Developer threatens lawsuit
By Jeff Simms
A decision on whether to rezone seven parcels on the west side of Beacon remains undecided, as the City Council will now look even further into the issue after hearing a second round of public comments on May 2.
About two dozen speakers addressed the council, with more than half favoring the petition submitted in February by a group of Beacon residents. The feedback, however, was more mixed than a month ago during the first public hearing, as a number of residents asked that the properties remain zoned as they are — for high-density growth.
The petition contends that seven parcels — two on South Avenue and five on Wolcott Avenue/Route 9D — were incorrectly included in Beacon’s Hudson River-to-Main Street “linkage zone,” which was adopted three years ago to connect Main Street to the river by encouraging more residential growth. The city’s idea was that added development along Beacon’s west side would create a more vibrant, walkable community and increase support for businesses on Main Street.
But the parcels in question also lie within the city’s Historic District and Landmark Overlay, and the property owners believe dense development near their homes will spoil the character of their neighborhoods.
“It will be a stain upon the growth we’re trying to have in Beacon,” said Lisa Gallina, who lives at the Hammond Plaza condominium complex on Beekman Street. “It will be too fast and too furious.”
By filing their petition, they have asked the city to effectively “downzone” all seven parcels, returning them to the low- and medium-density classifications they held prior to the adoption of the linkage zone.
However, rezoning the parcels would handcuff one proposed development and another that may still take shape. They are the River Highlands, an approximately 70-unit complex proposed for the site known as Parcel L (the three lots immediately south of the Reformed Church of Beacon on Route 9D), and a potential development adjacent to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on South Avenue.
Officials from the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which owns the St. Andrew’s property, say they can’t afford to restore the aging buildings and would prefer to test the market for development as a source of revenue for the church. They say no plans are imminent and the church is currently only seeking proposals.
“We haven’t done anything yet except start to gather information,” said Rich Dambra, a member of St. Andrew’s. “Trust us, we really want to do what’s right for the community.”
Dambra said that St. Andrew’s wants to avoid a situation like what happened with the United Methodist Church of Fishkill, where a dilapidated building still stands near the church, which doesn’t have the money to improve it. But if the City Council supports the residents’ petition, “they are voting for an eyesore to develop, just like it did in Fishkill,” he said.
Church neighbors, particularly those across the street from St. Andrew’s, fear that large-scale development on the two lots — although it would bring in significant revenue — would scar their neighborhood as well.
“Who doesn’t want to trust a church?” said Beacon resident Claire Reed. “But churches have to deal with bottom lines just like everybody else does. [St. Andrew’s] plans sound nice, but that’s not the way we should operate.”
As for the River Highlands proposal, Ronald J. Piccone II of Beacon Ridge Associates, the owners of Parcel L, submitted a comment to the council by email, warning that if the lots are rezoned, “I will have no recourse but to litigate this recent turn of events.”
He added: “I am sure that the developer [Unicorn Contracting] will also sue to recoup his to-date investment. We followed a path, worked within your zoning, and with changes in the wind, we may lose substantial investments.”
Neither River Highlands nor St. Andrew’s representatives signed the property owners’ petition. However, city statutes allow for the review of properties within a zoning district if 50 percent of the property owners in a given block within the district sign a petition requesting the review.
The Beacon planning board last month voted to support the petition for rezoning, agreeing that the parcels’ current zoning conflicts with the city’s comprehensive plan. Mayor Randy Casale said Monday that the City Council will again discuss the issue at its May 23 workshop, a meeting that’s open to the public but does not allow for public comment.
Having heard from planners, neighbors and developers, the members of the council will be tasked with trying to balance the needs of a growing city with the small-town charm that has helped attract much of that growth.