Hearing Tuesday could be the last chance to ask basic questions before vote
By Kevin E. Foley
Next week on Tuesday, Jan. 29, the public may have its last chance to let the Cold Spring Village Board of Trustees know its views and concerns about the proposed Butterfield project. The hearing is specifically intended to gather citizen input on the upcoming trustee vote on amending the village zoning code to permit a much broader use of the 5.7-acre property the old Butterfield Hospital occupies along Chestnut Street (Route 9D).
The vote to come in the days after the hearing is not on the project itself, but since the zoning change is formally described as “conditional” in the proposed amendment — conditional on the eventual detailed site plan for the project conforming to what is now known as the concept plan — approval of the zoning change, which was drawn up specifically at the request of Butterfield Realty LLC (the developer), will be seen by many as tantamount to a formal blessing from the Village Board, if in fact they approve the change. Certainly Mayor Seth Gallagher believes that, as he pushes hard for approval of the zoning amendment.
The proposed “B4A” zoning change is intended to expand the current B4 medical and healthcare use to allow multiple uses, among them, senior citizen housing, municipal and other governmental uses, retail stores, business, banks and professional offices. In addition, the proposed changes allow for an R1 use, so that three single-family homes can be constructed along the Paulding Avenue side of the property.
To be sure, the current concept plan has found a great deal of support, or at least acceptance, beyond the elected officials who have lined up behind it and the developer, Paul Guillaro. The plan, which itself is not yet formally submitted to the village, does reflect the input the developer received over a nearly yearlong stop-and-start review process, which began when he first applied for approval at the beginning of last year and then after he withdrew the proposal but continued to lobby for it informally with new concept drawings.
After numerous Village Board and Planning Board sessions, as well as a few public hearings and a charrette that drew nearly a hundred people to discuss the issue for several hours, ideas about preserving more open space, limiting the height and changing the location of the buildings, having only market-rate senior housing and providing for adequate parking, among others, have been included in the concept plan to one degree or another.
But the central question at this juncture is whether it is in the long-term interest of the village to proceed with a zoning change that, however “conditional” on keeping to the proposed concept, creates a situation where there is an “as of right” to proceed with the approved elements of the plan, or is it better to insist on a planned unit development (PUD), as some citizens suggested at the last public hearing on Nov. 29, 2012.
So far, despite the PUD views expressed, the Village Board has not offered an official explanation as to why it is proceeding in this way.
A PUD approach is what Guillaro originally proposed before he withdraw it last May in the face of sharp objections from the Village Planning Board to aspects of the plan, many of which he subsequently addressed.
What some see as the advantage of the PUD is that the critical elements of the plan, especially the details of the highly touted but not yet formulated 15,000-square-foot plan for a governmental services building, could become more tangible under a process where government had to actively partner with the developer in creating the reality of a new governmental village square before construction begins.
Enhanced and consolidated government services have formed the major civic selling point of the project from the outset. Saving the post office, giving seniors space for services and community gathering, as well as consolidating town and village functions such as courts, administrative departments and public meeting rooms and adding heretofore unavailable county services constitute an oft-heard mantra resonating from the first discussions after Guillaro purchased the property from Hudson Valley Hospital in 2007. (The hospital retains a long-lease arrangement for the Lahey Pavillion, which houses medical services on the property.)
But to date any plans for such things to happen remain largely rhetorical and theoretical. The village and town governments have, at Guilllaro’s urging, authorized letters of intent regarding leasing space in the proposed municipal building. And County Executive MaryEllen Odell has repeatedly said she would work to deliver several new services to the historically neglected western end of Putnam, including a senior center and a DMV office. But none of the governments have actually authorized funds or even begun to make specific plans.
The town government, although officially still onboard, has already begun to consider the use of the American Legion property behind Town Hall as a new town office facility rather than Butterfield. (See our website for a more thorough examination of the history and status of the town and village commitment actions.)
All three governments, county, town and village, operate with tight budgets constrained by resistance to tax increases and the demands of fixed obligations. The notion that new, undetermined expenses can be borne under the Butterfield concept without an arduous review process just might contain a degree of wishful thinking over fiscal reality. The new head of the Putnam County Legislature, Richard Othmer, has described this year’s budget process as “lean and mean in ’13.”
With the zoning change approach, the idea seems to be “build it and they will come.” That certainly was the message County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra and Gallagher delivered at the last village board meeting on Jan 15. Gallagher insisted a few times (with Scuccimarra’s agreement) that it was critical the village demonstrate to the county it wants the services Odell is promising by approving the zoning change and eventually the project plans. When fellow trustees questioned Scuccimarra on the county’s intentions, Gallagher forcefully objected, declaring that “now is not the time to bring up potential problems with the project.”
For some it is hard to appreciate the mayor’s sense of dire urgency for approval before understanding more clearly what the village (and for that matter the town) is getting by way of enhanced services. Gallagher is expected to leave office in March, having said he is not running for re-election.
To read some media reports, it would be easy to conclude that the proposed Butterfield project is on the fast track toward approval by the Cold Spring Village Board and presumably the various other government agencies that would have to eventually pass judgment. The Putnam County News and Recorder headlines scream, “It’s a Go,” and a recent article in The Journal News had Odell, Scuccimarra, Guillaro and Gallagher all singing in harmony as to the likelihood of imminent success.
Perhaps that is the case. The Village Board is apparently the lead agency in the matter, allowing the developer to bypass the Planning Board in pursuit of the zoning change. So they could conceivably bring the matter to a vote shortly after the public hearing.