Views differ on need for financial review
By Michael Turton
The Tuesday (April 29) public hearing on the proposed B4A zoning for the Butterfield Hospital site was a marathon session. In the end, the Cold Spring Village Board passed a resolution setting the stage for an “aye” or “nay” vote on the zoning at its May 13 meeting. Only one of 29 residents who spoke at the hearing voiced opposition overall — and even he said it is time to proceed.
Tuesday’s meeting was in stark contrast to the public hearing held in January 2013, at which one speaker after another spoke against the B4A zoning. Approval now appears all but certain and will enable Paul Guillaro to begin detailed site planning for a mixed-use project to include senior citizen condominiums, a senior citizen center, office and retail space, and single-family homes.
Senior center a driving force
Speakers urged approval of the zoning to ensure development of the senior citizen center. Pat Sheehy, Director of the Putnam County Office for the Aging, pointed out that Putnam County has the fastest growing senior population in New York State. Local activist for seniors Donna Anderson said there are 2,000 seniors in Philipstown alone and emphasized that the new center’s kitchen would provide improved nutrition for older residents: “Fresh food, not food that is heated and reheated … and not trucked in” from miles away. Shirley Norton summed up the frustration many seniors have felt waiting for the long-promised center. “We want to see it in our lifetime — before we’re in our graves!”
Lack of financial review a concern
The lack of an independent review of the financial impact of the proposed project on the Village of Cold Spring overall was raised as a concern by at least five speakers. Michael Reisman said he supports the mixed-use approach, but that based on his calculations, net tax revenues could be $200,000 less than estimated in the project’s EAF (Environmental Assessment Form).
“I respectfully ask why the Village Board feels the applicant’s estimates are correct and mine aren’t,” he said. “It’s incumbent on the board to do its due diligence.” He requested that his analysis be posted on the village website. In a letter he submitted and read by James Wolfe, James Geppner stated that his calculations also indicated that tax revenue could be $200,000 less than projected and he called for either an independent financial analysis or a tax guarantee from Guillaro.
Resident Billy Fields also supported a financial review. “Developers are by nature optimistic,” regarding revenue projections, he said. “Your job as Village Board is to be pessimistic.” Former Village Trustee Matt Francisco said he was “distressed” that an independent financial assessment has not been done. He also questioned Tax Assessor Brian Kenney’s review of the project’s tax implications, which largely supported the EAF’s findings. “With all due respect, he couldn’t say what data he used.”
Not everyone agreed that further financial study is needed. Michael Armstrong said that his analysis using “simple math” showed that if anything, the tax-positive nature of the project “… is probably two to three times the developer’s estimates.” Restaurant owner Tom Rolston was more blunt. “Study the financials?” he asked. “Who cares? I don’t! … Guillaro’s proposals are beautiful. Stop studying! Let’s build the damn thing.”
Steve Barshov, Guillaro’s lawyer, commented that the public hearing was not the proper forum for requesting a financial review, suggesting instead that there was opportunity to do so at numerous public meetings of the Planning Board. “I’ve been at this for decades and have yet to see a single project that (includes) senior housing and retail not be tax positive,” he said. Mayor Ralph Falloon repeated his view that he does not support spending taxpayer dollars on an independent financial review.
Building height, commercial space and local public servants
Residents had other varied suggestions and concerns. Gretchen Dykstra’s letter, read by Linda Lange, suggested that if all floor space in the proposed buildings is not rented the permissible commercial area should be increased. Speaking as a resident and not as a member of the Cold Spring Planning Board on which she serves, Anne Impellizzeri urged trustees to amend the zoning to allow up to half of the buildings to be built to a height of 45 feet with a corresponding 10 percent reduction in building footprints in order to increase open space on the site. Building height is currently limited to 35 feet. Linda Newman suggested that some condominium units be made available at a reduced cost to local public servants including fire fighters, police, and teachers, an approach used at Glassbury Court on Route 9.
The Copper Beech, county issues and Chestnut Street ugliness
Kim Connor, a Philipstown resident who lives outside Cold Spring, called for action to ensure that the site’s renowned Copper Beech tree is protected. Connor said that the current concept plan places a building very close to the tree, putting its root system in jeopardy. She said that at her daughter’s school, Copper Beech trees were killed or damaged when construction encroached on the trees’ root systems.
Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra spoke in favor of the zoning amendment, commenting that completion of the project would address the three issues that she hears about most from local residents — the need for a senior citizens center, finding a new home for the Cold Spring post office and providing county services in Philipstown.
John Cronin was the only resident to speak against the development, although he said that he realizes his dream of seeing the hospital demolished, the entire site becoming open space and The Grove turned into an environmental center is not going to happen. A Paulding Avenue resident, Cronin said he is tired of looking at the run-down hospital. “It’s hideous, horrendous and is becoming a blight,” he said.
Cronin opposed the zoning change in the past but now speaks in favor of what the development will mean for the village — especially as a gateway. Currently he said, “Chestnut Street is about 70 percent ugly,” including “three mini malls and a hospital that’s falling down. Those are the big attractions on Chestnut.” He said Guillaro has responded to all concerns raised by Paulding Avenue residents. “I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t build the sidewalk” that the street’s residents have suggested is needed along the west side of Paulding.
An odd ending
The final portion of the meeting was odd, if not testy, possibly a testament to the nearly three-hour meeting being held in the near-stifling music room. It had been announced at the outset that residents’ questions would be addressed after all public comment and Trustee Stephanie Hawkins kept a list of issues raised. After the last speaker, as Hawkins addressed an audience member to clarify a question, Anna Georgiou, lawyer for the Planning Board, interjected. “The public comment period is closed,” she said, even though no resolution to do so had been passed.
When Hawkins explained she was following up on residents’ questions Georgiou responded that public hearings don’t usually involve audience conversation, only statements read into the record. Hawkins continued and after several but not all of the audience questions had been addressed, Trustee Michael Bowman put forward a motion, but there seemed to be confusion as to whether he wanted to simply end public comment or formally close the public hearing. A motion was then passed ending public comment even as Hawkins was still attempting to answer questions raised earlier.
She was the lone trustee to vote against the motion. Bowman made a second a motion to close the public hearing which passed. The next day, Cold Spring Clerk Mary Saari told The Paper that trustees would consider questions raised at the public hearing at their May 6 meeting. A week later they will vote on whether or nor to adopt the B4A zoning amendment.