Marathon Zoning Remains Up in the Air

Shore protection work slated for Dockside Park 

Hundreds of revisions to the village code, part of a grueling update of a more than 500-page document, have drawn little or no public comment. 

Not so when it comes to Chapter 134 – Zoning, especially regarding the future of a 12-acre parcel of land on Kemble Avenue that was formerly the site of the Marathon battery factory.

Public hearings began in early September and have produced considerable feedback. Yet, with hearings held as recently as Oct. 14 and 19, and another scheduled for Oct. 21, the issue remains unsettled. 

The question is what zoning should be applied to the Marathon site. No fewer than four options are being considered. 

The site has been zoned Light Industry for decades in large part due to its proximity to the massive West Point Foundry. But most agree “industry” is now not appropriate. 

The Code Update Committee recommended a Mixed-Use designation, a change initially supported by the Village Board and the topic of discussion at a Sept. 7 public hearing. However, three weeks later, largely on the advice of Village Attorney John Furst and Village Planner Ted Fink, the idea of keeping the site zoned Light Industry while considering a change to Planned Unit Development was broadly supported by the board. 

That shift, and the speed at which it was made, brought strong opposition from a number of residents, including Paul Henderson, who had served on the Code Update Committee. 

Michael Reisman, who also worked on code update and the comprehensive plan, commented on Sept. 7 that the Mixed-Use designation had been “many years in the making,” describing it as “an important piece of zoning reform that was done in a very thoughtful way.”

At the Tuesday (Oct. 19) public hearing, the board had its first look at a fourth possible designation, Planned Mixed Use-2, proposed by Fink the previous day. According to Mayor Dave Merandy, it includes measures to ensure village control over the site’s development. 

Ken Kearney, who with his son Sean are principals in the Kearney Realty and Development Group, which owns the site, spoke at the Oct. 14 hearing via Zoom. He urged the Village Board to settle the zoning question before the Nov. 2 election. (Merandy and two of the four trustees are not on the ballot.) 

“There is going to be a new majority on this board” that won’t have “the institutional knowledge this board has,” Kearney said. “There’s nobody in this village better equipped to make this decision.” 

Kearney said he does not intend to build a residential subdivision on the site. “I’ve said that in other communities and they’ve said, ‘We’re going hold you to that,’” he said, adding that municipalities can put “guardrails,” or conditions, on development plans to protect community interests. 

In Somers, for example, the town wanted more commercial space than he had proposed on a project and worked with Kearney to achieve that. “We’ve done that in other communities,” as well, he said. 

Kearney said he favors the Mixed-Use designation. “There’s a way to work with MU1 [in which] you’ll still have control,” he said. “Take another look at it; put guardrails on it.”

In a letter to the board, Sean Kearney, who lives across from the Marathon site, wrote that not adopting Mixed-Use zoning at Marathon would be inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan and “a great disservice to all the volunteer work and community input over the last 10 years.” He cited work done by the Code Update Committee and special boards for the comprehensive plan and local waterfront revitalization strategy, which support Mixed-Use. 

He said the board can include language in Mixed-Use zoning that ensures the site won’t be developed piecemeal. Piecemeal  construction draws criticism for often resulting in residential-only development. 

At recent hearings, residents Peter Henderson, Karen Maschke and Randi Schlesinger each urged the board to carefully consider traffic to and from the site, no matter how it is developed. Currently, the only exit is via Kemble Avenue, a one-way street. Getting to the site is limited to Wall and Rock streets. A road that winds through the Forge Gate condominium complex and connects to The Boulevard is private.

“If there is no realistic answer [regarding traffic] it seems like we’re wasting everyone’s time,” Henderson wrote in an email to the board, adding that “a solar farm would be a good option.” 

No action was taken by the board on Tuesday. The public hearing remains open and Fink’s latest proposal was scheduled to be considered in more detail on Oct. 21. 

Dockside shore protection 

As part of the regular board meeting, Merandy reported that work will begin soon on shoreline protection at Dockside Park, which is owned by the state parks department and managed by the village.

Merandy said a contract has been let by the state for the shoreline stabilization project, which will involve removal of invasive plant species and the addition of natural materials such as stone and appropriate vegetation. The state hopes it can be “a model for how other communities can stop erosion,” he said. 

The work, which will begin in late November or early December and take about a year, will be overseen by the state. In 2015, the cost was estimated at $700,000. In addition to shore protection measures, the design calls for a boat ramp and an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant path around the perimeter of the park. 

Merandy said concern had been raised that Vinny Tamagna, a candidate for mayor, was in the park during a recent meeting between Merandy and state officials. “I can assure you I didn’t invite him,” said Merandy, who has endorsed Tamagna to succeed him. “You’d have to ask Mr. Tamagna why he was there and who invited him.”

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