Perhaps an opening toward a resolution or maybe just two guys talking
By Kevin E. Foley
The prospect of moving toward more fruitful discussion over the fate of the development on the Butterfield property brightened just a little this past week despite continuing tensions among public officials, the developer and the many citizens who are watching events closely. In interviews with both Cold Spring Village Trustee Matt Francisco and developer Paul Guillaro, there was evidence that it might be possible to find a way to move ahead although such thinking is fragile at best.
This coming Tuesday, Feb. 26, Guillaro is expected to come to the Village Board to discuss the possibilities for discussion and next steps. He is looking for a clear sign that the board is willing to move forward in a positive way. He said he needed not only a willingness to adopt the zoning change he requested but also a clear embrace of the project’s concept and a willingness by the Village Board to shepherd the project through the various other boards under some kind of timetable.
“After one and a half years I cannot continue to spend money and not see results. I have spent over $250,000 and have nothing to show for it,” said Guillaro.
Francisco said he met with Guillaro last weekend to try and reopen lines of communication in the aftermath of the developer’s withdrawal of his zoning change request and apparent abandonment of a mixed-use plan in favor of residential development, which he considers an as-of-right zoning situation. “I hope to pull it [the mixed-use plan] back onto the rails,” he said. Whether a private conversation between the pair can be taken as a sign of diplomatic progress or just grasping at straws remains to be seen.
Francisco’s principal concerns are assessing the will of the majority of village residents after a clear, open assessment of the risks needed to be taken to move the project forward. He is particularly critical of the way Mayor Seth Gallagher has led the discourse to date.
“The mayor has consistently asked the residents to focus on the fear of what they won’t get or what they will lose (post office, senior center) if they don’t proceed with this zoning change. The residents that both came out and wrote in testimony for the B4A public hearing (Jan. 29) resoundingly rejected that advice when they clearly, passionately and articulately said that they were more fearful of getting an abundance of what they don’t want (retail, commercial, formula businesses, traffic) than the possibility of losing what is being promised or hoped for,” said Francisco.
The trustee said he believed discussion around what might or might not go into the two buildings labeled “commercial” on plans referred to at the public hearing would be helpful, especially if the oft-discussed but never detailed municipal services do not appear.
Francisco is only one of five Village Board trustees, but Guillaro has singled him out as the main source of opposition to the project on the board. He offered a more nuanced perspective than the one attributed to him in the PCNR this week, which portrayed Francisco as “a key organizer of the opposition.” Guillaro said he didn’t think Francisco was leading the opposition but that he was a member, and he said further he does believe there is an organized effort to stop him from developing his property.
Guillaro said he was serious about moving ahead with a residential home project if things didn’t change soon at the Village Board. Such a project comes with possible negative consequences to the Haldane School District tax burden given the likelihood of additional children moving into the district. With an election pending March 19, that could change two seats on the board; however, hopes for a significant new signal from the trustees might at best be a little premature.
Francisco took umbrage at any characterization that suggests he is doing anything more than the job people elected him to do. “My job is to try to understand what the majority of residents want for our village and represent those interests. In addition to that, I feel it is my job to apprise them of associated risks to help them decide what is an acceptable level of risk for the decision(s) before us,” he said. “A guaranteed post office for decades and a senior center would, in my mind, be worth taking more risk. But regardless of my feelings on the matter, the residents clearly felt that this zoning change created a greater risk of getting an abundance of what they don’t want that far outweighed the benefit of a promise for a few things they do,” he continued.
Zoning code may object
The idea of a residential development of multiple single-family homes (18 is a number mentioned frequently) might also find an obstacle in its path. Although most locals familiar with the code affirmed that Guillaro could build homes as of right under an R1 designation, which is a permitted use in a B4 district, Francisco pointed out that section 134-18-H states, “Unless otherwise expressly stated in this Ordinance, the dimensional requirements and limitations made applicable to a Zoning District shall apply to all uses within such district, whether or not such use is permitted in another district or districts having other or different dimensional requirements or limitations.” Francisco suggested that this law, enacted in 2005, might require any residential building at Butterfield be held to the larger B4 lot size, thus allowing only a few homes to be built.
For his part, Guillaro did not wish to argue over the language of the current zoning code. He said based on emails and phone calls he has received, he believes the majority of village residents support his mixed-use development of Butterfield. He acknowledged that he wished those people had come out for the public hearing. He also argued that he had made numerous changes to his plan after review by the Planning Board and other forums and that he was not disposed to making more. “I am trying to do something positive. The question is, do you want it or don’t you want it?” He further suggested that he might even revert back to a medical development if that’s what it would take to move ahead.