Mass and Scale Cause Concern for Planning Board Members

After closed-door discussion, board sends Butterfield plan to Historic District Review Board

By Kevin E. Foley

The proposed Butterfield commercial and residential development project ran into some surprising upset Wednesday night (Sept. 17) as a majority of the Cold Spring Planning Board raised objections to the board counsel’s interpretation limiting their authority to review the mass and scale of the project.

To varying degrees four of the five members, Anne Impellizzeri, Arne Saari, Karn Dunn and James Pergamo, expressed concern over the size of the buildings and the impact the project would have on the 5.7-acre parcel of land as well as the overall impact on the village. They said they were under the impression that the site plan review process, now underway, afforded them the opportunity to address the broad impact of the development’s plans as well as the many specific details involved in a site plan review.

Part of the old Butterfield Hospital (file photo)

Part of the old Butterfield Hospital (file photo)

For approximately 45 minutes the members, led by Saari, sallied with appointed counsel Anna Georgiou, inquiring about and at times insisting that the Board of Trustees did not intend to limit the Planning Board’s role in assessing overall impact from building size and number of residential units and other factors.

“I have been trying to have a conversation about this for six months and every time I was put off,” said Saari, a long-time Planning Board member. “I believe the Village Board listened to the Planning Board and left it to the Planning Board to make appropriate changes.”

Dunn echoed concerns. “There were at least three of us who were concerned about mass and scale during the EAP (environmental assessment) process and we were told that we could address this during site review,” Dunn said.

Strongly disagreeing, although she maintained her opinion was only advisory to the board, Georgiou said that when the Cold Spring Board of Trustees approved new zoning for the old hospital site (known as B4A) they essentially also approved the concept plan developer Paul Guillaro had submitted at that time. She said the trustee’s approval meant that the size of the buildings and the number of residential units were then made “as of right.” She said the size and scope of the project could be reduced only if the developer agreed or proposed it.

Planning Board Chair Barney Molloy reminded the board that there had been multiple discussions regarding the change of zoning and its connection to the developer’s concept plan. He recalled there had been two joint meetings with the Village Board and then the Planning Board wrote a detailed memo expressing its concerns and desire for greater flexibility than the draft B4A zoning proposal suggested. “By and large the Village Board rejected most of what we asked for,” he said.

Impellizzeri, the main author of the board’s letter to the trustees, seemed to accept Molloy’s recollection of events. But she observed ruefully: “I have grave doubts the community understands particularly the mass of this project or even that the Village Board understands what they have led us to.”

When Saari suggested the Planning Board formally ask the Village Board what its intent was when it approved the B4A change, Molloy replied: “The attorney who drafted it (Georgiou also served as counsel to the Village Board for this issue) at the behest of the Village Board is sitting before us. She is telling us this was the board’s intent and legally that is the state of things.”

A 3-D model of the proposed Butterfield development  (file photo)

A 3-D model of the proposed Butterfield development  (file photo)

A visibly disconcerted Guillaro, the developer, rose to remind the board that since the approval of the concept plan he had reduced the size and scope of the buildings and other elements to varying degrees as indicated in the presentation of the site plan. “We have listened to these concerns,” he said. Molloy acknowledged this and reminded the board other accommodations were still possible as the site plan review continued.

Nevertheless, when Molloy attempted to move on with making a formal referral of the site plan to the Historic District Review Board, which must also review the project’s design plans, Saari balked. Pergamo and Dunn agreed with him that the board should move to ask the Village Board about its intent. The discussion then continued with counsel about how best to draft such a letter. After a while Molloy suggested that perhaps the board would go into a private attorney/client discussion.

Board members more or less nodded agreement but without any further discussion of the reasons why they could consult with counsel for over an hour in public session but now needed to be out of ear shot of public and media.

After a 45-minute closed-door meeting the members returned and without further substantive public discussion they voted to accept the site plan application for Butterfield Realty Limited and make a referral to the Historic District Review Board, apparently accepting their chairman and lawyer’s perspective on where things stood legally. Saari voted no.

27 thoughts on “Mass and Scale Cause Concern for Planning Board Members

  1. I was at most of the Planning Board SEQR meetings and heard these concerns clearly and often from Arnie Saari and Anne Impellizzeri.

    I am not an attorney, but I agree with the Special Counsel to the Planning Board (though I can’t say I have agreed with her on much else). Even more so as there is an approved concept plan attached to the zoning. But you don’t need to be an attorney to understand that issuing a negative declaration means there is no impact that can’t be mitigated, including mass and scale having no impact. To turn around now and say that it does opens the Village to great risk. Just the Planning Board engaging in this discussion now already has from residents unhappy with the review and approval process. We can be sure that the developer and his attorney know all of this. You may remember: “That ship has sailed,” from his attorney. Unfortunately, it has.

    The Village Counsel should now step in. All of this is why I was pushing so hard for very careful review before approving the zoning change. Not because I don’t support the project. I do. But because all risks needed to be identified before changing the zoning approving the concept plan. That isn’t opposition to a project; that is responsible support.

    This is where we are now. So my question is this: Did the Special Counsel and the Planning Chair do their jobs to ensure not only a full, unbiased review but more importantly here that the Planning Board members fully understood what they were approving and exactly what their approvals meant? It seems clear from this article that is not the case. So the Village’s General Counsel should step in as the Village Board manages all risk for the Village.

    For the record, I agree with Arnie and Anne. The mass and scale of the approved concept plan are not in keeping with Village character. I support them fully in this current endeavor and thank them for their long and dedicated service to the Village.

  2. This should come as no surprise. It’s what happens when we allow 400 misinformed residents to vote in three trustees and a mayor who have no idea what they’re doing — and who favor beliefs over facts.

  3. I have recently moved into Chestnut Ridge after a 25-year absence from Cold Spring. In the 1980s and ’90s I had a home here and a shop on Main Street. I am coming into this development discussion very late. If the project goes forward I would like to see an urgent-care facility included that operates on a seven-day schedule. They are invaluable to the whole community, not just seniors. I often utilize the skilled services of the one in Fishkill.

  4. I have to be honest, I really like all the folks involved here, regardless of their “side.” We’re lucky we have elected officials and volunteers that are willing to grapple with these issues and thank goodness there aren’t 100 percent unanimous votes on every single issue. How do you get to the best possible outcome for all if there isn’t discussion, give-and-take, and then, a course of action that reflects input from all, but ultimately the will of the majority?

    Having said all that, I see things like “this is what happens when we allow” (who is we and how are they allowing the rest of us to vote?), “400 misinformed residents” (wow!), and “trustees and a mayor who don’t know what they’re doing” (double wow!), and I really start to scratch my head.

    Village elections are six months away. Can we give it a rest and act like neighbors until at least January?

      • Ralph, there are a lot of people – dare I say a “silent majority” – who are thankful to have all five of you guys, plus all the volunteer board members, willing to put the community first and deal with all of the resulting nonsense, name calling and negativity from the “vocal minority.”

  5. “How do you get to the best possible outcome for all if there isn’t discussion, give-and-take, and then, a course of action that reflects input from all, but ultimately the will of the majority?” The current plan for Butterfield is not the will of the majority but the will of the few, as this article ably shows (notice here that the four Planning Board members who were upset were the ones who have actually lived in Cold Spring for years and have incentive to do what’s best for it). There was not give-and-take, which is why the initial plan is nearly identical to the current plan and why it includes not one idea from the first public hearing.

    Do I feel grateful to those in our local government who lacking experience in a project of this type still refused the views and assessment of experts? I do not.

  6. This isn’t new to the Village. This happened with the original proposal of Chestnut Ridge, Spring Brook Apartments, Forge Gate and the old lumber yard development. Every time it was the same type of disagreements and arguments. To insult and name call over 400 people because you believe different isn’t very nice. There is always a democratic process, feel free to take advantage of it and run for something so then you too can be useless, uninformed and over your head too.

  7. Well said, Ralph. Thank you to you and to all of the village board who do a difficult job and are constantly chastised for doing so.

  8. The matter is easily settled, and need not be a case of one opinion against another. Simply ask the residents through a questionnaire made available to them all what they think they will get out of Butterfield and then compare their answers to what they really do get once construction is finished. I predict a great disparity between their answers and the reality. I’d wager on it.

  9. It’s sad to see the divide in this community over a property in disarray for so long. Let calmer heads rule and let’s get something done in this village. This issue has been debated since Christ the King was on this Earth and still nothing has happened. One would think that since the zoning was adopted for Butterfield that progress would be made and things get back to normal, but, not in Cold Spring where people debate and debate until kingdom come thy rule be done.

  10. Some people are just like spoiled children who can’t get their way. It’s so irritating to hear over and over again “Are we there yet?” Face it, guys, it’s going to happen. Stop your whining and complaining. Build it!

  11. I went into last Tuesday’s joint meeting of the Putnam County Physical Services Committee, the Town of Philipstown and the Village Board with the comments above in mind.

    After hearing County Legislators, Town Councilpersons and all of my fellow Village Trustees ask questions – and speak favorably – in regards to development at Butterfield, I have to ask who the clueless “three Trustees and Mayor” and other 400 residents are?

    Bearing in mind that there was some discussion about lease vs. own for a county facility, I don’t recall one elected official at any level who spoke against developing Butterfield. So I guess we’re all clueless?

    In terms of a “give and take,” resident questionnaires and compromises, this is hands-down the most studied and vetted project in the history of the Village. The fact that the project now before the Planning Board is very similar to the initial proposal is a testament to the Sisyphean task many undertook to derail, stall and deter the developer. It was a process that achieved little, beyond completely fragmenting our community.

    I’ll take the wager referenced by a commentator above; in five years we will take a survey of the residents and I bet no disparity will exist. The vast majority of people won’t remember the eyesore of a dilapidated hospital nor will they recall what all of the divisiveness was about – except of course, those who continue to perpetuate the myth that “the experts were ignored” or “there was no give-and-take.”

  12. Trustee Bowman, you have tipped your hand. The fact that you see people who have had questions and concerns merely as those who want to derail and deter a process rather than contribute to it shows a parallel script to the PCN&R’s: for over two years they have vilified, nonstop, anyone who has raised a flag of concern about infrastructure, tax impact, mass and scale and county involvement. Dismissing the legitimate questions of those who want to see this project built is truly what divides a community.

    • If you want to know the ends-and-outs of the Butterfield project, please come to me and I will explain it to you and any other person who questions the infrastructure, tax impact, mass and scale of the project. Why? Because I’ve been involved with this issue since my tenure on the Cold Spring Special Board, and during that time I consulted with Congressman John Hall’s office pertaining to the Butterfield and the post office (P.O. in limbo because of bickering and indecision), which was derailed by the then-Mayor of the Village Board. I remain informed and involved with Butterfield to-date, and will continue until Butterfield breaks ground.

      If you missed the Putnam County Legislature meeting on September 24 at the VFW, where Butterfield and the senior center was discussed for nearly two hours, the meeting video shows where the county stands on this issue.

      Also, in July 2013 the legislature discussed Butterfield, which was received positively.

      Moreover, if you want to know about history of county involvement with Butterfield, then you should talk to former Chairman Putnam County Legislator, Vinny Tamagna, who spent 12 years of working hard to bring the Butterfield project and its fit for a senior/community center to fruition.

      Beyond vetted is what we have here pertaining to the Butterfield project.

      There are more than 20 pages of documents pertaining to Butterfield from the HDRB alone. More documents pertaining to Butterfield, and documents from the Planning Board.

      Documents gathered from hearings, public meetings, info meetings, etc. by all Boards, Committees and the Developer. Also, under this link you will find the SEQRA Report and EAF (Environmental Assessment Form).

      You can also go to this site, which has a vast list of news, meetings, hearings, etc. about the Butterfield project.

      This issue has been such a hot topic it was discussed in The Examiner News, EMTBravo.com, LoHud.com.

      Just to throw in something from the past that is relevant to the Butterfield project of today, here’s a write-up in the New York Times about developer Paul Guillaro and his attempt to put condos on the old lumber yard site back in 2005, and what happened with that project. Seems this is the same sort of irony, or should I say, ignorance.

      Enough!

  13. I disagree wholeheartedly with your assessment, Ms. Williams. Once again you make accusations that are baseless, and in all honesty have bordered on slander in the past.

    I stand by my statement: The Butterfield Project is the most vetted, thoroughly studied proposal in the history of our Village.

  14. I am disappointed that there isn’t comment here on the deeply troubling facts reported in this article. Specifically that four out of five Planning Board members stated that they were misled by the special counsel and/or the Planning Chair. That is a very serious charge that could call their decision into question. If four out of five say they were told the same thing (that they could reduce mass and scale later), then it may be that the fifth is in on the telling? It is the Village Board’s job to proactively manage this risk. Further, as reported above, after an hour of discussion in an open meeting, the Chair took them into closed session apparently without a vote to do so. The minutes from this 9/17 meeting are still not posted almost three weeks later, so the facts aren’t clear. That is not one but two blatant Open Meetings Law violations from a Board’s Chair that has been the harshest and most vocal critic of other’s OML compliance.

    I find Trustee Bowman’s comments to this article most troubling. These folks aren’t trying to derail this project — they simply want to be understood that they were misled and wanted changes. Regardless, they have now documented that they did not fully understand their vote and intimated that they may believe there is an impact of mass and scale. All very serious issues for the Village, developer and their relationship. For the chair to take the Planning Board into closed session when going in they were four to one for sending the application to the Village Board for clarification on it’s intent and then have them come out of this closed session reversed (1 to 4) begs the question: What exactly was discussed, was it proper and why did it need to be in a closed session?

    It is striking to me that Trustee Bowman frames the fact that the final project (the B4A concept plan) being very similar to the initial project as a positive at all, much less in a response to an article where the majority of the Planning Board states they wanted changes to reduce mass and scale. It leads one to wonder on which side of the give and take Trustee Bowman places himself and his constituents? Even more so when you consider the 4/23/12 Community Design Workshop (Charette) data. It is, in my opinion, the most objective documentation of community input of hopes for the project. The most votes in the mock vote there was a tie between reducing density and restricting access to Paulding Avenue. The second highest was support for a Senior Community Center.

    For a developer to give up something that is of no value — restricting access to Paulding — but keep all the density (mass and scale here) which is of great value is not give and take from the Village’s perspective. I think we are all very clear now that the Senior Center is of great value to the developer as well. It has been the centerpiece of promoting this project by all supporters and helped to get the approvals needed to develop the property. It may also get the developer a tenant or a buyer for his property. So again, I fail to see the give and take from Village’s perspective here if you use the available facts. I am not sure if it was Trustee Bowman’s intention, but it reads as if he may be speaking directly to these residents, including the PB members here, that wanted to see the density/mass reduced. But ironically he is correct; reducing the density was a Sisyphean/fruitless a task for all of them.

    Finally, to say that “this is hands-down the most studied and vetted project in the history of the Village” while also stating that the County is still talking about a lease vs. buy is inconsistent. That single decision will significantly change the tax base for the Village as well as the sales tax revenue projections for the County. Further, and most importantly, there was no independent financial analysis of this project. The majority of the current Village Board determined that they would use the developer’s projections in their decision making. Regardless of the reasoning behind any of these decisions, it is factually incorrect to state that there was a thorough vetting of the financials.

    I completely get the exhaustion/fatigue around this project, but that is a factor of the passage of a lot of time and effort that does not directly correlate to good results.

    • “I am disappointed that there isn’t comment here on the deeply troubling facts reported in this article. Specifically that four out of five Planning Board members stated that they were misled by the special counsel and/or the Planning Chair.”

      Here, I acknowledge your comment, and I raise you one.

      Not only, as reported, were four of the five Planning Board members misled, the public, specifically the residents and voters of the village of Cold Spring were misled. I can speak for myself, as I followed this process over the past several years, attending out of a personal curiosity numerous village board, planning board, and other public meetings on the topic, where I heard repeatedly, from the various lawyers and the consultants, and was distinctly and consistently led to believe in statements by numerous elective officials, that our planning board would be allowed to perform normal “planning” functions for this proposed development, during a “site review” stage, once the village board had approved what was related as, and publicly purported to be, nominally a local law resulting in a “zoning change from B4 to B4A,” of the Butterfield Hospital property.

      I was not personally advised by these various legal counsels, nor am I a member of any planning board or village board, nor am I professionally associated with any elective official. Therefore I am not restricted by any attorney-client privilege, non-disclosure requirements or secrecy agreements. Therefore I may make the following statement:

      I can by now only conclude, disturbingly, that the effect of all this legal and expert advice, including those reported in this article, the effect of the political commentary, and the effect of the local law in question, was not limited to a zoning change, but was planned to include a handicapping, apparently a revoking, of the normal powers of the village’s planning board. How and under what circumstances can this be an allowable, and a lawful, process? How and under what circumstances may this process be made more and properly transparent?

      I can only hope these circumstances are considered, as they may be, by other interested parties, and by elective bodies, including but not limited to the county legislature, as it considers its role and its responsibility, relating to this issue.

      Certainly I applaud the recent excellent reporting by the Phillipstown.info news organization.

  15. I voted no on the B4A Zoning Amendment. I did so for reasons including mass and scale concerns raised by Planning Board members Arne Saari and Anne Impellizzeri, as well as concerns about infrastructure, its costs and the implications of the proposed zoning on our village taxes.

    During its State Environmental Quality Review of the B4A Zoning Amendment our Planning Board was led by Chair Barney Molloy and advised by hired professionals — planning consultant Chuck Voss of Barton & Loguidice and attorney Anna Georgiou of Wormser, Kiely. Planning Board member Karn Dunn is quoted as saying she and her colleagues were advised their concerns about mass and scale could be addressed during Site Plan Review. We learned last week that is not the case: the chair and attorney informed them that the time for reviewing mass and scale was during the earlier SEQRA review — in effect, their opportunity to mitigate these impacts had passed and could no longer be discussed.

    Why would our Planning Board members have been advised in this way? During their SEQR review were questions of mass and scale the only issues our Planning Board members were encouraged to address later in the process?

    If it is true that our Planning Board members misunderstood what they voted on last February, my colleagues on the Village Board who subsequently voted yes to enact the B4A Zoning Amendment may well have misunderstood their own votes, too.

    Certainly I am troubled by this situation. But I agree with Mayor Falloon that berating or insulting our neighbors isn’t the way forward.

    
I would like to better understand from each of our Planning Board members their individual experiences of their deliberations last winter, the direction they received in their SEQR review, and how those relate to their discussions of Site Plan Review last week. Also, I’m interested to know how well they believe consultants from Barton & Loguidice and counsel from Wormser, Kiely performed as guides and advisors on this very important zoning project.

    TONIGHT the Village Board interviews Barton & Loguidice for planning services on our Village Zoning Update project. Our Planning Board members’ experience of Barton & Loguidice and Wormser, Kiely will be important to the Village Board’s hiring decision for this next important zoning project.

  16. What Frank Haggerty, Matt Francisco and Stephanie Hawkins say above deserves to be read and read again. These comments are wise and useful.

  17. Vetted. Astonishing, Michael Bowman. Vetted behind closed doors? The conduct of this meeting is one more example that leads to questions, legitimate in my opinion, as to the fairness and openness of the Butterfield project, and maybe of local government in general. I’m grateful for the level of expertise and detailed scrutiny that my fellow village residents and taxpayers continue to bring to this process.

  18. Here’s a bit of history about the Butterfield Project. I moved to the Village back in 2007. I began attending every single Village Board meeting I could because I wanted to know about the government where I lived, as well as county and state meetings, and public hearings/meetings. In 2009 I joined the Comprehensive Plan Special Board at which Butterfield, Marathon and Village Garage properties were up for discussion. It was noted back then that the Fire Company has looking at Butterfield as one of the possible locations to relocate for more space. This was early in the developer’s plan to develop the property.

    Later in 2010 it became evident that the Town and both Villages saw value in their communities saving taxpayer dollars by creating a municipal complex at Butterfield which would consolidate the three separate courts, police department and other municipal departments, as well as bring county services to the west side of Putnam County, mainly Cold Spring/Philipstown. The community/senior center was later added due to prodding from the community, which the developer obliged. Former Chairman Legislator, Vinny Tamagna, had been working on a location for the senior center for more than 10 years, and related Butterfield as a prime location for a community/senior center within the municipal complex. To-date the Putnam County Legislature is looking at Lease vs. Buy options (having nothing to do with the vetting of Butterfield), to determine the best way for Putnam County to save tax dollars when needed services or added to this side of the county.

    Butterfield with the Senior/Community Center became a proverbial football during election years 2010, 2011, 2012 and again in 2014 by some politicians, leading to what we have here today.

    As you can see, Butterfield has been front and center for many years. The process has been open, transparent, information driven, and scrutinized to death. Scroll up and please check out my October 1 comment containing links that will take you to the mounds of documents pertaining to Butterfield/Planning Board/ZBA/HDRB/Village Board.

    As far as those attacks on trustees Bowman and Fadde, let me remind people, that along with Campbell, Falloon, Fadde, Hawkins, past Trustees Francisco, Hustis, not to mention the other boards and committees, each have done their due diligence in vetting Butterfield over the last four years — and in my opinion to death! — which caused this debacle with the Post Office. Butterfield has been so open and transparent, all one needs to do is read the enormous amount of meeting minutes, meeting notes, public hearing notes, Charette notes, site plans, financial analysis, traffic studies, parking studies, EAF and SEQR documents and other informational meeting notes. There are many years of documents posted on the Village website. Years! These matters have been answered per these documents on numerous occasions. Just because one doesn’t agree with the answers they’ve received is no reason to throw dirt around, to say the least.

    What some are spewing here now, mostly attacking Bowman, trying to hide these attacks behind the cloak of independent financial analysis, mass/scale/size, lawyer misleading claims, transparency/openness, fairness, infrastructure, costs (project costs the Village nothing), is bordering on nonsense, because if these matters were such a big concern, their civic duty would have been to vote “no” during the process instead of coming back in October claiming you were misled, flies in the face of reason. So this leads me to believe some are suffering from sour grapes as well as a pretense to attack trustees Bowman and Fadde for winning an election. It’s a bit suspect.

    • Are you disputing the article vis a vis the Board abruptly and without explanation going into a private meeting on the issue of authority to review size/scale?