Hawkins questions criticism of Greenplan
By Michael Turton
After months of discussion the Village Board voted on Tuesday (July 1) to issue a Request for Proposals to select a consultant to update Cold Spring’s Zoning Code. The rewrite will be completed thanks to a $75,000 grant from the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) that was awarded in December of last year.
The existing code has long been criticized as inappropriate for Cold Spring because it was written decades ago for a sprawling suburban community rather than a village that features small houses, tightly configured lots and historic character. The new zoning will be aligned with the Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2012 after a multi-year, village-wide effort undertaken mainly by community volunteers. The Comprehensive Plan paints a “broad brush picture” that reflects what residents have said they want their community to be — while the Zoning Code provides the legal mechanism to help make that picture a reality.
The grant application approved by NYSERDA identified Greenplan Inc., a Rhinebeck-based planning firm, as the consultant that would undertake the zoning work. Naming a consultant upfront is acceptable in the eyes of NYSERDA. However, Village Trustee Michael Bowman has consistently questioned the practice, favoring the use of competitive bids instead.
Bowman and Trustee Cathryn Fadde brought up the issue in a conference call at Tuesday’s meeting. NYSERDA representative Jessica Waldorf said that because hundreds of communities vie for the grants, the agency considers the process to be competitive and as a result permits applicants to name a consultant in advance. Village Attorney Mike Liguori pointed out that professional services including consultants, lawyers, and engineers, could also be acquired by the village without a bid process.
Bowman and Fadde however emphasized the need to follow the village procurement policy and supported issuing a Request for Proposals. They also mentioned concerns they said have been expressed by members of the Special Board for the Comprehensive Plan including its Chairman Mike Armstrong regarding the quality of Greenplan’s work. Bowman also said that members of the Special Board had told him they were “at a loss” as to why Greenplan had been selected upfront. Fadde added that in her experience as a member of the Special Board that Greenplan had tended to use a “cookie cutter” approach.
Trustee Stephanie Hawkins said she had no problem going along with the will of the majority if trustees preferred to issue an RFP but asked if the village has any obligation to Greenplan since the board had previously passed a resolution approving the grant application that named the Rhinebeck firm as consultant. Liguori said there is no obligation since there is no contract with Greenplan and that the board “could hire 10 consultants” if it chose to.
In the end, trustees voted 4-0 in favor of issuing an RFP. Trustee Hawkins responded by email to an inquiry from The Paper asking why she abstained from voting.
“I was dumbstruck by Trustee Fadde’s disparaging comments about Greenplan; their successful grant application won the village $75,000 for much needed zoning updates. Since asking the Village Board to undertake this project, the Special Board hasn’t submitted to the Mayor & Board of Trustees any negative appraisal of Greenplan’s consulting services,” Hawkins wrote. “I attribute both Trustees Bowman & Fadde’s desire to make this change to their close relationships with Planning Board Chair Barney Molloy who — since the grant was first applied for — has made the unfounded claim that the village’s use of Greenplan violates New York state law.”
Liguori indicated that the RFP process would delay startup of the zoning project by three to four months.
Bowman also asked Waldorf if the grant could be in jeopardy if the new zoning does not include numerous environmental recommendations favored by NYSERDA. Trustees have stated throughout the grant application process that they would not accept the funds if there were any such “strings attached” to the grant. Waldorf said that a number of other communities have expressed similar concerns and that funding was not dependent upon the village adhering to NYSERDA’s recommendations.
Trash talk continues
Whether or not the village will acquire any BigBelly trash compactors remains unresolved. Mayor Ralph Falloon reported that the $7,500 received from Putnam County annually is based on a “good faith” and not a formal contract. He said the funds are used for more than offsetting the cost of overtime, such as regular pickup of garbage on Fridays. That, he said, would make it difficult to use any of the grant for the purchase of compactors.
Trustee Hawkins added that the company no longer rents the solar-powered units — a potentially less costly option the village was considering. A number of units will be coming off rental agreements soon and Hawkins will look into possible purchase at a reduced price. Trustee Fadde will continue her discussions with Putnam County regarding the grant and possible assistance with BigBelly purchases. Resident Joe Patrick was in the audience and encouraged the board to acquire more than one compactor in order to properly test their effectiveness.
The meeting exhibited none of the edginess evident at the last session when the subject of village-owned trees, especially one being nursed back to health by Hawkins in her own garden, created tension that was palpable. Mayor Falloon, who was absent at that time due to a work commitment, did touch upon the need for better communications among trustees.
“There are days when I get 100 emails or texts and I don’t always (note) who I’ve copied” in responding, he said. Falloon said that recently he has been focusing on improving internal communications among board members. “I will definitely do my part in sharing information,” he said.
Hawkins wondered if information is being shared — but not fully discussed. “For me it’s about getting you guys the information,” Falloon said. “And if it needs to be fully vetted and discussed, (it should be done) at a meeting.”
The Grove, docking and building department fees, and signs
A public hearing on the sale of the village-owned property known as The Grove to local resident Steve Marino for $5,000 will be held on July 15. Marino plans to refurbish the historic but badly decayed building as a family residence. Issues yet to be finalized include the buyer showing proof of his financial ability to complete the project in a timely manner. Trustees have also expressed a desire to see a timeline for completion of the work, especially the exterior of the building, which has been described as an “eyesore” for years.
Hawkins was the lone trustee to vote against the motion approving the sale. She has argued that Marino should be required to pay for costs that the village has incurred including $1,460 for the removal of an old oil tank on the site. “Taxpayers should be reimbursed,” she said prior to the vote.
Revised docking fees for commercial cruise boats that tie up at Cold Spring remain unresolved. Trustee Fadde is awaiting a response from Seastreak Inc., whose boats brought more than 6,000 visitors to the village over several weekends last fall. The current fee is $2 per foot based on the length of the visiting boats. That may increase by a dollar per foot, possibly in combination with a per-person fee.
Trustees will discuss updating Section 104 of the Village Code dealing with signs placed on village property on July 22. The courts struck down the existing section of the code several years ago. Building Department fees will be reviewed at the same meeting.