Letter: Marathon Property

If democracy is famously difficult, zoning may be its most arduous exercise. About 15 years ago, after several false starts, a small group of citizens in Cold Spring decided to strengthen the community’s say in its future development.

The Village Board appointed a special board to develop a comprehensive plan and a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program. The board conducted a village-wide survey which had a notably high response rate, established working groups on everything from water supply to parking and land use, and pursued funding for the project.

I chaired the special board for about five years and spent additional time serving on special committees and preparing the update of the village code, so I have firsthand appreciation for the thousands of hours volunteers poured into this effort. I’m familiar with public fury, the challenge of debating complicated issues in public meetings, the tedium and the frustration with indifference. We organized dozens of public meetings; each one required a meeting place, public notice in the papers, stapling flyers to telephone poles, writing presentations and copying handouts, recording comments, and on and on.

After months of intense public discussion and debate, the special board approved a draft comprehensive plan in December 2010, which was debated and refined for another year by the Village Board before being adopted.

In 2011, the special board prepared, with additional public meetings and debate, a Local Waterfront Revitalization Strategy, with the intention of using that as a basis for developing and winning approval for a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, the ultimate weapon to defend the village’s future and to help us draw on federal and state grants.

In the spring of 2013, we were dismayed to learn that New York State would not approve any Local Waterfront Revitalization Program presented by the Village of Cold Spring unless the village first updated its village code. With fits and starts, and a lot of grit, volunteers and elected officials spent additional thousands of hours, held countless public meetings on proposed changes and expended thousands of dollars for professional planning and legal advice to update the code. They did that work for years.

In a letter to the Village Board dated Sept. 13, Peter Henderson argued to scrap the proposed code establishing a Mixed-Use category for 11 acres that may be among the most critical to the future of our village (Zoning Change Could Shape Marathon Site’s Future, Sept. 17). He argues that the village will have more leverage with a developer by staying with the current zoning, which permits industrial uses on that land. The essence of his argument is that clearly defining a Mixed-Use district will get in the way of negotiations between the developer and the Planning Board and put the village at a disadvantage.

This, to me, is strategically unsound. Every lever requires a fulcrum, and that fulcrum, for this community, for decades has been an antiquated code that no longer represents the wishes of the community, is full of contradictions and is likely to crumble at the first brief from a smart attorney. Dozens of volunteers worked for 15 years to fix that. The new code, the product of their efforts, defines those 11 acres clearly for Mixed-Use, consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and Local Waterfront Revitalization Strategy. Once adopted, Mixed-Use zoning will provide true leverage. The new code will be fair to everyone. It will give the developer guidelines for completing his project, while ensuring that the voice of the people of this village is heard.

I urge the Village Board to approve the new code, with Mixed-Use.

Michael Armstrong, Cold Spring

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