Butterfield Zoning Change a Fateful Step

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).

Butterfield Hospital, with the 1963 expansion in front and 1941 wing on the left; photo by L.S. Armstrong

Butterfield Hospital, with the 1963 expansion in front and 1941 wing on the left; photo by L.S. Armstrong

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.

During an onsite visit last summer, Trustee Matt Francisco, left, and Mayor Seth Gallagher reviewed plans with developer Paul Guillaro and aide Matt Moran. Photo by L.S. Armstrong

During an onsite visit last summer, Trustee Matt Francisco, left, and Mayor Seth Gallagher reviewed plans with developer Paul Guillaro and aide Matt Moran. Photo by L.S. Armstrong

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.”

Butterfield Hospital, 1925

Butterfield Hospital, 1925

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.

7 thoughts on “Butterfield Zoning Change a Fateful Step

  1. Great article. People should look at the conceptual site plan that’s attached to the zoning amendment. It’s notable for what’s missing, i.e. no municipal/government building, no senior center, and no post office — the key features used to gain public support for the project. Do we want courts, police department, senior services, municipal offices, etc. renting space above Starbucks or Subway? We know the post office needs a loading dock for the mail truck and space for the delivery vans and that’s not shown either.

    If the village board passes the zoning change as drafted, Mr. Guillaro can build what’s shown on the conceptual plan while omitting everything the public wants!

  2. Excellent overview and certainly underlines the key issue: do we want a Mini-Mall at the gateway to our village? Do we want one anywhere in our village? Because as this article makes clear, municipal leases are not by any means a go, but if this goes through, a mini mall can happen and the public could not stop it. Please, speak now! Please go to the meeting on the 29th.

  3. What Pete Henderson says is pretty stunning — no senior center, no post office, no municipal offices — but the fact is, the U.S. Post Office hasn’t committed to this, nor has Putnam County or Philipstown. Zoning shouldn’t be changed based on wishes and hopes, it should be based on facts, and the fact is, this zoning change is all about retail.

  4. When you look at the conceptual plan and ask what’s in it for the village, the answer seems to be, not much. We have vague promises of some leased space, but that’s about it.

    Mr. Guillaro stands to profit well from this development:

    34 units @ $325K (from EAF)
    21 units @ $350K (from EAF)
    3 single-family homes @ $650K+ (?)
    Total = $20 million

    Plus leasing of the office/retail/commercial space, plus continued leasing of the Lahey Pavilion.

    Price paid for the site in 2007 was reportedly $2 million.

    In return for the zoning change, Mr. Guillaro should deed (donate) building #1 on the conceptual plan to the village for use as a joint municipal building for administrative offices, senior center, courts, county services, etc. Together with the lawn and trees we’d have a real “gateway to the village.” That’s a deal I could embrace.

    • Has this become the “People’s Republic of Cold Spring” such that an entrepreneur/businessman is not allowed to make a profit on his investment which, by the way, is substantial? What you seem to be saying is that there are no fundamental property rights allowed in the Village and that somehow Government should be allowed to dictate the terms of how one uses the fruits of one’s labor. It seems that some people feel Mr. Guillaro should be taxed even further, and his investment held hostage unless he “donates” some of his private property for the good of the State, just like in the former Soviet Union. Here’s a thought: has it ever occurred to those who are placing such a heavy burden on Guillaro that he seems to be the only entrepreneur who has been willing to invest substantially in Cold Spring and Philipstown?

      Take a look at what’s happening in Beacon for example, and compare it to Cold Spring. Thanks to significant private investment that small city is thriving and continues on an upward trajectory. Then take a look at our once glorious Cold Spring and see the decline that’s occurring because the residents and powers-that-be are so enamored of what they call “local character that they refuse to do anything to stimulate business and the economy. Maybe it’s time to connect the dots.

      • You’re right, Patty. I can’t believe all this BS that’s going on. Can’t blame Paul for bowing out. Paul has the right to make money on the retails. He assured me that there is not going to be a strip mall. The retail will be for professionals. He did a wonderful job down at the riverfront and we must give him the code change for the betterment of the community.

        The drawing that people saw at this meeting was done with his lawyers’ input. Building # 1 was for the post office and building #2 was for the nutrition center and the senior center, I know this for a fact. He has spent over a quarter of a million dollars so far and nothing to show for it. I hope he changes his mind and more people come out and stand behind the project as it was, and ask him to reconsider. If he goes ahead with the single-family homes it would be tax negative and put stress on Haldane School. I wish people would look at this as a positive move forward, instead the blight that is there now.

  5. Excellent points, Pete; “vague promises” indeed. A vague promise is exactly what it sounds like: not a promise at all.

    But I’d point out that even if Mr. Guillaro were to donate that piece of the property, we still have no assurance at all that the county will open up any of those facilities in the village, nor have they expressed any genuine interest in budgeting to operate such facilities. And the retail issue is still an enormous one.