Public hearing remains open for feedback
The Tuesday (May 16) meeting of the Cold Spring Village Board served as the fourth round of an ongoing public hearing on proposed updates to chapters of the village code that cover zoning, noise and signage.
The workshop was held a day earlier than usual because three board members planned to attend the annual meeting of the New York Conference of Mayors, which began on Wednesday.
The meeting was brief, just 30 minutes, in contrast to three previous sessions that each lasted more than two hours.
Mayor Kathleen Foley said an ad hoc working group met twice last week and continues to make recommendations regarding revisions based on its review of “legitimate and substantive questions” and comments from the public.
To date, 21 recommendations from the working group, which includes Foley, Trustee Laura Bozzi, Donald McDonald, Eric Wirth, Jesse St. Charles and Paul Henderson, have been posted at coldspringny.gov.
Tuesday’s discussions centered on topics such as “form-based zoning” (designed to preserve village character), landscape standards and streetscape requirements.
The public hearing was again left open and will reconvene at the May 24 board meeting. Residents can offer feedback in person or by Zoom, but Foley said all comments also must be submitted in writing.
The village faces a June 30 deadline for having its revised code accepted by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which provided funding for completing the update.
At the May 10 public hearing, the board accepted recommendations from the working group dealing with subjects such as development density at the former Marathon battery plant site on Kemble Avenue, the maximum height of residential buildings, and accessory housing.
The formal adoption of recommendations will come after all issues raised by the public have been addressed. Ted Fink, the village planning consultant, said a redline version of the updated chapters will be created, and Foley suggested a summary of substantive changes also be prepared.
The working group recommended that a number of issues raised by the residents, such as allowing higher structures on the riverfront because of projected increases in water levels due to climate change and alternative uses for the highway garage site, be considered as part of a comprehensive plan review. Fink suggested that the need for affordable housing should also be addressed in the comprehensive plan.
The most recent comprehensive plan was approved in 2012. The village code is being updated in part to bring it into compliance with the comprehensive plan, which is required by New York State law.
During public comment, residents have raised concerns about what they characterize as a lack of transparency in the code update process; the completeness of responses to questions posted by the working group; the future of the Marathon site; and the appropriateness of many of the proposed updates.
In other business …
■ Two parking pay stations will soon be installed on Main Street near Church Street and Village Hall. The kiosks will only accept payment by credit card but fees also can be paid through the ParkMobile app.
■ Foley reported that she and Larry Burke, officer-in-charge of the Cold Spring Police Department, recently met with nearby law enforcement agencies at the request of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department to discuss pedestrian safety along Route 9D. The meeting was in response to the Metro-North train platform at Breakneck Ridge being closed until July because of construction.
■ Applications before the Planning Board include a request by Foodtown to expand into the former Soho Salon; a move by Houlihan Lawrence from 60 Main St., where its offices have been located since 1993, to 49 Main; and a change of use at 81 Main to open a teahouse. The board also accepted the resignation of Jack Goldstein, chair of the Planning Board, although no reason was given for his departure and he later declined comment.
■ The Cold Spring Police Department responded to 48 calls in April, and officers issued five traffic and 21 parking tickets. There were two arrests, one for criminal mischief and another on a warrant. The board accepted the resignation of Officer Vincent D’Amato, a nine-year veteran of the force.
■ The Recreation Commission recently completed the resurfacing of the multi-use court at Mayor’s Park and is discussing opportunities to partner with the nonprofit Friends of Philipstown Recreation. Steve Etta was honored for his 35 years of service to the commission.
■ The Cold Spring Fire Co. answered 19 calls last month, including calls for mutual aid for brush fires from companies in North Highlands, Garrison, Continental Village and Glenham, three other mutual aid calls to North Highlands, two emergency medical assists, two fire alarms and a motor vehicle crash.
■ Andres Gil Esq. will again represent the village in justice court and traffic court cases.
■ The superintendent of water and wastewater reported that village reservoirs are at 100 percent capacity.
The Cold Spring Village Board seeks to repeal and replace the entire zoning code through a deeply flawed, secretive process. The board released the proposed 130-page law — which is achingly complex and would change the zoning requirements for most of the village — just two days before initially discussing it in April. The board is rushing the process apparently because it seeks to meet a grant funding deadline, which is certainly no reason to short-circuit the democratic process and enact a law that would likely create more problems than it purports to solve.
From September to April, the board conducted the process in secret, which is a stark departure from at least 16 years of precedent. The mayor appointed an “ad hoc zoning committee on the code update” that continues to meet privately without issuing agendas or reports.
After receiving a Freedom of Information Law request for the committee’s minutes, the board provided a set of documents that mostly lack any meaningful information about committee discussions, and broke its promise to post them on the village website. The board’s excuse — that the committee is advisory and need not comply with the Open Meetings Law — is risible. Good public policy requires transparency, as many have argued (rightfully so) in the context of the Fjord Trail saga.
One of the most troubling elements of the proposed new zoning law is its plan for the Marathon site, which would allow the construction of at least 63 (and perhaps up to 77) homes in an area with severe access problems and continuing vapor intrusion issues. The comprehensive plan, with which zoning must comply, states that the village should make “appropriate access to and from the [Marathon] area a prerequisite for any development there, ensuring that development does not create traffic problems that will unreasonably adversely affect current residents.”
Yet the board fails to recognize the reality that 60 or more homes would bring significant traffic problems, dismissing this as a “design question.” Worse, to advocate for the board’s proposed law, the village’s consultant — paid by taxpayer dollars — devised a wildly erroneous buildout analysis for the Marathon site in which he ignored current zoning law, appellate court decisions, existing tax parcels and the village’s formula retail business ban, stoking fears that 52 homes and/or a Home Depot could be built at Marathon.
After numerous residents (including myself) noted the consultant’s manifest errors, he revised his analysis to state that only 11 homes could be built at Marathon but injected irrelevant and confusing information and doubled down on his specious argument that massive retail, school and office structures could be built there.
Additionally, the proposed new zoning law is permeated by voguish “form-based zoning” concepts, replete with pretty pictures that replicate historic district requirements, inject subjectivity into the building permit process, and are likely to cause confusion. As but one example, proposed 134-7(E)(4) (building placement in residential districts) states: “Residential structures shall be located according to the following illustrations, some of which may conflict with the Dimensional Requirements of Table 6B or with each other on a particular site, in which case, the Planning Board may use its discretion to resolve such conflicts.”
In other words, the law would throw a Hail Mary pass to the Planning Board, hoping it would figure it out. How would that lessen burdens on property owners?
Finally, although everyone is concerned about housing affordability, neither the board, its committee, nor its consultant has even attempted to quantify whether the proposed new zoning law would actually make the Village of Cold Spring more affordable. All we have are bromides. As this is a local election year, it’s likely that some candidates will invoke improvements in “affordability” as a slogan, but, as we saw in Oz, behind the curtain it’s just a lot of hot air.