Notes from the Cold Spring Village Board

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Public hearing suggests need to rethink zoning laws

The Tuesday (Sept. 7) meeting of the Cold Spring Village Board doubled as a public hearing on proposed changes to five chapters of the Village Code, part of an ongoing update of more than 500 pages of regulations that touch on nearly every aspect of village life.

No one in the small audience commented on chapters dealing with Signs and Placards, Subdivision of Land or Unsafe Buildings. But when it came to Noise (Chapter 76), one resident broke the silence. 

Stephen Rose advocated a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, which, he said, exceed village noise limits. He also said the blowers’ gas engines are carbon-intense and that the particulate matter they stir up poses a health threat. He added that village workers using gas-powered blowers to clean streets are among the worst offenders.  

“I feel like I’m being assaulted” when the blowers are in use, he said. 

The hearing on noise regulations will remain open until trustees consider the comments from Rose, who was supported by two other spectators at the meeting. 

Zoning (Chapter 134) produced the most discussion. 

Donald McDonald, who served on village committees including the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Code Update, praised the board for its work but suggested improvement beyond the update is needed.

“There is too large a gap between the code and the ‘as-built’ characteristics of the village,” McDonald wrote in a letter to the board. That situation, he said, leads to decisions by the ZBA that can be arbitrary, subjective and vary over time. 

He suggested a detailed measuring of the village, including every building and lot, to create a database. 

“Informed, defensible standards and regulations could [then] be proposed and their potential effects reliably predicted,” he wrote. 

Michael Reisman, a past member of the Code Update and other village committees, commented on the need for “conforming the code to the reality of the village,” adding the technologies to help do that are becoming less expensive.  

Reisman also said there is a risk in making the zoning chapter too complex, which, he said, can make it difficult for residents to understand what is expected. 

Eric Wirth, who chairs the ZBA, described the board’s work to improve the chapter as “heroic,” and submitted additional suggestions, questions and corrections.

Wirth said that under the code, the ZBA is “forced to legislate by granting substantial variances, over and over,” and that a “barrage” of minor variance requests, and red tape associated with them, is also an issue. 

“The solution is not easy; it’s a problem that requires fundamental rethinking,” he said, suggesting that the village be mapped in two sections: “the old village and the new village.”  

He said the current code suits the new village, but that the old village, which includes hundreds of non-conforming properties that are grandfathered in, requires a separate code. 

In a letter from Putnam Independent Living Services, Joseph Guagliano urged the village to require more properties, including shops, to be made accessible to people with disabilities. The village, he said, can avoid violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York State Human Rights Act by proactively addressing accessibility in its code. 

The public hearing on zoning will remain open until the board considers the comments received on Tuesday. 

Wine bar

Juhee Lee-Hartford of River Architects, who is overseeing the design of a new wine bar and cafe at 15 Main St., told the board she had received verbal approval from the state for a variance that will allow an ADA ramp at the entrance that is slightly steeper than normally required.

However, she said the ramp allowed by the variance would be “a safety issue” for people in wheelchairs and others using the ramp. 

Deputy Mayor Marie Early was dubious. “They granted you a variance and you’re saying it will create a safety hazard?” she asked.

“Yes, that’s my professional assessment,” Lee-Hartford replied, adding that the state urged her to seek an easement over village-owned property to allow construction of a standard ADA ramp. 

Early said state officials, in recent discussions with the village building inspector, made no mention of an easement.

Mayor Dave Merandy also questioned why state officials would suggest an easement after approving a variance. “I don’t see how [the variance] would cause a safety hazard,” he said, later commenting that the state would not approve a variance that created risks.

When Lee-Hartford continued to argue for a less steep ramp, Trustee Fran Murphy commented: “The people who gave you the variance are experts in this; they didn’t do it for the fun of it.”

“This is the end of it,” Merandy said, adding there would be no consideration of an easement unless the state, which has yet to respond in writing, indicates the variance is not acceptable. 

Trustees Kathleen Foley and Tweeps Woods both advised Lee-Hartford to wait for the state’s official response, then return to the board with the ruling.   

The project has been aired at several previous board meetings as well as at the Planning and Historic District Review boards. 

In other business …

  • The village will again advertise for members of a community stakeholders group to provide input for an ongoing review of the Cold Spring Police Department. The first call for volunteers produced five applicants, the minimum number required for the group.
  • The board voted unanimously to accept a plan recently submitted by the Parking Committee. The proposal includes a residential permit program on 11 streets east of the railroad tracks, areas and times for paid parking, designated areas for business owner and employee parking, and free parking areas. No timeline for implementing the plan has been set. 
  • The board unanimously approved a Share the Growth proposal presented by Philipstown Town Board Member Jason Angell that will ask Putnam County to share with local municipalities part of future increases in the retail sales tax it collects. 
  • A public hearing will be held on Sept. 28 to consider amendments to village code chapters on the Historic District, Streets and Sidewalks, Swimming Pools, and Vehicles and Traffic and one new chapter, Waterfront Consistency Review.

3 thoughts on “Notes from the Cold Spring Village Board

  1. Notably absent from The Current’s story is any mention that the zoning changes under consideration include sweeping changes to the section that regulates permitted uses at the former Marathon battery plant on Kemble Ave that would allow the construction of as many as 48 single family homes. The proposed changes to section 134-12 would create a new “mixed use” zoning district permitting single family homes on lots of 10,000 square feet (R-1 zoning) at the Marathon site.

    Moreover, the proposed new zoning map shows new streets and lot lines for 23 such single family lots at the east end of the site, six of which are on the wooded ridge overlooking Constitution Marsh.

    Perhaps it’s “old news” at this point since the proposed changes have been in the works for a while, but I for one was caught by surprise as I haven’t been following the deliberations of the Code Update Committee.

    • Thanks for the pertinent information to accompany the article. Perhaps in the future The Current can also provide such links for public reference.

      Looking at the map and seeing all new traffic being funneled through Kemble Avenue was quite an eye-opener. With the addition of 23 new houses (not to mention businesses and restaurants), that could definitely affect not only Kemble but Main. Would we have to have a second stop light in the village for instance? I’m wondering if these concerns will be discussed at the upcoming public hearing on code concerning traffic (Sept 28).

  2. Don’t be misled by misinformation that is fed to voters during an election period. Unethical candidates know that the electorate does not have the time to fact-check every piece of information disseminated by someone running for office, and it is important that voters cast their votes based on facts.

    With the November elections at hand, the “get-more-sales-tax-back-from-Putnam County” issue is making the headlines again. Most people would agree it would be good to get more money from the county. However, the devil is in the details and the details have not been adequately or accurately explained by our representatives.

    The Office of the New York State Comptroller publishes a report called Understanding Local Government Sales Tax in New York State. The most recent was updated in October 2020. It explains the mechanics of sales tax collection and redistribution. There are a few things in it that Philipstown residents should know.

    Putnam is one of 11 counties in the state that do not have a tax-sharing agreement (TSA) with their municipalities. There’s more to it than Putnam not being willing to “do the right thing” or “share the growth,” which is lazy election-year rhetoric.

    Adopting a TSA in Putnam will require a comprehensive assessment of the financial relationship between District 1 (which includes Philipstown) and the county. Any recalibration of this relationship would require the county to reconsider the existing scope of services made available to our district. That could result in changes which have a negative impact on our com-munity, such as a reduction in services paid for by the county with that sales tax. The result might be losing services far more valuable than the return of a small portion of the tax.

    If we do want a TSA in Putnam, we need to start by crunching numbers and developing relationships with other towns and districts. Our current representatives lack the professionalism, patience, experience and the sense of comity to make this happen. They blame Carmel and the Republicans, when the solution starts with them.