Also, city administrator criticized over reaction to Gaza protest
The Beacon City Council heard from about a dozen residents during a public hearing on Monday (Jan. 22) on a proposal to eliminate minimum parking requirements for new developments.
Their feedback was split. The proposed law would not apply to single- or two-family homes or accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which make up about 80 percent of the city. But on Main Street and in other commercial areas, it would end the requirement that new developments or substantially rebuilt sites provide a minimum number of parking spaces.
Instead, the Planning Board would have flexibility to determine the number of spaces required based on conditions such as comparable uses, location, walkable access to public transit and the size of the parcel. Single- and two-family houses would still need to provide at least one space per dwelling unit, down from two in the current code. The requirement for ADUs of one space per unit would not change.
The hearing was adjourned until Feb. 20, but council members said they plan to discuss the legislation during a workshop before then.
The move is being considered as the city tries to encourage walkability and reduce the environmental impacts of vehicles. More than 200 municipalities nationwide, including Hudson and Kingston in the Hudson Valley, have dropped minimum parking requirements. Some housing advocates believe that rents will decrease if the expense of acquiring or constructing spaces is removed.
Elaine Ciaccio, a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, told the Beacon council that she believed the change would push more parked cars into adjoining residential neighborhoods. She also said that decisions about parking supply should not be left to developers and the Planning Board without guidelines in place.
“Why are we giving benefits to developers without some return?” she asked, noting that “maybe you can get by without a car, but it’s really difficult.”
Kevin Byrne, a Planning Board member, suggested that the law, if adopted, would become a “practical impediment” toward having the city’s interests defended in the planning process. In the absence of minimums, he said that a developer could hire a consultant to provide evidence for the amount of parking the developer wants to provide.
If that happens, the Planning Board would not be “in a position to make a counterproposal or start doing urban planning studies,” he said. Byrne predicted that developers would build more units if they did not have to set aside land for parking.
Steven Higashide, director of the Clean Transportation Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, countered that “the evidence is actually very strong that ending parking minimums helps us chip away at the affordable housing crisis.” Higashide said that parking adds 17 percent to the average apartment rent and cited an American Planning Association report that said studio apartments in Minneapolis, which began eliminating parking requirements in 2015, had fallen by 2018 from $1,200 per month to less than $1,000.
Parking standards are a “blunt tool rooted in a limited set of old data that mostly has been collected in places that are much more suburban than Beacon,” he said.
Hayley Richardson, who works for TransitCenter, a foundation that supports public transportation, agreed, calling parking minimums “outdated policies from last century” that make it difficult to plan for anything other than cars. “Adopting this policy is a first step, not a silver bullet,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do to make our city a place where you can truly live without a car.”
Richardson encouraged the city to provide better sidewalks, safe bike paths and reliable public transit to make it easier for residents to drive less.
City Administrator Chris White was criticized by residents who said they disapproved of his behavior in response to protesters who interrupted a swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 6 at the Memorial Building.
Before the mayor and council members took their oaths, county and state elected officials each offered general comments. When Rep. Pat Ryan, whose U.S. House district includes Beacon, began to speak, four protesters in medical masks, demanding that Ryan support a cease-fire in Gaza, attempted to unfurl a banner in the back of the room; White and several veterans blocked the group and held the banner so it could not be opened.
As police and some of the veterans escorted the shouting protesters from the room, White wrested a cardboard sign from one of them.
On Monday, Arthur Camins spoke to the council about the “long, honorable history of civil disobedience” in the U.S. by citizens campaigning for social justice and human rights causes. Camins said he felt “shock, grave concern and deep disappointment that a civilian member” of the city government “took it upon himself to forcibly intervene in a peaceful, citizen-led action.”
Another speaker, Chiara DiLello, who said she is a teacher, called White’s role in the incident “chilling, actually, considering what it implies,” and asked the council for an assurance that it would not be repeated. “Putting hands on other people, destroying their property, keeping them from speaking their piece — those are behaviors I wouldn’t allow in my fifth-grade classroom,” she said.
Later in the meeting, Mayor Lee Kyriacou spoke frankly about the event. Kyriacou said he has “unwavering support for the First Amendment,” but noted that elected officials and others in attendance had “expressed concern that people dressed in dark dress and wearing dark masks and not identifying themselves made them feel unsafe.”
“That doesn’t mean we can’t have peaceful protest, but we actually have to work together to make it work,” he said. The mayor said that his wife, who is concerned for his safety, keeps a record of violent episodes involving elected officials, including two last year, when members of two New Jersey borough councils were killed in shootings one week apart.
He spoke also about his two adult daughters, who attended the swearing-in and are both autistic. His youngest daughter was traumatized, he said, when protesters gathered outside his home in 2020 and, “as a result of this event, she has a new item to perseverate on.”
“We need to work out a way that everyone, and not just the protesters, feels safe,” Kyriacou said. “We need to do it in a way that respects people with disabilities and respects all of us. It needs to be a dialogue and it’s not a one-way conversation.”
The mayor said he was addressing White’s behavior as a personnel issue and had “already acted on it.”
In other business…
- Kyriacou named Yvonne Caruthers, Stephen Clair, Garrett Duquesne, Nick Guertin, Jay Healey, Atticus Lanigan, Brent Spodek, Brent Stapleton, Olga Tirado and Jan Worthy to the newly created Fishkill Avenue Concepts Committee. The group, which will develop ideas and advise the City Council on access, zoning, streetscapes and viewsheds along Fishkill Avenue, will be chaired by J.C. Calderon. It is expected to complete its work in six to nine months.
- The council named Pam Wetherbee, the Ward 3 representative, as acting mayor, which means she will preside over meetings if Kyriacou is unable to attend.
- The council agreed to extend for two years the special-use permit it first granted the 246-unit Edgewater apartment complex in 2018. According to the developer, three of the seven buildings will be ready in March, and construction on the remaining four will begin in June.
- The owner at 925 Wolcott Ave., the site of the single-room occupancy boardinghouse that was destroyed a year ago by arson, has withdrawn his request that the Zoning Board of Appeals rule on whether he can only build a single-family home on the lot, in accordance with the zoning code and a ruling by the building inspector. The lot is listed for sale for $279,000.
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