Francisco concurred, adding that he referred to the present situation, in which members of some boards seemed to be “grappling with how they do this. There should be a fair process. It should not be arbitrary.”

“I agree with Tom we have to take a leadership position,” Hustis added. “The Village Board is elected to govern everybody. And you want to collaboratively work with everybody but tough decisions have to be made by the five members of the Village Board. And it’s not easy.”

Role of Comprehensive Plan
Francisco stated that village decisions on the Butterfield site “will have to be governed by the Comprehensive Plan.”

“The Comprehensive Plan is not law,” Rolston countered. “It is not the absolute. It is only a guideline.”

Hustis said that “Tom is absolutely right that it is a set of guidelines. It’ll help the Village Board turn around and make important decisions how to update and modify the zoning code, because, frankly, I think the zoning code needs to be updated. People should not be subjected to the arcane and ridiculous.”

Rolston called for more open discourse on issues like those raised at Butterfield. “We’re famous here in Cold Spring for not communicating. Nobody talks to anybody else and that’s got to stop,” he said. As a consequence of the lack of communication, he said, the village some years ago lost the chance to buy the Dockside property for $60,000 and the lumberyard for $40,000. He also mentioned the friction on the Village Board as it is currently constituted. “They’re fighting. That’s got to stop.”

Francisco, though, praised what he sees as change in village governance under Mayor Seth Gallagher, who chairs the Village Board. “I’m very excited about the current administration – the more openness, the kind of encouraging of participation. I hope you”re taking advantage of that and coming out to meetings, making sure your voice is heard,” Francisco told the audience.

Government consolidation
With the prolonged attention given the Butterfield redevelopment, time ran short for digging into other substantive issues Thursday evening. Nonetheless, the three contenders took on the topic of consolidation of local government functions and services. All three backed the idea of considering consolidation and of merging local justice courts, in particular.

“I think if it’s practical and we can save money, I would say go ahead and do it,” Hustis said of consolidation.  “I would think consolidating the courts, putting them all into one, would be in the realm of the practical and not the realm of the absurd.” Moreover, he said under prodding from moderator Stewart, “I think you’d want to consolidate the highway departments” in Cold Spring and Philipstown, though he added that it should happen only if study indicates that it makes sense.

“Certainly tough times require tough decisions,” Francisco said. “Certainly there are efficiencies to be gained by consolidation. I’d say nothing is off the table.” However, he cautioned, “it has to be a thoughtful process that takes in the real cost of consolidation,” any “hidden costs,” to “make sure you”re really saving money.”

Rolston asserted “that government doesn’t run anything correctly and efficiently. Let’s start with that premise. We can consolidate building inspectors, fire inspectors. We can consolidate the courts into one unit, with one full-time judge” instead of several part-time justices. “We can consolidate buying toilet paper. Everybody’s doing their own thing here.” Furthermore, he emphasized, “we should not be two villages. We should be one village, Cold Spring and Nelsonville.” At least, he proposed, “we definitely should be picking up Nelsonville’s garbage and make some money off them.” Likewise, he said “recycling should be required in Cold Spring; make some money on it.” 

Fire company concerns
Both Stewart and audience member Michael Bowman asked about relations between the mayor and Cold Spring Fire Company Number One (CSFC) and fire department consolidation. Bowman serves as fire company president and Stewart is a CSFC associate member. Hustis and Rolston are also associate members.

“The Cold Spring Fire Company is a culture,” Rolston said. “They do a fabulous job. They are very intense, a very proud, a very dedicated group of individuals. I don’t think that in any way, shape or form we should mess with the Cold Spring Fire Company.”

“I agree with Tom 100 percent,” Hustis said, adding that “people got screwed with this fight” between the mayor and the fire company over fire company autonomy, a dispute that played out over the course of several months and fracases over keys to the firehouse and questions of oversight. “I also think the whole battle between the mayor and the fire company was an unnecessary expenditure of tax dollars.”

Francisco said “I don’t think I have enough information to have a fully formed opinion” on the conflict. “I understand the fire department has been independent for many years and has functioned,” he said. “The question is, ‘are the services being provided adequate and at a reasonable cost? Do we have adequate fire safety?” I think all those things should be looked at. If there are advantages to the village for control, whether it’s a key to a door or over finances, or whether it even extends to redistricting, it’s something that has to be fully understood.'”

Reasons for running
In their opening and closing statements, the three summed up their reasons for running. A native of Ohio who migrated to New York and then Cold Spring, Francisco declared that “I have a real love for this place.” Seeking office, he said, “is kind of a nine-year culmination of what brings me here.” He described Cold Spring as “incredibly special. I think it deserves and needs protecting. I”m not a politician. What this is for me is really giving back to Cold Spring.” In particular, he cited as important attributes Cold Spring’s architectural resources, natural environment, and history and suggested that “we”ve been very, very lucky because of the geographic location,” surrounded by reservoirs and other features, so that “it hasn”t turned into urban sprawl.”

Rolston said he first came to Cold Spring in 1979 after growing up in Iowa and moving east. Purchasing the Depot Restaurant building, which then contained a rather moribund restaurant, in 1985, he said he turned it into a flourishing enterprise, one that “became an anchor for Cold Spring” as visits by tourists and hikers increased. “Cold Spring was no longer this isolated little world” and he encountered some resentment for that, he said. “I have been going to Village Board meetings since 1985. I can”t say the first were all that pleasant.” He said two innovations he advocated more than a decade ago, allowing visiting boats at the dock and a trolley, became reality in recent years. “I am involved in Cold Spring. I have been for about 30 years,” Rolston said. “I love Cold Spring. Cold Spring is unique. There is no other place like it,” and he wants to help steer it in the proper direction as a Village Board member, he said. “I go to the meetings anyway. I might as well be on the other side of the fence.”

The only Cold Spring native of the three, Hustis said he ran for trustee in 2010 “to bring a youthful voice back to the Village Board. I did not think youth were given a reason to get involved. I did not think youth were welcome in the community.” Five years earlier, he said, he had “joined the Lions Club and actually began serving the people,” which helped motivate him “to throw my aspirations out into politics.” When he won his first race, “I almost had a stroke. I’ve enjoyed it for two years” as a trustee, he said. “It gives me something to do on a Tuesday night.” He added that government “should be a lively discussion … open, transparent, and honest. There should be no secrets. I”m candid and I”ll give you my view.”

Photos by M.Turton

3 thoughts on “Candidates Agree on Citizen Participation in Butterfield Debate, Disagree on Details

  1. It was a good debate, and showed differences between the candidates in both substance and style.

    The debate brought to light a potential and important conflict of interest. Developer Paul Guillaro needs additional land for parking at Butterfield. Tom Rolston has adjacent land, and will have even more if he is successful in purchasing the Grove. The two are working out a leasing deal, according to Mr. Rolston. (See the video at 55:27.)

    Mr. Rolston needs to explain how his personal business deals and his campaign for public representative are not in conflict. Rushing the development may be good for Mr. Guillaro and Mr. Rolston, but it won’t be good for Cold Spring.

  2. I’m glad to see that Tom Rolston directly addressed this issue at the “other paper’s” debate tonight. To me, it no longer appears as suspect as it did during his presentation at Philipstown.Info.

    If elected officials — and candidates — wish to have the public trust, they need to disclose potentials conflicts. And when those conflicts are difficult to unwind, they need to recuse themselves.

  3. I am disturbed by the solicitude displayed by both Mr. Francisco and Mr. Ralston for the current Butterfield site owner’s frustrations with this Village’s procedure for vetting his zoning-change request. This procedure involves a consultative, collaborative effort by the Special Planning Board, the Planning Board, and the Board of Trustees, an effort which under law requires citizen input at every stage. An experienced business person like Mr. Guillero knows this.

    I am disturbed by Mr. Ralston and Mr. Hustis’s belief that the Comprehensive Plan is merely a set of guidelines and lacks the force of law. The Plan is in fact a set of guidelines that have the force of law. One of the Plan’s major purposes is to guide zoning decisions of the type required to construct or reconstruct buildings on the Butterfield site. In other words, the Comprehensive Plan is a set of guidelines in the same sense that the U.S. Consttitution is, or at least that the Bill of Rights is.

    I am most disturbed by Mr. Rolston’s blythe disregard for the obvious conflict of interest involved in offering himself as a candidate when he has in the past done business with Mr. Guillero and is currently bidding for the Grove. Public office is a sacred trust, not an extension of one’s business interets. That’s Civics 101.