Letter: Metro-North Plan

In Drafting a Beacon Blueprint (Oct. 14), the grassroots group Beacon Deserves Better (BDB) was said to have opposed the Metro-North’s Transit-Oriented Development plan first announced in 2007, citing hasty planning, negative environmental impact and isolating Main Street businesses. But as a founding member of BDB and a former co-director, I can say the article overlooked what ultimately proved to be the most important issues: traffic and parking.

As conceived by Metro-North, the TOD project was the second phase of a longer-term station master plan. The first phase was the expansion of the station parking lot between 1998 and 2008 to 1,265 spots at a cost of about $20 million. The second phase would have included a parking garage for another 1,000 cars. This was expected to increase the number of car trips on Route 9D, already impacted due to the phase one expansion, by 2,000 per day based on the TOD’s plans for 600 residential units and 120,000 square feet of office and retail space.

In the end that convinced both the incoming and outgoing mayors, a number of City Council members and the Dutchess County planner that the TOD as proposed would be detrimental to the city of Beacon.

The idea expressed in your article by several City Council members that a mixed-use development with commercial office space and technology companies will allow for an influx of “reverse commuters” coming by train from New York City and Westchester makes no sense. If good jobs are available at the Beacon waterfront, why wouldn’t residents of Fishkill or Wappingers and Beacon take them? And of course drive to those jobs.

Beacon is an area of five square miles with a mountain at one end and a river at the other. The question becomes, how many cars do we want to store and operate in that limited space, and how do we realistically achieve that goal? It’s all very well to throw around planning and real estate terms like “transportation-oriented development,” “mixed-use” and “density,” or to talk about “walkability” and “bicycle networks,” but it amounts to nothing when millions are being spent to accommodate ever more cars.

Let’s hope Metro-North’s recent Request for Expression of Interest in developing the old Beacon Line, which runs from Beacon to Pawling, is sincere, and not just a gambit to open the latest waterfront development talks. If a rail car with regular service could be operated on this track (as opposed to simply a tourist train or rail trail) that could truly be a game-changer, and could conceivably allow development both in Beacon and other places on the line that has some chance of being truly walkable and bikeable.

Mark Roland, Beacon

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