Village Zoning Grant Gets RFP

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.

Calmer waters

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.

17 thoughts on “Village Zoning Grant Gets RFP

  1. As someone with 40+ years experience in planning and development (26 of them in NY State service) — and the “most qualified planner” in the Village in the words of several current and former Village trustees — I totally agree with the notion that the NYSERDA grant consulting work should be put out to bid via RFP.

    There are many planning firms with great credentials, familiarity with Cold Spring and experience in the Hudson Valley. Greenplan does not have a lock on that capability. I am greatly surprised that NYSERDA would have agreed to a “sole source”; when I was in state government, allowing grant recipients to go sole-source had to be backed up with some very hard compelling reason and it was rarely allowed expect in special extenuating circumstances. Competition is good.

    Greenplan has been involved in both the Village Comp Plan and the LWRP work. It’s time for fresh eyes and fresh views, not a vested interest in protecting one’s prior work, nor preconceived notions about the latest trends in planning. BTW, instead of saying “suburban” in reference to the Village’s current zoning laws, perhaps we should say “the S-word” since it’s obviously the new disparaging dirty word. We live in a sub-urban environment; accept reality.

  2. I would like to set the record straight on some matters commented on in this story. First, I believe GreenPlan provided high quality work to the Special Board during its 3 1/2 years of service to that board and the Village. It was instrumental in guiding the Special Board through many thorny issues. When the Special Board learned, in May 2013, that the State would require the Village to adopt a substantially revised zoning code for its nearly complete LWRP to be formally reviewed, my understanding was that this work of revising the code fell outside the scope of the original LWRP contract. That meant it would have to be re-bid.

    When GreenPlan asked me to advise the Village, in June 2013, that they, GreenPlan, would prepare, without charge, an application for a new grant, I did so with the understanding that the application would not name a consultant — but would be like the original 2006 LWRP grant which funded the work, but left the appointment of a consulting firm to the Village. I was surprised that the $75,000 grant application, as finally written and submitted, named GreenPlan. I could not understand how the contract to do the work would be simply an amendment to the 2006 agreement, since the parties to the agreement had changed, with NYSERDA coming on as the funding and oversight agency. I was also, frankly, confused by some of the statements in the application (such as proposing an objective of high population growth and supporting accessory apartments), which did not seem to me to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

    When the application for funding was approved by NYSERDA, I felt that the Village’s best course would be to negotiate flexibility in the terms of its contract. The work of revising the zoning is of the highest importance and urgency to this community. The Mayor and Trustees need an adviser they trust and feel they can work with. It should come as no surprise to anyone on the Board, given its history with legal counsel, that the Board would vote to select its own adviser.

  3. Minutes documenting the Village Board’s decision to use GreenPlan for the rezoning project can be found here.

    The Final Cleaner Greener Community Category 2-specific Consolidated Funding Application Questions can be found here.

  4. The Village Board’s 2013 decision is quite interesting in that it also specifies that the NYSERDA funding source would also be used to amend the Village’s Historic District Code, a use about which the HDRB was never informed, either before or after the VBOT vote. It is made all the more curious by the fact that the Village Board subsequently in Jan 2014 voted to authorize a grant application, under State Park’s CLG program, to amend the Historic District Code and the HDRB’s Design Standards, which grant was approved last month. The Village Board, as then constituted with the same membership as in 2013, voted in favor of the CLG grant application. Was the intention to double dip?

  5. Michael and Carolyn, I completely hear you on how useful competition is to a process such as this and that there needs to be flexibility in the contract, and maybe, in fact, GreenPlan is too close to the process. But Mike, from what Stephanie just posted I’m completely baffled by your objections. The application asks for “critical team member” resumes – the Village provided the resume of GreenPlan, whom they unanimously agreed upon, and of the (then) village attorney. It’s great that we’re not bound to a particular planning consultant by written agreement, but did the board do anything wrong by naming one? No, they were responding to the application process. And yes, there’s a new board now, but the board of last summer unanimously passed this resolution. That means three of the five current Trustees gave the naming of GreenPlan as contractor their blessing and their vote — that’s the majority of the present board. Democracy.

    But what’s bugging me about the new trustees’ RFP request is the insinuation that there’s been some wrongdoing without any actual accusations, sort of like the insinuation that Stephanie Hawkins is housing a secret madrasa of sickly trees. And what Stephanie has just posted clearly shows there’s no malfeasance whatsoever. There’s no nepotism or favoritism, only an appreciation for what you (Mike A) refer to as excellent work.

    And that confuses me. Trustee Bowman very pointedly said that the Special Board was puzzled by this appointment, and yet you (Mike A), the chairman and leading expert here, say that GreenPlan did excellent work, and through very complicated terrain. After all, that they won us this money over all the other municipalities competing for it. To whom did Mr. Bowman speak to then report such a thing? Why is he misrepresenting the view of the Special Board? And Trustee Fadde dismissed their work as “cookie cutter.” I’m interested in knowing if you, whom again I look to as the best authority on this subject, think that their work was both effective (won us the money), excellent and cookie cutter.

    What I’m concerned about is that Barney Molloy, very close to Trustee Fadde as well as to Trustee Bowman and organizer of their election campaigns, appears to have long-term interests in the planning professionals of the Village. The previous board had no vested interest in GreenPlan other than effectiveness and efficiency (again, they won us the money). I’m truly hoping that Bowman and Fadde being the loudest voices in favor of an RFP isn’t an effort to promote good old crony politics where they’ll be trying to shoo-in Barney’s old friends and former colleagues. I’m confident we can expect better of them.

    • Michael Bowman correctly stated my response to GreenPlan’s being named in the application, but I could see that unless the full context was presented, the sense of it could be misunderstood. That is why I summarized my understanding of the LWRP contract and the new work being performed under the NYSERDA grant. (I have yet to hear a fully satisfactory explanation of how these contracts fit together, and who has agreed to what with whom.)

      I see no contradiction between believing that GreenPlan provided the Special Board with good counsel and support, for the most part, and also believing that some elements of the NYSERDA grant application were “confusing.” I found Cathryn’s comment that GreenPlan took a cookie-cutter approach interesting, but do not necessarily share her opinion that this showed weakness or incompetence. Rather, I think that planners — good planners — often work from models, ways of solving problems of governance that may include methods, laws, and ways of looking at issues that have worked for other communities — and apply them to the hard, messy facts of this particular community, of this Village.

      I also see no contradiction in believing that while GreenPlan is a competent firm, the Village, at this stage, may be wise to consider turning elsewhere for counsel. The trustees must trust and have a real commitment to the people doing this work, or the Village will suffer.

      I urge the Board to take great care with the development of the Request for Proposals — to avoid shortcuts and think carefully about this community’s unique needs — and evaluate the proposals and resumes that come in with even greater care. Take the time to do this right, and remember that what is being crafted is actual law, not a Comprehensive Plan or LWRP.

  6. Insinuations of wrongdoing? I was at the NYSERDA meeting and all I saw were trustees asking questions. Mr. Robinson has hit upon a topic that does hit close to home. You see, it was he and his wife who wrote a very hurtful and dishonest letter during the past campaign, and who also happen to be Stephanie Hawkins’ campaign organizer.

    We have now reached rock bottom, in my opinion — a place where anything and anyone can be discredited by blind accusations of so-and-so is connected to so-and-so. I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that certain individuals who were most vocal and critical in the past campaign are now the same ones crying foul.

    And now we have accusations of cronyism? I could just as easily ask who did Trustee Hawkins know at NYSERDA that allowed such misinformation to be glossed over for over a year? It was pretty clear from the conference call that at the very least there had been some miscommunication between the village. In the very worst, as Mr. Robinson says, it was malfeasance.

  7. I think the main focus right now should be the comprehensive review of our current zoning code and the needed updating. I applied as a interested citizen to serve on the zoning update committee to help make our village a better place for all people to live in. I’m disturbed at what is taking place in our community because I don’t see a focus on repairing side streets that have taken a beating over a long term with heavy car volume, parking enforcement is a disgrace in the village, etc. We are not moving ahead and instead we continue to fight and where does that benefit good decent people who don’t care about the politics and instead go to work and pay their taxes and put food on their plates for their families. Washington insanity does not belong in Cold Spring!

  8. Mike A—thank you for your clarification, especially about the “cookie cutter” comment, which I find very helpful. And again, please don’t interpret my comments as pushing for GreenPlan per se. I am fully ready to believe that what you and Carolyn have said here is true and that they may just not be the right firm.

    But I’m still confused about something, and since you’re a person I look to for clarity I’m going to press this: the NYSERDA grant’s being crazy complicated and the valuing (or devaluing) of GreenPlan’s work are two different things which you seem to have conflated. I’m partially relieved to hear that in fact you did relay these reservations to Michael Bowman privately and that he wasn’t misrepresenting your position — I truly apologize to Trustee Bowman for insinuating that he was — but shouldn’t you have relayed these same reservations about GreenPlan publicly to the Village Board a year ago rather than to Michael Bowman privately a year later? That’s the point where your opinions would have been the most useful, although ironically we might not be sitting on that money now if you had steered the board away from GreenPlan. I immensely value your opinion but am still unclear on how/when you arrived at it, or frankly, what your opinion is.

    And Chuck, I completely agree that we have more pressing issues. You’re right that this quibbling over minutiae isn’t serving the village, and thank you for bringing the conversation back to that point. This was the original point of my post and it got lost: implementing the Comp Plan moves the village forward, we now have to money to do so, and we have the pathway forward in the form of a unanimous vote, again by a clear majority even of our five current trustees. Why are we not then moving forward? This is a giant bird in our hand, and I feel like some people are looking for two…. in a tree in Stephanie Hawkins’ backyard.

  9. My reservations were about GreenPlan’s appointment, which I found surprising given what I understood to be the nature of the new NYSERDA agreement. I see no conflation: you’ll have to be clearer about your point.

    I had very little knowledge of the discussions with NYSERDA the summer of 2013, and did not even know the gist of the application until I asked Stephanie to comment to the Special Board at the Special Board’s August 2013 meeting — and then we got only sketchy details. I did not see the application itself until October 2013 (I had to ask to see it, which I wanted to read to prepare for that month’s Special Board meeting), and then what was the point in commenting?

    May I suggest that the appropriate thing to do at this point is to try to put the $75,000 NYSERDA grant for the code changes to work for the village. Rehashing the past won’t move the ball forward.

  10. Absolutely. Move the ball forward. Total agreement. Which is exactly what honoring the resolution of 2013, reached through an open process and with total unanimity, would do. There seems to be some cloud of suspicion being cast over the process, when I remember it being completely open and on the level. Again, with all my gratitude for all your incredible work and your wisdom, I still feel that you should have engaged with that open process at the time, instead of bringing all these doubts forward now, and to only one board member.

    • A curtain was drawn over the development of the NYSERDA application in the summer of 2013, and very few people were aware of what was going on, myself included. The approval of the application came at a meeting where the item never appeared on the agenda — so how could I or anyone else have known about it and arranged to be present? Did the process comply with the letter of the Open Meetings Law? Perhaps. Was it consistent with the spirit of that Law? No, it was not.

      Donna Fiacco’s point about the vote on the application is, I think, a reasonable one.

      As far as answering “only one board member,” well, I would have been glad to answer two or three or all of the board, but only one asked me the question.

      Again, the Village needs to bring its zoning code up to snuff, so it won’t continually complicate and confuse development of property. We have real work to do.

  11. Mr. Robinson, from what I am gathering from this back and forth is that Mr. Armstrong was involved, engaged and aware of the process, in as much as anyone was allowed to be by Trustee Hawkins and GreenPlan.

    Ms. Hawkins is on record saying “It wasn’t for the Historic Board, the Special Board, to be involved with … both of those boards looked to the Village Board to go out and procure that money. And so the Village Board went ahead and had GreenPlan process the application.”

    You can’t accuse the Special Board chair of not being engaged in the process, when the process was not “open” in any way, and was voted on unanimously by four of five Trustees, but only two of them really knew what they were voting on.

    Listening to the conference call, we are all in complete agreement, it seems like the Village Board is moving the ball forward the right way, using a competitive bid, that GreenPlan is more than welcome to submit for.

  12. Minutes of this Special Board meeting (pasted below) show very clearly that contrary to your contention, Donna, that Stephanie Hawkins was not “allowing” “open” participation in this process, and your contention, Mike, that you were not aware that GreenPlan would be named as contractor or that this work would be done under the existing LWRP contract, these terms were very clearly spelled out and in the open. In fact, according to these minutes, you, Mike, even went on to give Stephanie tips on the application. There was no “curtain drawn” over the process, as you allege. Stephanie briefed your board, told you that GreenPlan would prepare the application and perform the work and there would be no open bidding. No one raised any challenges or questions substantial enough to make it into the minutes, not even GreenPlan critic Fadde, if in fact this was one of the meetings she attended.

    For the five people that are following this thread (Arthur Warren, I know you’re one of them!), I will restate that an RFP is probably a good thing and I completely concur with you, Mike, that conversations rehashing the past do little good. But let’s also stay away from distorting the past, for whatever political reasons we might have, because these distortions are the very arguments being used to tear down and discredit the very real achievements that Trustee Hawkins has made for us. She strived to bring back shade trees, like the economically thriving towns around us have. Michael Bowman and the PCNR turned this into SaplingGate. She was the one to dive in feet first to get us this grant money, with precious little time on a ticking clock before losing the opportunity for another two years. Barney Malloy and Trustee Bowman turned this into allegations of legal wrongdoing — quickly dismissed first by our attorney then by NYSERDA in the conference call. Now it’s alleged that Hawkins and the board were part of some conspiracy, cloaking vital details in secrecy, although the below minutes tell a different story. If you want to move forward, as I agree we should, then maybe we should start by negotiating a ceasefire with the PCNR and the new trustees on this complete BS leveled at Hawkins, so that all the Trustees can do their jobs and not have to be constantly answering baseless accusations.

    Donna (I hope it’s okay to call you by your first name), when you say “I could just as easily ask who did Trustee Hawkins know at NYSERDA,” you’re making an allegation of cronyism on Hawkins’ part. Can you name names? If not, I think we need to accept that Stephanie’s relationships within GreenPlan were built within the context of their working together on behalf of our village. Can you say the same about Barney Malloy’s relationships within the agencies he’s been speaking to? And when you speak about the two trustees “who didn’t know what they were voting on” — again, that’s a serious accusation which requires more specificity. For everyone’s edification, before the next election, please make public these trustees’ names.

    On a different subject, congratulations on your upcoming celebration. Cent’anni.

    “Mike Armstrong opened the meeting and asked Stephanie Hawkins to update the Special Board on the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA). Stephanie reported that Ted Fink (GreenPlan) is preparing a CFA for submission to the State in the amount of $100,000. $25,000 of that amount will be for in-kind matching and will be earmarked for the Historic District Review Board (HDRB) to update their code, and $50,000 would go to rezoning. She explained that, according to Ted, the State grant only requires a 25% match, not 50% match. There was confusion about the total amount and the required match; Stephanie volunteered to get back to the Special Board with a clarification. The projected timeline is 18 months. The Village Board has already approved that Ted Fink will submit the application but the VB has not yet approved the package itself. The VB will defer to Ted Fink on the matter. The next VB meeting is August 14; the package is due to be submitted August 9. The VB has decided that Ted will work on the project if the grant is approved by the State; there will not be an open process to select the firm to work on the zoning changes – the work will be done under the existing LWRP contract with GreenPlan, which will be amended and updated. Mike and Anne Impellizzeri provided Stephanie with considerations for the application process, since they had submitted a CFA previously which had been approved.”

    • Chronology is important: The Village Board voted on a resolution to ask GreenPlan to prepare a Consolidated Funding Application for the zoning code changes at the Village’s July 25, 2013 meeting — and that item was not on the agenda. It was not until a couple of weeks later, at the Special Board’s August 8, 2013 meeting, that I was given any information about the application. The information was, as I have said before, sketchy, and had to be verified and corrected later, as the minutes show. That I had to ask for a report at all speaks volumes. I did not see the actual application until October 2013.

      Please do not tar me with the claim that I am intent on attacking Stephanie Hawkins. Quite to the contrary, I think Stephanie has contributed a great deal to this community. While I disagree with some of the positions she has taken, Stephanie does not deserve to be the target of calumny.

  13. For the now three people who are following this thread (looking good, Madge!), I don’t believe that Michael A. is part of any conspiracy to tar Trustee Hawkins, and I apologize if I slopped you, Mike, into the group who quite obviously is. But by nitpicking about how Stephanie and the board should have handled this extremely last-minute grant, instead of praising their getting the task done, you’re unwittingly endorsing the narrative that the PCNR and new trustees are perpetrating.

    I agree that chronology is important, and the village calendar (online) and meeting minutes (below) from last summer tells a clear story: The Village Board learned on July 9 that the Special Board was passing off to them the need for an updated code. Now it was the Village Board, no longer the Special Board, which was saddled with getting together the grant application due one month later, for an Aug. 11 deadline, or else the LWRP would be dead in the water. At this point, Trustee Hawkins could have shrugged and said “can’t be done”, but instead she coordinated with GreenPlan and got them to do it for free, and they made that one-month deadline. You, the Special Board, had no meeting during that month of July. The next meeting at which Stephanie might have pulled back this veil of secrecy that you allege would have been on Aug. 8, three days before the deadline.

    Stephanie is that character in the action movie who takes the vial of antidote from the guy who’s too wounded to carry it anymore, dives under the closing steel door with an inch to spare, gets hit and rolls over a moving car, dodges bullets and gets the antidote to the kid who has seconds left to live, which, in some Hollywood twist, saves the world. You’re quibbling that she wasn’t verbally communicating with you while she was doing this.

    Can we all please thank Stephanie for her incredible work and obvious dedication instead of finding insane reasons to diminish her? It’s true, she nurses sick trees. And in the middle of a full out sprint for funding, she didn’t stop to brief your board — because your board wasn’t in session.

    The minutes:

    “The NYSDOS has informed the village that draft land use laws and other code changes necessary to implement he LWRP must be included in the plan. The Special Board pointed out hat funding to draft land use laws is available through the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA). Ted Fink of GreenPlan has offered his services to prepare any grant applications without charge.In light of the uncertainty regarding draft code changes, and with funds for consulting work under the current State grant now exhausted, the Special Board voted at he June 27th meting to suspend their work and GreenPlan’s services.”