Fundamental differences on village issues
By Michael Turton
The four candidates vying for two seats on the Cold Spring Village Board in the upcoming election met in a freewheeling forum Monday (March 3), hosted by The Paper / Philipstown.info. A full house at Haldane’s music room watched as incumbent Trustee Matt Francisco and running mate Donald MacDonald faced off with Cathryn Fadde and Michael Bowman.
Moderator Gordon Stewart, The Paper’s publisher, gave the candidates free rein, producing a four-way conversation that was reserved early on but later turned testy. The complete forum can be viewed below.
Introducing the candidates
The candidates’ opening statements set the tone. Fadde and Bowman emphasized the need to improve village government processes in order to complete outstanding projects while Francisco and MacDonald stressed that their credentials will help get projects done while asserting that village boards are working effectively.
In her opening remarks, Fadde said she is running “to get involved with village government — not village politics. A lot can be done … if we just take politics out of the equation. Things are not getting done.”
Bowman built on that theme. “I had high hopes after the last election that things would change” on such issues as the Butterfield development, open government and transparency. Instead, he said, “It just seems we’re having the same conversations over and over again.”
MacDonald underscored his experience as a long-time member of the Zoning Board of Appeals. “For 13 years, 12 as chair, I’ve been helping residents navigate the Village Codes,” he said. “Having been in the trenches … with the zoning code, it would be good to have someone like myself … to help update … the code to make it more like the village we live in today.”
Francisco emphasized his work experience managing real estate transactions, capital projects, building maintenance and project management. “We have a lot of capital projects coming up … having (my) skill sets on the board … will really help the village build a strong foundation for the future.”
With Butterfield as the first point of discussion, Bowman quipped that it felt like the movie Groundhog Day. “It was the first question last year, too.” Asked what he would do with regard to that project he said that, “If elected I would vote for the B4A zoning to make Butterfield a reality or at least take it to the next step … site plan review.” The zoning change will be required to permit the uses being proposed by developer Paul Guillaro.
Fadde supported Bowman. “I too believe that B4A should be passed. I’m a big fan of mixed use,” she said, before criticizing the slow pace of the project. “If we had just gone along and followed the process two years ago we would have a municipal building up right now and we wouldn’t have a post office trailer on the side of the post office … and the seniors wouldn’t be looking at the same ugly mess they’ve been looking at since they moved in there.”
She said that the site plan would determine what would actually be built. “Anything can happen in site planning. I think that if he’s (Guillaro) given the right guidance from people on the board … he will give us what we want.”
MacDonald said that in looking at the rezoning two factors are key — the uses proposed, and what the site will look like. He said that he has no issue with the proposed uses including housing, retail space, office space and a post office. “And if the county wanted to fund a senior citizens center … I would applaud it.”
But, MacDonald said, “I’m concerned about what it will look like … I’d like to see more information about that,” adding that one of the senior citizen buildings as currently shown is surrounded by asphalt. “We don’t want that … it doesn’t feel like … Cold Spring.” He said that Guillaro estimates that the development will yield $60,000 a year in village taxes and that he has no reason to doubt that. “But as a trustee … we’d like to see an independent analysis … it’s just good prudence on the village’s part.”
Francisco also supported the concept of the B4A zoning change but said that it’s premature to consider a yes vote just yet. He took issue with Bowman and Fadde being “ready to vote for the B4A ahead of the Planning Board’s comments (and) ahead of any independent financial review…” He said that “mixed use is a great use for that site” but that the Planning Board is asking for a significant amount of changes to the zoning. He said the proposed changes will come to the Village Board and it “has to decide what the right form of the B4A” zoning is.
Formula business ban: timely or indicative of a failed process?
The discussion over whether a new village law banning formula businesses was enacted in a timely manner or was indicative of a local government process that is broken down was typical of the candidates’ interaction throughout the forum. When Francisco commented that the Butterfield project will happen “fairly soon” Fadde jumped in. “I just wonder what Matt means by … soon, because the formula business law took 15 months to do. So was that done quickly?”
Francisco responded, “I think it was. It was drafted very quickly, fine tuned, then went to public hearings, then redrafted … there’s noticing requirements … attorneys that take two to three weeks to get back,” he said. “Things that are rushed will probably not turn out very well.”
Bowman viewed it very differently. “It’s a bureaucratic process and it does move slow as molasses but the formula business law had 100 percent approval. Everybody you talked to wanted it,” he said. “And it still took 15 months. To me that’s not efficient government.” Later he added, “I also think it speaks to a breakdown of process.”
Francisco pressed Bowman asking, “What do you think it should take?” Bowman responded, “Six months? Half the time?” Francisco continued, asking Bowman if he had worked through that timeframe on a calendar. “Is there time for noticing, public hearings, input, redrafting?” Bowman answered, “Yes, there is.” MacDonald interjected. “It’s not like anyone (on village boards) … wants to drag things out. These things have a lot of different players … getting through the process, it’s an eye opener.”
The pattern continued throughout the evening with the teams disagreeing over a number of subjects from the nature of “the shed” dispute and whether or not village boards are operating in a transparent manner in accordance with the Open Meetings Law to whether or not villagers are generally angry about or content with local government and the influence of local newspapers on village issues.
One peculiar exchange drew an audible audience reaction. When Bowman expressed the view that many residents are unhappy with village government, Francisco said he doesn’t experience that in the village. To that Fadde said, “You’re never here. Your house is dark half of the week.” Taken aback by the personal observation, Francisco replied: “What? Are you watching my house? I guess I better put my pants on!”
During a brief question period, Carolyn Bachan, a village resident and member of the Historic District Review Board, asked the candidates to address “the big money issues” facing the village. “It’s not Butterfield and it’s not the boat club, and it’s not the open meetings law … it’s the dams and our water system and the sewage treatment plant,” she said. “And it’s the potential for monumental fines being placed against the village …”
Bowman supported establishing a capital projects committee, an idea discussed around the time of the last election and “another thing that hasn’t seen any action.” He said that an action plan is needed including “how we’re going to fund (projects) and in what order.” MacDonald said, “A plan of action is great but we need … more revenue … we have to look seriously at (parking) metering on Main Street.”
Francisco said that the wastewater treatment plant is a life safety issue and that the $1.25 million cost would likely have to be bonded. “There’s a lot of Victorian infrastructure … the capital projects committee has to happen.” Fadde agreed with MacDonald. “I’m a huge fan of parking meters,” she said, adding that annual revenue from meters estimated at $180,000 five years ago has likely increased to $250,000. Like MacDonald, she also pointed to cruise boats visiting Cold Spring as an area where revenue could be increased.
Video by Gregory Gunder