Beacon to Decide on Another Moratorium

Historic homes also up for hearing

By Jeff Simms

The Beacon City Council is expected to vote on Tuesday, Sept. 3, on a commercial and residential building moratorium, likely six months in length, that would be the city’s second in two years if it’s adopted.

Each member of the City Council has indicated in recent weeks that he or she favors the move.

As with the six-month freeze in 2017, the council says the moratorium will be based on water issues, not development. The previous moratorium expired in March 2018 after hydrologists projected that Beacon’s water supply would be sufficient for the city through at least 2035.

Earlier this year, city officials deactivated Beacon’s most abundant water source — Well No. 2, which can provide up to 1.15 million gallons per day — after it began producing “cloudy” water following the installation of a new pump. In June, hydrologist Tom Cusack, whose firm produced the water study last year, said that Beacon still has more than enough water to meet its existing and immediate future needs with the well out of service.

In addition to two wells, Beacon draws water from three reservoirs that combine to provide up to about 1.5 million gallons per day. Well No. 1 can provide more than half a million gallons per day, and the city also has an agreement to buy up to 1.2 million gallons per day from Fishkill, if needed.

Beacon currently uses about 2.5 million gallons each day, with peak usage climbing over 3 million.

Despite an aggressive program that hydrologists have described as similar to plunging a toilet, Well No. 2 has continued to produce water mixed with silt when pumped at higher volumes, said City Administrator Anthony Ruggiero at the council’s Aug. 26 meeting. The next step is to “seal off” a portion of the well.

Council Member Amber Grant said she still thinks the city should take advantage of the break to analyze statistics on traffic, school enrollment and housing vacancy rates, along with other metrics.

The city is getting estimates for that work, he said, and construction of the equipment it requires could take a month or more.

“There’s absolutely no worry” about the city’s water supply, Ruggiero said. “But it’s still one of our major wells. The work needs to be done.”

That work qualifies as a legal basis for the moratorium, said City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis, but Council Member Jodi McCredo has been vocal that the moratorium should also include language addressing the pace of development and that — in addition to repairing the faulty well — the city should study the cumulative effect of hundreds of new housing units on roads, schools and other infrastructure.

On Monday, Ward-Willis said those concerns don’t justify a building stoppage. “You’ve done a significant amount of zoning and rezoning work” over the last two years to address those concerns, he said, but “the areas that you’re looking at don’t rise, in my opinion, to the level” of the water issues.

Council Member Amber Grant said she still thinks the city should take advantage of the break to analyze statistics on traffic, school enrollment and housing vacancy rates, along with other metrics. “I don’t think this is something that requires years of work and it will help us with our policy decisions,” she said. “It will help us with, ‘Where do we go from here?’ ”

If approved, the building freeze would be backdated to June 11, the day after Mayor Randy Casale proposed it. That means no building applications submitted after that date have been voted on by the city’s planning or zoning boards. (Proposals that create jobs while staying under a water-consumption threshold are exempt.)

“There’s absolutely no worry” about the city’s water supply, Ruggiero said. “But it’s still one of our major wells. The work needs to be done.”

The moratorium, if for six months, would expire in early March of next year, but if it’s based solely on water, it could end even earlier, Ward-Willis said, once the well is operational.

Each of the half dozen residents who spoke at an Aug. 19 public hearing on the moratorium were in favor, with several asking the council to consider a year-long break to study the effects of development.

Historic district

Although the measure has not been finalized, the City Council will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 3, on a proposal to add 35 homes to the Historic District and Landmark Overlay Zone. The homeowners have been notified by mail.

While the owners of properties in the district can apply for tax breaks on exterior maintenance and restoration of a home’s historic features, they also are obligated to get approval from the Planning Board before making changes. Planning Board approval also could be required for interior work if the home is open to the public, such as with a bed-and-breakfast.

In addition, the district allows homeowners, if granted a permit, to incorporate non-residential uses — an artist’s studio, antique shop, a restaurant or bed-and-breakfast, or small office, for example — into the home if they’re judged to be compatible with the neighborhood.

Homeowners may object to being added to the historic district but the council can overrule with a super-majority (five votes).

The council is expected to keep the hearing open after Tuesday’s meeting while it continues to discuss the specifics of the law.

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