Clarifying the Role of the Historic District Review Board

Starting this week the Village Board and the Historic District Review Board (HDRB) will be reviewing the approval process and criteria the Review Board uses as defined by the Village Code, Chapter 64-Historic District. The Review Board has served this village well over the years, and it continues to provide essential oversight to protect the “historic character” of Cold Spring.

The professional knowledge and dedication of its members is truly an asset for the village. At the same time, there are signs that the self-defined mandate of the board may be veering away from its function as defined by the Village Code.  A clarification of this mandate will ensure that the Review Board is better prepared to perform its very important role in a way that is both fair and legal.

The diverging role of the Historic District Review Board is evident from their work on the ad-hoc Butterfield Planning Committee, from various discussions with board members, and from recent public communications from HDRB Chairman Al Zgolinski. While the HDRB is a critically important component in the overall review of an application for a building permit in the historic district, their part in that review is specifically circumscribed by our Village Code.

Some examples of board activity outside the mandate of the current code include: the current actions of the Review Board attempting to define the historic nature of the various parts of Butterfield Hospital using their personal criteria; brainstorming for ideas that the owner must investigate for saving or re-using the building (ideas that include demolishing the essential Lahey Pavilion); as well as discussing the importance with which the owner should weigh the 1963 portion of the hospital versus the 1940s addition in this demand to produce alternatives.

The Village Code (as well as N.Y. State Office of Historic Preservation [NYSHPO] guidelines) is very clear that the process of historic board review is well-defined and not arbitrary. Discussion of alternative uses of buildings can only begin when an application for a certificate of appropriateness has been denied and hardship relief has been requested. The Review Board also has no authority to landmark a building or create new historic designations for properties. They can make recommendations to the Village Board in those cases, but the approval process for the village requires public hearings and input from property owners, and is not a quick process.

By code, the first step in the HDRB review process is to consider the application submitted to them. During this review the board must consider what is actually proposed and not create an alternative project of their own design that they would prefer. NYSHPO states: “You cannot make the owner undertake restoration work outside the scope of the project proposal.”

The granting or denial of a certificate of appropriateness must be according to the criteria set forth in the Village Code.  “Certificates of appropriateness must be decided using only the criteria given in the law, and these criteria should also be clearly referenced. … Decisions made on any other criteria run the risk of being considered arbitrary and capricious.”[NYSPHPO]

The Review Board cannot legally create their own standards for approval, but rather must limit themselves to those standards listed in section 64-7 of our code. Although consideration of the architectural details that contribute to the “historic character” of a property, and to its “historic significance” (as seen from a street or “public way”), are part of this criteria, a makeshift determination of that “historical significance” is not.

Unfortunately, the village does not have a clear definition of what makes a particular building or detail “historic.” In the past the Review Board has granted a permit to demolish a commercial building on Main Street, in the National Historic District (an area separate from, and with more restrictions, than the Local Historic District), after they learned that it was rebuilt in the 1940s and was classified by NYSHPO as “non-contributing” to the historic character of the district.

A 2009-10 survey update of the Cold Spring Historic District, requested and approved by the Historic Review Board, and authorized and underwritten by NYSHPO, determined that the Butterfield Hospital (located in the local district, not the national district) was “non-contributing” and that its overall integrity was “significantly altered.” This is most likely due to the fact that the original building had its peaked roof with dormers removed and is now fully surrounded by later additions from the 1940s, 1960s and the 1980s.

While the definition of “historic” and “contributing” vs. “non-contributing” can legitimately be debated, they cannot be decided on an as-needed basis with changing criteria. Instead we must rely on limited scope of what the code currently allows. For just this type of property, i.e. “historic, but in a greatly altered form,” the State Office of Historic Preservation states: “This is an instance where you have to set your personal wishes and agendas aside (which of course must be done for all reviews) and deal with the review in a professional manner, using all the standards you have in your law and regulations. … You review any work in regard to how it might affect the neighboring properties or surrounding district.”  Sounds like wise advice.

Mayor Seth Gallagher, Cold Spring

Dunkin’ Donuts Does Not Meet Village Needs

As local business owners, our objections to the proposed Dunkin’ Donuts franchise here in Cold Spring are not due, as many would assume, to increased competition for coffee and refreshment sales. Greg and I firmly believe that competition is as American as Main Street and the key to success is “building a better mousetrap.” Our business serves a market segment that promotes artisan foods sourced from local farms and organic, fair-trade and sustainable suppliers.

We don’t look to compete with an operation enjoying economies of scale available to it by huge corporations like Dunkin’ Donuts. Our objections stem from the larger effects formulaic businesses have on the unique atmosphere of villages like ours.

Five years ago, Cold Spring residents were surveyed to determine what we value most about the place we live, what goods and services we need, and our vision for the future. Indeed, many spent numerous hours studying survey results, participating in brainstorming forums, and working to craft a Comprehensive Plan that defines our values as a community and a direction forward.

Throughout the survey and forum results and the Comprehensive Plan they inform, we find our citizens value, above everything, the historic, small-town qualities so uniquely preserved in Cold Spring. Nowhere is a commanding desire for large corporate interests offering cheap, predictable and mediocre goods available along any interstate.

Our business community is comprised of imaginative entrepreneurs offering unique, often handcrafted goods, personalized services and pieces of our collective history that we, and visitors, delight in discovering. Many business owners depend on these atypical qualities that attract so many people here. Our business district and farmers’ market are singular examples of business incubators allowing innovative people to develop and test new concepts aiming to provide for our families, fulfill community needs, create jobs and enrich the experience of those who come to enjoy our beautiful environment.

Elmesco service station has met our community’s need for automotive repair and maintenance for 25 years and if replaced by Dunkin’ Donuts, local access to this necessary service is depleted by 50 percent. Any solid business plan includes market research defining how the proposed business meets the needs of the community it serves. It’s impossible to imagine how converting this busy service station to Dunkin’ Donuts and convenience store achieves this goal. This proposal creates a redundancy of product and service, increases traffic congestion, noise and litter, and endangers pedestrians.

Greg and I, business owners who, not unlike Mr. Elmes, were forced to reinvent ourselves after the 2008 economic crash, experienced first-hand the arduous, often frustrating approval process. We sympathize and identify with the difficulties Mr. Elmes faces and the considerable setbacks leading to his choice. We appreciate the valuable service Elmesco has provided for over 25 years.

However, we’re compelled to ask him to reconsider his choice and strive to adjust his plans to more effectively address community needs. By selling to Dunkin Donuts, his choice diminishes Cold Spring in three significant ways: (1) depriving our youth of the vocational development and employment Mr. Elmes has offered over the years, (2) eliminating a needed, trusted and valued service many depend on and, (3) depreciating the distinctive character of our village by introducing a redundant operation offering average products readily available nearby.

We implore the Planning Board to do what they are entrusted to: review and evaluate proposed changes to our village and determine how such proposals improve or diminish Cold Spring as a whole. Considering that, the Planning Board should disapprove this proposed change of use and assure that our village grows in ways that ultimately meet our needs, preserve community values and protect our distinctive character.

Lynn and Greg Miller, Cold Spring

Letter to the Planning Board on Proposed Dunkin’ Donuts

To the Members of the Cold Spring Village Planning Board:

Unfortunately, I had to stay home with my child last night and was unable to attend the public hearing, but I wanted to voice my concerns regarding the proposed Dunkin’ Donuts on Chestnut Street. Please know that I’ve been giving this issue careful consideration, as I understand what’s at stake for both the business owner and the town. While I have concerns about Dunkin’ Donuts as a corporation and the bigger implications for opening our town to fast-food restaurants in general, my primary concern is that of safety.

The “commercial” strip of Chestnut Street is already a ticking time bomb. Between Route 9D through-traffic, truck deliveries, cars turning in and out of the already precarious parking lots of The Main Course, Foodtown and the Drug World plaza, and pedestrians, it’s a marvel that there aren’t more accidents. I must cross Chestnut with my toddler in a stroller to bring her to The Nest, and I cannot count the number of distracted drivers that have almost plowed us over on that stretch (and yes, I always cross in the crosswalk). You cannot honestly believe that the addition of a business that encourages people to eat while driving won’t increase the traffic danger tenfold.

I moved here from New York City, and if there’s one thing that I know how to do, it’s how to cross a busy intersection. But if this road has stymied me, I can only shiver at the thought of all of the children and elderly who traverse this road daily.

Your positions on the Planning Board are all the more important in a town so small and so precious. I hope that above all else you will consider the safety of this town’s residents and visitors while making your own considerations.

Ana Silverlinck, Cold Spring

Notice Central Hudson’s Pruning Practices at Village Gateway

I just wanted to make sure both of our local papers have observed the results of the pruning job that Central Hudson has done to the street trees in the Village of Cold Spring yesterday and this past week. There are three trees in particular around the intersection of 9D and 301 — a village gateway — that have really been mauled by what any impartial arborist would identify as poor pruning practices (even under the more lax guidelines for utility pruning).

One small oak has been topped, a practice Central Hudson claimed in a recent meeting that they do not employ. Another young oak across 9D from the war memorial has sustained even greater damage to its structure to the point that it is now highly susceptible to sun-scald. An old maple on St. Mary’s east lot is also left looking quite sad.

As a citizen of the village who has been involved recently in planting and caring for new trees around this intersection, I am deeply chagrined at the quality of the recent pruning work. It makes anyone dedicating time, sweat, and money to improving the lot of the village’s street trees feel hopeless. I had hoped, given the recent controversy in other parts of Philipstown over utility tree trimming, that if/when they arrived here Central Hudson would do a better job considering aesthetics and tree health alongside their (important) goal of achieving wire clearance minimums.

I fully support the importance of the job that Central Hudson has to do to maintain a safe, secure power supply. But there are other villages in the Hudson Valley that manage to work out better compromises with the utility for pruning practices for trees under power lines. Why can’t we be one of those?

I hope the newspapers will not let this go unnoticed.

Jennifer Zwarich, Cold Spring

P.S. You can keep updated on other (citizen-reported) news about trees in the village by checking in on the Cold Spring Village Shady Lane Campaign.

Behind The Story

Type: Opinion

Opinion: Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

This piece is by a contributor to The Current who is not on staff. Typically this is because it is a letter to the editor or a guest column.