Finding a Path Forward on Park Access

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
A month ago, we were told that the Diversity & Inclusion Committee had recommended dropping the residency requirement for Croton parks. Then we were told that the recommendation was made at the “listening session” held on June 20. As part of the reason for the need to drop the residency requirement, we were told that the Croton Police Department had recently questioned teenagers playing basketball on Benedict while their parents were attending the adjacent church.

None of this was true.

The basketball incident apparently occurred ten years ago, but nobody really knows what went on because the Board of Trustees has not put up the police reports as part of the backup material on the agenda. Nor did the village append minutes of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee; in fact the last minutes that were posted came from the March 29 meeting of the D&I Committee.

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After residents raised the issue of missing minutes which were being used in support of a proposed legislative action by the Croton Board of Trustees, the village finally released the minutes from the June 20 session.

At the bottom of a 2-page summary is suggestion 4(m)—the 24 words that have upended Croton for the past month: “For people from Ossining but spend time in Croton, the access to Croton parks is overly restricted. Can they pay to use Croton parks?”

That is it. That is what our Board of Trustees interpreted as a call to drop the residency requirement.

Our Board of Trustees is composed of intelligent people who can read. Two are lawyers and one is a teacher. And our Village Manager has an advanced degree from a top school. Unlike the ordinary residents of Croton who did not get to read the actual minutes until a few days ago, the Board of Trustees of the Village of Croton-on-Hudson had 2 work sessions and a Board of Trustees session before public pressure forced them to release the basis for this uproar.

If the Board of Trustees wants to drop the residency requirement for village parks, then just say so. That is a legitimate conversation to have. But to hide behind a purported suggestion from the Diversity & Inclusion Committee is cowardly and unnecessary.

If the Board of Trustees wants to drop the residency requirement for village parks, then just say so. That is a legitimate conversation to have. But to hide behind a purported suggestion from the D&I committee is cowardly and unnecessary.

Ironically the suggestion “M” is reasonable and would have been well-received by residents if it had been presented in a dispassionate and logical manner. In fact that suggestion is the best thing to come out of the June 20 “listening session.” The person is not seeking removal of residency restrictions, only the opportunity to pay a fee as a resident of a neighboring community and thereby get access to the village parks.

We share a waterfront and riverfront with our neighbors in Ossining. Ossining residents contribute greatly to the Croton economy and support our tax base, particularly with their patronage of ShopRite and several of the childcare centers. I have had interactions with the Mayor and municipal officials in Ossining, and they are friendly people who are good neighbors.

Many waterfront communities have programs similar to what is being proposed by suggestion “M.” This is common with beach permits on Long Island and elsewhere. Croton already does something similar with train station parking: a certain number of permits are available for residents to purchase and a limited number of permits can be purchased by non-residents who often pay a slightly higher fee than residents.

A pilot program such as this would make a lot of sense. Croton would set aside a limited number of permits for residents of Ossining, and seek reciprocity for Croton residents wishing to use Ossining facilities. The program would run for a season and be re-evaluated at the end of the season and modified as necessary.

The conversation in Croton—especially online—has gotten very nasty. It is perfectly fine to have a conversation about racism and hatred in Croton, but our Board of Trustees should not be stoking the fires of hatred between residents and anti-police sentiment by making stuff up.

Suggestion “M” is a good starting point, and a way forward. It is a pathway to inter-municipality cooperation, neighborliness, and projecting an image of Croton as a welcoming village.

Paul Steinberg

Is This Any Way to Run a Government?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
In light of some misunderstanding about my letter last week, I would like to clarify: the Croton Board of Trustees is certainly within its legal authority to dispose of the Hollis Lane property, and in doing so it does not have to accept the highest price. It also has broad discretion in the manner of sale.

However the State Comptroller has taken the position: “Although there is no public hearing requirement in Village Law… we note that the village board is subject to the Open Meetings Law…and, therefore, board actions in connection with the sale of real property are subject to the requirements of that law” (for the full document, Google “OSC opinion 90-37”).

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If the Board of Trustees takes action in a meeting which is closed to the public in violation of state law, this can subject the taxpayers of Croton to liability, and also potentially the individual trustees in their personal capacities unless they dissented from the decision to enter into “Executive Session.”

If you stand in the middle of Grand Street with a megaphone and shout that you are contemplating putting your house on the market, the publicity does not “substantially affect the value” of your house. Nor would it “substantially affect the value” of a lot on Hollis Lane if the Croton Board of Trustees openly discussed selling that lot.

Unless a board’s discussion will “substantially affect the value” of the property under discussion, it is against the NY Open Meetings Law to have an “Executive Session.” For many years, it has been common in Croton to go into “Executive Session” when the Board of Trustees doesn’t want the public to know what is going on. But in the case of Hollis Lane, this could open the door to a legal challenge.

Once the Board of Trustees decided to put the property for sale on BidNet, it was in theory public information. In reality, the only people who would know of the sale are government vendors registered on BidNet and those select few who are plugged-in to the inner circle of Croton government.

I don’t get private briefings from Croton trustees at local coffeehouses. I don’t sit on any of the citizen committees whose members are occasionally granted the honor of a private audience with the Deputy Mayor. I am glad that the Hollis Lane information leaked out and was put up on social media, but is this any way to run a government?

I don’t get private briefings from Croton trustees at local coffeehouses. I don’t sit on any of the citizen committees whose members are occasionally granted the honor of a private audience with the Deputy Mayor. I am glad that the Hollis Lane information leaked out and was put up on social media, but is this any way to run a government?

I understand that the Croton Board of Trustees believes “fiduciary duty” to be an offensive concept, but even so they have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers. The decisions regarding Hollis Lane were not an accident, nor a random act. This was a deliberate planned course of action selected by the Croton Board of Trustees and executed by the Village Manager.

Normally the secretive nature of Croton’s Board of Trustees is just an inconvenience and anti-democratic, but in the instance of disposition of real property the backroom dealing has monetary consequences.

Raw land tends to be more difficult to sell than a regular house. There is a limited pool of buyers, and a prospect needs to have a vision and perform due diligence to ascertain that construction after purchase can be realized in a manner which is economically feasible.

It is rare for a vacant parcel to be sold in 25 days. By way of comparison, according to Coldwell Banker in 2018 the average house in Croton stayed on the market for 73 days; 51 percent were on the market for more than 45 days. And this is in the hottest Croton market in 10 years.

Hoping to sell your house in 25 days is optimistic even in this market. Mandating the disposition of a vacant plot of land in 25 days is a fire-sale. Only letting BidNet-registered government vendors and those who are informed by Croton insiders know that the Hollis Lane plot is for sale may be in keeping with Croton tradition, but it is not in keeping with the legal and moral obligation of the Board of Trustees.

On several occasions, the NYS Comptroller has said that at least one appraisal is recommended, if not two. Even at that, Croton’s Board of Trustees has a responsibility to carefully evaluate the terms of the sale. In a 2011 sale of school property, the NYS Dept of Education set aside the sale because the second appraisal was obtained after the RFP had closed, and because the RFP only allowed a 30-day bid window (to read the decision, Google “NYSED 16,239”).

In the case of Hollis Lane, there is no indication the Croton Board of Trustees has bothered to get a single appraisal, and Croton only allowed a 25 day RFP bid window. Perhaps in those secret sessions, the trustees discussed appraisals. Perhaps they discussed the reason for the urgency of the sale. Perhaps they reviewed the options for marketing the property.

Perhaps there is a reason why the rest of us are left to wonder what was discussed in secret.

I am not disputing the authority of the Board of Trustees to sell the Hollis Lane property, and I am not opposing the sale of the property. But as the NYS Comptroller noted (Opinion 96-11): “The method of sale chosen is within the board's discretion, but should be the one which the board believes will yield the best price or maximum financial benefits. To fulfill this fiduciary duty, the board should take appropriate measures, which may include obtaining one or more appraisals and utilizing a real estate broker to identify potential buyers.”

Operating in secrecy and putting village land up for sale in a manner which minimizes the number of potential bidders and minimizes the sale price hardly seems to rise to a basic level of competence. We have the right as citizens to expect at least that much.

Paul Steinberg

A Mystery on Hollis Lane

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
Does any reader have a Brownells core brush to sell? A digital scale? A stadiometer? How about some diatomaceous earth? If you do, get yourself online and go to BidNet, which bills itself as the place to “Win More Government Contracts.”

BidNet is a restricted site, but if you are a vendor you can register and see local and state bids and Requests for Proposal. It is a bit difficult to navigate, which is why they offer paid assistance to vendors. So everyone out there who isn’t using their Brownells core brush, take heart—BidNet is the place for you.

It is a bit of a Croton hobby to look on Zillow or Redfin, and to window shop at River Towns Realty. I like to flip thru the glossy Houlihan Lawrence books while grabbing a snack at Franki’s. We all know where to look for information about our property values, and we know where to go if we want to buy or sell real estate in Croton.

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I don’t pretend to have the real estate expertise of Brian Pugh, but I have bought, sold, and leased property: residential, office, and retail. And in all that time, I have never thought to look on BidNet. I do pretend to have some opinion as to the lack of transparency at our Municipal Building, particularly when it comes to real estate matters.

For 24 years, the Village of Croton has owned a 4.15 acre plot of land on Hollis Lane in Cortlandt, near the Brinton Brook Sanctuary. Then some urgent need arose, and the Village of Croton got in a panic and needed to unload the property in 25 days, 1 hour, and 38 minutes.

For 24 years, the Village of Croton has owned a 4.15 acre plot of land on Hollis Lane in Cortlandt, near the Brinton Brook Sanctuary. Then some urgent need arose, and the Village of Croton got in a panic and needed to unload the property in 25 days, 1 hour, and 38 minutes.

So at 2:22 p.m. on June 17, the village quietly posted the land for sale on BidNet. It said that sealed bids are due by 4p.m. on July 12. After that time, “The village will evaluate the offers and then proceed to enter into a Purchase Agreement with the chosen buyer, who will be chosen based upon an evaluation and comparison of all terms of the offers submitted.”

I wonder if the last time Mr. Pugh sold his house, he went to his realtor and said: “You’ve got 25 days, 1 hour and 38 minutes to bring me offers. Not a minute more. And be sure to list this on an obscure website where people are selling diatomaceous earth and Brownells core brushes. I am not necessarily looking for the best price. Nor will I tell you what I am looking for or what weightings I am assigning to the criteria which I refuse to disclose.”

Is there any homeowner reading this who does not think this is a peculiar way to sell a property in Cortlandt? If so, I have some Brownells core brushes to sell you.

The secretive nature and social hierarchy of information dissemination is a feature of Croton government, particularly when it comes to real property matters. Our Board of Trustees goes into secret “Executive Session” and tells us it is because they are going “to discuss the proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property.”

Of course, Mr. Pugh himself is an attorney, and there is a Village Attorney present at board meetings. So the Board of Trustees knows that New York law states that the discussion can be in secret “only when publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.” If the Board of Trustees has been unaware of this, I urge them to Google “pub off law 105” and read the actual law which they are supposed to be following. I understand that this is Croton, where the New York Open Meetings Law is regarded as a non-binding suggestion, but they might want to read it anyway.

Did you ever wonder why, when our Board of Trustees goes into “Executive Session,” it only recites the first part of the exception to the Open Meetings Law, and never the second part? An open discussion of the fact that Croton is going to sell the Hollis Lane property after 24 years would not have substantially affected the value of the property.

Since 1996 when the Village of Croton acquired the property, I doubt the Board of Trustees has ever had a public discussion about Hollis Lane. All of a sudden this is a super-secret crisis and Hollis Lane must be sold on a website where you have to register as a government vendor in order to get access.

Presumably there will be another “Executive Session” after the July 12 deadline, and we will never know what the true story is about this odd real estate transaction. In fact if Hollis Lane is sold to one of the infamously opaque New York real estate LLCs, the taxpayers of Croton may never find out who the buyer is. Sen. Brad Holyman (D-Manhattan) has been trying for years to change the LLC law because of its abuse in real estate purchases and also in campaign financing.

If the Croton Board of Trustees approves sale of Hollis Lane to an LLC purchaser, I hope they will require transparency as to beneficial ownership. In fact, it should be required that all bidders for Hollis Lane disclose beneficial ownership to avoid even the appearance of non-transparency. I for one am curious as to who is shopping for a vacant Cortlandt home plot on a government contractor website.

I am sure there is a good reason why the Board of Trustees operated in secret with regard to Hollis Lane. No doubt there are machinations and moving parts hidden from us regular folk which account for this sale of village land being conducted in a manner seemingly calculated to minimize the number of bidders and sale price. Frankly it really doesn’t matter, because the Board of Trustees doesn’t care: they behave the way they choose, and tell us what they want us to know when they want to tell us.

On the off chance that the Board of Trustees will change its mind with regard to future sales of village real estate, they might consider using one of the many fine real estate agents in Croton. They might consider having the property listed on the MLS and other public websites. They might consider abiding by the Open Meetings Law.

Oh, one final tip for Mr. Pugh: If your realtor lists your property on a website where the other listings are for Brownells core brushes and diatomaceous earth, then you should switch agents.

Paul Steinberg

Is Croton’s Debt Sustainable?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

To the editor,

I had the pleasure of serving as Chair of the Village of Croton-on-Hudson Financial Sustainability Committee (FSC) from July 2016 through April 2019. Through its first three years, the FSC interviewed, researched, investigated and reported to the Village our primary conclusions. These were:

  1. Village debt levels are among the highest in the state and the Village Board should focus on ways to lower our debt burden.  Stemming from that analysis the Village Debt Policy was unanimously voted on by the Board. The Debt Policy mandated the Village make best efforts to borrow less than what bonds get paid off each year. Over time, our debt burden would become more manageable. Since being enacted in 2017 the Village adhered to the Debt Policy the next two budgets but breached the debt policy this year.

  2. Village Fees (Parking, Water) are among the highest in the region and the Board should do its best to maintain service levels while keeping costs to Village residents down. Last year the Village increased parking fees.

  3. Village budget expenditures are growing faster than what should be considered sustainable and the Board needs to undertake a Village-wide review of its operations and capital plan. I don’t believe the Village has undertaken this review yet, though they may have a plan to do so in the future.

Our reports are on the Village website under Boards and Committees, Financial Sustainability Committee. Please have a look! FSC members took time away from family to create these reports. I’m very proud of my FSC colleagues and neighbors and I admire them greatly. We came from all sides of the political spectrum and while we may have disagreed on various issues but we worked well together. Most important, we were in lock-step on what the Village needed to do financially. Once examined the numbers don’t lie.

After the passage of the 2019-20 Village budget and subsequent breach of the Debt Policy I and several other members of the FSC resigned from the Committee. Prior to that we had minimal communication with the Mayor and Trustees, which is perfectly fine! The Mayor and Trustees can utilize our committee and take or leave our advice as they see fit. But the financial problems facing our Village persist and we just didn’t think there was enough focus on addressing the core problem of overspending.

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One issue you may not be aware of has been cost overrun with the DPW Relocation and Remediation project. In May 2017, the Village Manager and Trustees requested FSC opinion on the financial impact of the DPW Project on the Village budget. Our committee was given an estimate of the total cost of the project of $3.5 million without taking debt financing into consideration. That included $2.6 million for the purchase of the two abutting properties on RT. 129 and $900 thousand for retrofit of the purchased property and demolition/paving over of the existing Train Station DPW facility to make additional parking. At the time, the FSC commended the Village for making a very large infrastructure investment on a core service while staying within the limits of the Debt and Reserve policies. Our letter of recommendation is on the Village website as well.

A few weeks ago after reviewing the latest budget and the proposed Village Capital Plan I contacted Village Manager King to get her best estimate of the total cost of the DPW Project to-date. After filing a FOIL request, I received a report from the Village that shows the cost of the DPW project currently stands at nearly $5.2 million, which is $1.7 million over the cost estimate used to vote on the project. The $5.2 million does not include finance costs which will add an additional 30%.

A few weeks ago after reviewing the latest budget and the proposed Village Capital Plan I contacted Village Manager King to get her best estimate of the total cost of the DPW Project to-date. After filing a FOIL request, I received a report from the Village that shows the cost of the DPW project currently stands at nearly $5.2 million, which is $1.7 million over the cost estimate used to vote on the project. The $5.2 million does not include finance costs which will add an additional 30%....Have you heard of any major issues or stumbling blocks that ramped up the cost of the DPW project above initial estimate by $1.7 million? Neither have I. And that’s the problem as it seems like business as usual. How did this DPW project overshoot initial cost estimates by nearly 50%?

So far, $3.4 million has been spent for the purchase of the Route 129 properties, renovation of the new DPW building and remediation and engineering design. In its 2019-20 capital budget, the Village projects an additional spend of $1.6 million to demolish the old DPW facility and make it additional parking spaces. The project concludes in 2021 with an additional $120,000 to update an oil tank.

Have you heard of any major issues or stumbling blocks that ramped up the cost of the DPW project above initial estimate by $1.7 million? Neither have I. And that’s the problem as it seems like business as usual. How did this DPW project overshoot initial cost estimates by nearly 50%?

Once I found out this detail I understood clearly why the Village Board voted to breach the debt limit. It seems they really didn’t have a choice. If the Village was more accurate in estimating the cost of the project in 2017, would the 2017 Board have voted for the project or instead asked the Village Manager to come up with something more cost effective? From our perspective, the FSC anticipated some cost overrun and felt that the estimate provided was a bit low, but we would have raised red-flags on the project if we were given a $5.2 million estimate.

Is this difference in actual vs. projected costs of capital projects common? Looking at the numbers for recent projects like Gouveia and the Grand Street Firehouse renovation I believe its more common than it should be. But as far as I’m aware, the Village doesn’t report on this or establish any benchmarks or procedures to ensure the estimates they bring to the Board for vote are accurate and take into consideration worst case contingencies. If my calculations are wrong or I missed something, I’m happy to be corrected. But if I’m right the Village needs to provide an explanation.

Currently the Village is planning over $6 million in additional capital improvements to the Municipal Building and Croton Point Avenue, if the cost estimates are accurate. The Village Board needs to be more critical of cost estimates of these capital projects going forward.

Respectfully,
Dan Osborne

Understanding “Affordable” Housing

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
There has been some uncertainty as to the economic impact associated with income-restricted apartments on a community. Regardless of how you feel about such development in Croton, it is important to understand the numbers.

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The first issue is the cost of development. This involves land acquisition, construction, and ancillary costs. “Affordable” is a term defined by statute, and it includes restrictions on the rent charged to tenants. As a result, government must provide incentives so that developers build “affordable” units rather than market-rate units.

Costs associated with development can be significant. As I outlined previously (The Gazette, week of May 9/15), the Peekskill affordable units targeted at artists required initial subsidies in excess of $265,000 per apartment. The Regent Street project in Port Chester involved $5 million in construction funding from NY State on top of $4.3 million (spent by Westchester County) for land acquisition and infrastructure. So the 34 apartments in Port Chester required $273,000 per unit.

It is fine to say that Croton should build “affordable” apartments. But we need to account for not only the initial subsidies (which can be in the millions of dollars), but 50 years of property and school taxes which are unlikely to cover the actual costs associated with the additional residents. And we need to remember that just because a building is 80 percent market-rate does not mean that it will pay its fair share of the tax burden.

The take-away: “affordable” apartments are not cheap, and government often gives land away to private developers as an incentive. That is not an argument against building such apartments, but it does mean that taxpayers need to pay attention to what their elected officials are giving away in order to get “affordable” housing.

Many years ago, Croton paid almost a million dollars for the Katz property and there is a legitimate question as to what development plans the Croton Board of Trustees have for the property. This being Croton, only the insiders know the answer. But if the Board intends to give away Katz to a private developer this should be a discussion conducted in public.

The second issue is the ongoing cost to taxpayers. Back in 2005, New York passed a law restricting how high a municipality can assess an “affordable” apartment complex. (If you want to read the law, Google “rpt 581a”). Various taxes, including school and property taxes, are a function of the taxable assessed value of the piece of property.

Apartments are commonly assessed based in large part on how much income they provide to the landlord. What the 2005 law did was to dramatically shift the burden from landlords to taxpayers on any “affordable” unit.

Many of the monetary benefits which landlords get such as tax credits, subsidized mortgage financing, and project grants (such as the NYSERDA grants used in the Peekskill development) are now excluded from the calculation of landlord income. In addition, the municipal tax assessor is prohibited from using standard assessment metrics such as comparable sale prices. Nor may the assessment of an “affordable” building take account of value from a potential conversion to condo/coop ownership.

The effect of the law can be dramatic. In the first litigation challenging an assessment under the new law back in 2008, a 24-unit development had the assessment reduced from $220,000 down to $6,158 (The Gazette, week of Aug 26/Sept 1, 2010).

Mr. Olver recently discussed the market-rate apartments he wishes to see in Croton (The Gazette, week of May 9/15). Given that the units would be market-rate, the assumption would be that the landlords will pay their fair share of Croton village and school taxes. That assumption would be wrong.

Croton law essentially requires (Section 230-48) that 10 percent of apartments in new buildings must be “affordable” as that term is defined by law. Croton can also grant incentives (such as floor-area-ratio waivers, height waivers, etc.) to developers who voluntarily provide more than the legal minimum of “affordable” units. Under state law, once there is a 20 percent “affordable” component, the tax assessment of the entire building falls under the lower assessment criteria.

This should be a concern to Croton taxpayers and also to those living in the Croton Harmon Union Free School District (CHUFSD). This affects taxpayers living outside the Croton electoral district.

Some taxpayers who pay school taxes don’t live in the electoral district of the Croton Board of Trustees. If the village grants benefits to a private real estate developer in exchange for a 20 percent “affordable” set-aside, then that building will have a CHUFSD school tax payment which quite likely will be less than the landlord’s fair share. That may not matter much if it is a senior-restricted development, but it is very important if the development has many school-age residents.

Under Croton’s law, the “affordable” units must remain that way for 50 years. Most of us will be retired or dead while future CHUFSD taxpayers will still be paying higher taxes so that landlords can get a break, even if 80 percent of his units are market rate.

Decisions made by the Croton Board of Trustees in 2019 are going to be burdening taxpayers in 2069. Those burdens will be falling on many homeowners outside of Croton: even if they don’t have children in Croton schools, they will be paying higher taxes to subsidize people living in apartments—even those renters in market-rate units who have a higher income.

NYS affordable assessment law presumes that the landlord will be honest. But as we have seen with efforts to game the rent laws in NYC, landlord accounting for operating expenses can be…. Um, let’s just call it “creative accounting.”

That was one of the issues in an “affordable” tax assessment case upstate back in 2015. The town basically said the landlord was claiming bogus expenses and fudging income numbers. So instead of the $350,000 assessment under the special NYS law, the town assessed at the market rate for such an apartment building—$4,543,059. In that case, the town board entered into an “Executive Session” (much like the tactic of our Croton board). The court found that the board’s executive session was illegal (no surprise there), but the court still held for the town on the issue of the tax assessment.

Since the Croton Board of Trustees is determined to have “affordable” apartments lining Riverside, at very least they should institute a mandatory audit procedure to ensure that landlords don’t submit creative bookkeeping. Given past history, the Board of Trustees would be well advised to not try and review the records themselves; a CPA with knowledge of audit and property management accounting should be retained.

It is fine to say that Croton should build “affordable” apartments. But we need to account for not only the initial subsidies (which can be in the millions of dollars), but 50 years of property and school taxes which are unlikely to cover the actual costs associated with the additional residents. And we need to remember that just because a building is 80 percent market-rate does not mean that it will pay its fair share of the tax burden.

Paul Steinberg

The Board Must Take Account of Existing Realities in Retail Trade

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
Much of the discussion of the prospective North Riverside Rezoning has focused on the addition of mixed use and/or other new retail outlets in the subject area. Great care must be exercised in considering any retail expansion in Croton, as brick and mortar retail is a declining industry in our area and the country as a whole. Under pressure from on-line retailers more and more retail outlets are closing.

According to Coresight Research, 5,864 stores closed in the U.S. in 2018. Thus far in 2019, 6,175 such closures have been announced and the projected total for the year is about 12,000 (Journal-News, 5/10/19). In some locations, entire malls have gone dark. Over the past year or so, Croton has lost its hardware store, the locksmith shop, and the athletic shoe store, and there have likely been others as well. The old Blockbuster Video store stood empty for years before a new tenant was found; the former German deli remains empty; and the small shop behind the dummy light is unoccupied more often than not.

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An unscientific survey of village retail suggests that the largest number of our retail establishments offer food and drink. Restaurants and taverns. Supermarkets, groceries, and delis. Bakeries and ice cream shops. From this group, we have recently lost Anton’s, Memphis Mae’s, Umami, Justin Thyme, Tagine, and perhaps others. Although other restaurants have filled some of these spaces, how many more food outlets can Croton, with its limited population, support? The new Mexican restaurant in the old Umami space is just a few steps from Mex-To-Go. Can both of these establishments thrive in such close proximity?

It has long been recognized that one of Croton’s problems with retail is the lack of a unified business district like, e.g., Pleasantville. We cannot do much about the existing dispersion of stores throughout our village, but encouraging even more of them across the entire study area will only make this situation worse.

We cannot dictate what type of retail outlets may choose to rent any of the prospective new spaces, but our recent history, combined with the growing preference for on-line shopping by many, if not most, people does not bode well for new stores in our village. For example, if there are two similar successful stores in Croton, and a third one enters in competition, it could result in the failure of one of them, or two, or, in the extreme, all three.

The concept of mixed-use assumes that rent from a healthy retail store will allow the developer/landlord to charge lower rents for residential apartments, and perhaps even allow for the affordable housing units being touted as part of the rezoning. But if that business cannot prosper in the current retail climate, the economic model falls apart. And in addition, we will have empty storefronts in our Gateway area that will certainly not enhance the impression made on those entering our village.

It has long been recognized that one of Croton’s problems with retail is the lack of a unified business district like, e.g., Pleasantville. We cannot do much about the existing dispersion of stores throughout our village, but encouraging even more of them across the entire study area will only make this situation worse.

Thus, it is incumbent on the Village Board and its zoning consultant to take account of the realities existing in retail trade in 2019 and not foster the expansion of retail space which may be difficult or impossible to rent and which may well result in failed businesses and empty storefronts in our village. One can only hope that this will be one of the topics discussed at next week’s meeting on the rezoning issue.

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold

Trustee Olver Should Deal with the Facts

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor:
Trustee Olver has made it clear that he favors the rhetorical device of the “straw man argument,” as several of his recent letters to this paper have employed this strategy, including his letter last week. Instead of addressing the actual points made by a critic, Trustee Olver prefers to make up a fictionalized version of a critic’s statements that he can then attack. It’s not honest, but it can be convincing and it’s certainly easier than dealing with the facts.

Trustee Olver says that as an attorney, I should know how to “time” my FOIL requests so that I can receive timely responses, and scolds me for insinuating some kind of malfeasance by the Village Clerk in response to my “rush” FOIL request. The FOIL request in question, which sought the public release of documents from the “Municipal Place Gateway and North Riverside Neighborhood Zoning Working Group” was submitted to the village on March 22, 2019, which was the day after the evening meeting on March 21 when this group’s existence was revealed to the public. I suppose I could have whipped out my phone while sitting in the Harmon Firehouse to compose my FOIL request that very evening, but to do so seemed both rude and unlikely to prompt any faster response than sending my request the next business day.

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Since taking control, the current administration has adopted a policy of refusing to address questions from the public at public meetings. They have subverted the FOIL process to keep information about the rezoning process and other public policy away from the public, while engaging in selective information sharing for members of their own political party, as the minutes of a recent Bicycle Pedestrian Committee meeting have shown. If Trustee Olver wishes to defend the oligarchy he is a part of, he should at least do so honestly.

What, exactly, was wrong with my “timing” of my FOIL request, Trustee Olver?

I have now been waiting almost three months for documents that Trustee Olver, Trustee Gallelli and Trustee Simmons have stated will show no plans and no discussions about plans to rezone the North Riverside area. As I asked in my earlier letter, if these statements by our public officials are true, then why is the village taking more than three months to decide whether to even make these documents public, and why will they not release any of them until after the only scheduled public meeting on the rezoning issue?

The problem is not, as Trustee Olver posits, the “rush” nature of my FOIL request, submitted now almost a quarter of a year ago. The problem is not about my “timing”. It is about the content of my request and it is about this village board’s demonstrated preference to share information that should be public with only those associated with their political party.

Since taking control, the current administration has adopted a policy of refusing to address questions from the public at public meetings. They have subverted the FOIL process to keep information about the rezoning process and other public policy away from the public, while engaging in selective information sharing for members of their own political party, as the minutes of a recent Bicycle Pedestrian Committee meeting have shown. If Trustee Olver wishes to defend the oligarchy he is a part of, he should at least do so honestly.

Roseann Schuyler

Why is the Board of Trustees Putting Innocent People at Risk?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
I am not one of those residents who is granted private briefings by Ms. Gallelli or Mr. Simmons, let alone someone who has input into the opaque operations of our village government. I certainly don’t get to sit in on those secret “Executive Sessions” in which the Croton Board of Trustees discusses “real property” matters. But I hope that some charitable reader of The Gazette who is granted admission to the Croton inner circle can clarify something for me:

Given what the Board of Trustees know about how climate change is going to affect Croton in the coming years, why is the Board of Trustees putting innocent people at risk?

The report on a little-known workshop on climate change shows in detail that the rise in sea level will endanger residents living in Half Moon Bay, Brook Street, and North Riverside. So why do our Board of Trustees and Village officials want to endanger lives by encouraging construction of apartments in an area that is—by their own admission—becoming a floodplain?

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Given what the Board of Trustees know about how climate change is going to affect Croton in the coming years, why is the Board of Trustees putting innocent people at risk? The report on a little-known workshop on climate change shows in detail that the rise in sea level will endanger residents living in Half Moon Bay, Brook Street, and North Riverside. So why do our Board of Trustees and Village officials want to endanger lives by encouraging construction of apartments in an area that is—by their own admission—becoming a floodplain?

A half-day workshop to discuss government response to climate change in Croton, Cortlandt and Buchanan was held on October 18, 2018. Attending that day were Ms. Gallelli and a “who’s who” of Croton government, gathered with officials from Buchanan and Cortlandt. This included top officials from the Village of Croton and also from the Croton-Harmon school district.

A report of that meeting was issued in January 2019, and on page 13 of the report it says something of great relevance to the rezoning of Brook Street and Riverside Avenue: “Village of Croton to determine buyout options and implications for North/South Riverside Ave and Brook Street, as well as the possibility of levees.”

Wow.

At the same time the Board of Trustees is talking about lining Riverside and Brook Street with apartments, our Deputy Mayor, Village Manager, Village Engineer, Chief of Police, Superintendent of Public Works, and a Croton resident identified as being a member of the Sustainability Committee (he is also a member of the Business Development Committee) are having a discussion about “buyouts of the properties in this area over the long term.” (Report at page 8)

At the March 21, 2019 rezoning presentation, there was discussion of how rezoning would impact the portion of North Riverside near High Street. Yet none of the Board of Trustees, nor the Village Manager, nor our $75,000 consultant saw fit to mention that last fall they were at a workshop which concluded that one of our “Medium societal priorities” is “Evaluate options for the Washington Engine House on High Street, considering new sea level rise and flooding projections.” (Report at page 13)

When the Village Manager and other notables want to discuss the possible buyout of private property by the government, this should be done at a regular meeting of the Board of Trustees. This is particularly true given the fact that the discussion involved a particular limited area (Brook Street).

It is true that under NYS Open Meetings Law section 105(1)(h) there is a provision for the Board of Trustees to enter into Executive Session when discussion would “substantially affect the value [of real property]” In this instance, talk of “buyouts” of private land was discussed with at least one public citizen (the Sustainability Committee member) present. In addition to the Croton politicians and officials in attendance, there were residents of Cortlandt and Buchanan. This was not a discussion limited to the Board of Trustees. Moreover, the workshop generated a report.

Croton’s village government did not put the report online for the public; given the pervasive secrecy of our Croton Board of Trustees that is not news. Fortunately Ms. Pugliese runs a transparent government and posted the workshop report on the Cortlandt website.

The report indicates that the foundation of the Croton input was based on a “recently completed Storm Study Group.” I did not even know Croton had a “Storm Study Group” since this is one of those quasi-secret groups like the “North Riverside Neighborhood Zoning Working Group” that was instrumental in the rezoning plan first presented to the public on March 21.

The “Storm Study Group” documents and reports should be made public on the Village of Croton website. So should the records of the “North Riverside Neighborhood Zoning Working Group.” This is essential information needed for Croton residents to evaluate the planned rezoning.

Since the village is talking about “exploring the possibility of having levees” in the Hudson (Report, page 13), this issue needs to be resolved prior to rezoning. Once routinely used, levees have fallen out of favor. There are cases (such as New Orleans) where millions of people will either have to move or risk death without levee construction.

Croton is not New Orleans.

The area which would be protected by any levee is presumably a portion of North Riverside. With the notable exception of Brook Street, that area currently has a low density of residents. While Croton’s Board of Trustees is sending Deputy Mayor Gallelli and Village Manager King to a workshop discussing levee construction to protect parcels along North Riverside, they are simultaneously putting forth a rezoning designed to encourage multi-story residential apartments along North Riverside. This is insane.

Levees have significant deleterious impact on the environment. They also can change the floodplain, in fact that is their primary purpose. There are good reasons why levees have fallen out of favor with engineers and environmentalists specializing in riparian ecosystems.

Croton is considering levees at the same time it is seeking to increase population density in the floodplain the levees would protect. This is specifically what not to do.

The Association of State Floodplain Managers notes that levees “are inappropriate as a means of protecting undeveloped land for proposed development” and cautions that “given enough time levees will either be overtopped or will fail—leading to severe flood impacts on an unsuspecting population. Unlike a natural flood, levee failure flooding is often rapid, forceful, extremely damaging, and occurs with little or no warning.”

Because a levee would change the course and volume of Hudson River water flow, the residents of Half Moon Bay should be particularly concerned. In the report of the October 2018 conference that discussed “buyouts” of landlords on Brook Street and Riverside, there is no contemplation of “buying out” the condo owners at Half Moon Bay.

The report identifies Half Moon Bay residents as a “vulnerable” population (page 6), and says that “emergency and evacuation planning for vulnerable populations and neighborhoods, including the Half Moon Bay Condos in Croton” is a “high societal priority” (Report, page 11) but then leaves Half Moon Bay residents to their own devices: “Since the Half Moon Bay Condos are privately owned, the municipalities should communicate with the owners, and determine if they have resilience and emergency plans in place.” (Report, page 12)

I think our neighbors at Half Moon Bay do indeed “have resilience.” I also think they are residents of Croton and deserving of the same rights and benefits as anyone else. So what if the property is “privately owned?” That is true of the property along Brook Street and North Riverside, and we are discussing “buyouts” and levees for them. Indeed it is quite possible that any levee to protect parts of Brook and North Riverside might increase the risk to residents of Half Moon Bay.

If for no other reason than cold self-interest, we should care about Half Moon Bay. It is a significant part of the village’s taxable land and the residents contribute to Croton’s economy. Rising water levels and risk of flooding at Half Moon Bay is not a trivial matter.

Discussion of “potential buyouts of the properties in this area over the long term” is not something that the Croton Board of Trustees mentions when it tells us about the wonderful things that will come from rows of apartment buildings along Riverside. Any “buyouts of properties” would have to be done voluntarily or by eminent domain. In either case, the cost is going to be based on property value. If you line North Riverside with new construction, it is going to be exponentially more expensive to conduct any “buyouts of the properties.”

There is also a liability aspect. The Village Manager, Deputy Mayor, and Village Engineer have now been at a workshop discussing the fact of climate change and the current and projected impact. They have talked about “emergency plans” at the Croton Yacht Club (Report, page 13) and Half Moon Bay, and the risk to the Washington Engine firehouse.

When the municipality has actual knowledge of projected risk to human life, and is so concerned that it is talking about buying out properties and asking residents at Half Moon Bay about their emergency plans, how can the municipality possibly take an action (rezoning) for the express purpose of increasing population density in the most dangerous part of the village?

Croton’s Board of Trustees is willing to spend $1.5 million to turn Gouveia into an office campus for the Recreation Department, willing to spend $5.2 million on a building for the Deptartment of Public Works, willing to spend $4.26 million to give the Police Department a grand new space.

That same Board of Trustees doesn’t want to talk about how much needs to be spent to secure the drinking water supply by “[r]aising equipment, such as the intake mechanisms, and incorporating resilient design” at “the drinking water well fields and controls along the Croton River in the Village of Croton.” (Report, page 12)

As Chair of Croton’s Water Control Commission, Mr. Greenbaum was in attendance at the October climate change workshop. So was Croton Superintendent of Public Works Frank Balbi. It would be helpful if the WCC and the Croton DPW told us about plans to deal with the impact of climate change on our drinking water supply infrastructure, as well as whether the WCC and DPW feel that our existing water system can accommodate the influx of new apartments resulting from rezoning.

Maintaining water supply quality is a critical matter. If we draw water out faster than the aquifer can be replenished, problems can result including increased particulate matter in our drinking water. Constructing new apartments by definition will increase draw on our aquifer.

Can our water supply stand the stress of hundreds of new residents? I don’t know. Since Mr. Olver is liason to the WCC, perhaps he can enlighten us.

My guess is that when Croton issues more of Mr. Pugh’s beloved Bond Anticipation Notes, it will not disclose the knowledge of projected flooding, nor the fact that our top village officials went to a conference and discussed “potential buyouts of the properties” nor the risk that Half Moon Bay may be wiped out, or the environmental risks which will impact our drinking water system.

On July 10, 2017 Croton released a 169 page Comprehensive Plan. Perhaps somewhere buried in there is a discussion about the effect of climate change and rising water levels in the Hudson River, but I couldn’t find it and I even read the appendix.

On March 21, 2019 Croton released a rezoning plan developed with the aid of people including working group members Ted Brumleve, Paul Doyle, and Ann Gallelli. Those very same people participated in the 2017 Comprehensive Plan. Again, there was no discussion of the impact of climate change on the North Riverside/Brook Street floodplain.

Croton should go back and revise both the Comprehensive Plan and the rezoning plan. Croton should not encourage multi-story residential buildings in an area which Croton officials acknowledge is going to be eventually flooded.

At the March 21 public meeting, our $75,000 consultant would not say how many new units the rezoning plan would allow along North Riverside and Brook Street. Nor did the consultant say anything about the effect of climate change on the area which is to be rezoned. Nor did our Police and EMS people tell us how they would handle a natural disaster in the Riverside flood plain.

At the public meeting on Tuesday, June 18 (7:30 p.m. at the Harmon firehouse), our politicians need to stand up and tell us the truth. Climate change is real, and to ignore the science for the sake of building apartments is not only foolish. It is putting lives at risk.

Paul Steinberg

Click here to see the full report discussed in this letter.

Croton’s Village Board Must Act More Transparently

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
The following was sent to the Village Board nearly a month ago. Other than an acknowledgement of its receipt, I have not yet had a response nor has the Board altered its attitude toward and interactions with its constituents.

The North Riverside Area Rezoning process currently underway holds the risk, like the Harmon Rezoning of the past, of engendering acrimony with one group of citizens touting it as the savior of the village and another decrying it as the end of life in Croton as we know it. In my own opinion, neither is even close to the truth, but it is incumbent on the Board to act in a manner that precludes the type of animosity we have endured on more than one occasion in the past.

My suggestions are not meant to be political (although you may choose to take them that way), but are predicated on my observations of the village during the 75+ years I have been resident in Croton. With a number of other controversial issues already on the table, we do not need to engage in a fierce battle over the rezoning as well.

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The following was sent to the Village Board nearly a month ago. Other than an acknowledgement of its receipt, I have not yet had a response nor has the Board altered its attitude toward and interactions with its constituents.

While you may not agree, it is a fact that there is a sizable group of our citizens who do not have faith that the Board will objectively study all of the relevant issues and make a decision in the best interests of all of the citizens of our village. That a decision has already been made and that the process we are ostensibly involved in will lead to the Board’s desired conclusion regardless of the facts it may generate.

To combat this view, the Board must act more transparently during the entire process. You must inform your constituents of everything that is happening with regard to the rezoning that is not specifically prohibited by law.

For example, it is widely believed that there have been extensive discussions regarding the fate of the Katz property, but no information has been released to the public. The rumors have already begun, including one that projects the construction of a number of four-story buildings containing “affordable” apartments. Similar rumors on other aspects of the proposal abound. Such rumors can only be put to bed if the Board is more open in sharing information with the public.

One action that I suspect will resonate very well with those skeptical of the process is to appoint one of those very skeptics to the committee overseeing the study. Let him or her participate in the process, raise the appropriate questions, explore the facts, etc. If nothing else, this will add credibility to the conclusions reached or, if he or she takes exception to any part of it, to have to justify that exception with facts generated by the process itself.

You can do much to restore public confidence in the objectivity of the Board by answering the questions posed by citizens at Board meetings, as you are obligated to do under the Rules of Procedure you yourselves adopted earlier this year. You will recall late one night in January, the night Russ Harper was installed as Chief of Police, you and I had a lengthy discussion on this very subject. You assured me that it was not your intent to ignore questions from Croton residents, but to answer them either at the meeting itself or as soon thereafter as practical.

I have heard from many residents that this is not what has been happening, and that on at least one occasion, the Mayor actually prevented one of the Trustees from responding to a questioner.

This is not how you build trust with your constituents.

The choice is yours. If you diligently explore all of the relevant issues and are open and honest about all of its aspects; if you listen to those who question the process and respond directly to their concerns, much of the potential dissension can be precluded. Alternatively, if you choose to adopt a “Father Knows Best” attitude, the process will rapidly degenerate.

This rezoning is a big deal and will have a very significant impact on the future of our village. And how you manage it will go a long way toward determining whether we end up with a result that is acceptable and favorable to the vast majority of Crotonites or whether we fall into the type of rancor that divided the village during the Harmon Rezoning debate. As George Santayana famously said, “Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.”

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold

Bicycle Safety in Croton

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor:
In the May 21 minutes of the Bicycle Pedestrian Committee (BPC), there is mention of a future project: “Sidewalk access for cyclists and electric scooters—recommend to Village that the code be updated.”

The current law is at 197-1 of the village code, and it already prohibits bicycling on the sidewalk. NY State Vehicle & Traffic Law 1225-A prohibits operating a motor vehicle on the sidewalk.

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Education of the public should be the number one objective of the Bicycle Pedestrian Committee because it is obvious that the rules of the road are often not observed by cyclists in the village. At least one member of the BPC has been seen riding against traffic or ignoring red lights and stop signs on numerous occasions. All of us should lead by example.

It can't hurt to add electric scooters to the village code, but laws mean nothing if they are not enforced. The NYS Department of Transportation says: “Sidewalks are for pedestrians. Cyclists on sidewalks can cause conflicts with pedestrians; like wrong-way riding, crashes can occur because bicyclists are in situations where others do not expect them. Except for very young cyclists under parental supervision, sidewalks are not for bicycling.”

Think about safety for a minute. I’m legally walking my dog, pushing my child in a stroller, or just avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk. I should not have to worry about bikes and scooters coming my way. The village code also prohibits riding your horse on the sidewalk, but we don't seem to have many violations of that law.

Education of the public should be the number one objective of the BPC because it is obvious that the rules of the road are often not observed by cyclists in the village. At least one member of the BPC has been seen riding against traffic or ignoring red lights and stop signs on numerous occasions. All of us should lead by example.

Ponder these safety tips, which conform to NYS requirements: 1. All bicycles must be roadworthy with lights, bells, reflectors and mirrors, and functioning brakes. 2. Bicyclists should wear safety helmets. 3. You may not ride with headphones or ear plugs in both ears. 4. Bicyclists must obey all vehicle traffic laws. (You can’t ride through red lights, you can’t ride against traffic, you must signal your intentions when turning, etc.)

Quite frankly, I’d like to see the BPC members out in the Village educating cyclists whenever they see someone not observing the rules, giving free bicycle inspections, and giving public bicycle safety talks. Now, that would be real progress!

Bob Anderson

Let’s Have an Honest Conversation About Affordable Housing

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
It is unfortunate that the Croton Board of Trustees has conducted the rezoning process in secret, but since the politicians have decided to have rental apartments in Harmon and along Riverside Avenue it is a good time to have an honest conversation even if our politicians don’t want our input.

The first question is whether Croton simply wants lots of apartments, or whether we want “affordable” apartments. There is a legitimate concern about the latter category, and it has been an issue in Croton for many decades. It is the reason that the late Roland Bogardus (Mayor from 1983-1989) created the Croton Housing Task Force. As far back as 1992, it was discussed as one of the reasons for revising the accessory apartment law. It was why we have Symphony Knoll and why we have a requirement in the village code at section 230-48.

Contrary to what has been implied by some of our trustees, the fact is that affordable housing is precisely regulated in Croton as to eligibility. Even the square footage and number of occupants of each apartment is regulated by a law passed by the Croton Board of Trustees.

“Affordable” has a specific meaning and is defined in Croton’s village code. It involves the application of a formula which takes into account the median income in the Westchester County Metropolitan Statistical Area; it cannot exceed 60% of that number. For 2019, that means a maximum household income of $57,570 for a couple. If they have a child, it would be a max of $65,000. The max rent would be $1,444 for a couple, or $1,625 for a 3 person household. If they rent a 1-bedroom unit, it must have a minimum floor area of 675 square feet or a 2-bedroom must have 750 square feet.

“Affordable apartments” is hardly a laissez-faire generic term in Croton.

Mr. Olver (The Gazette, week of May 9/15) indicates that the Board of Trustees wants to have enough apartments constructed that the market price becomes affordable. I doubt that there is enough land in Croton to make that happen. Under current village law, developers must set aside only 10 percent of the units for “affordable” housing. So if the goal of the Board of Trustees is even a mere 50 “affordable” units, under current law it would require construction of as many as 500 new apartments.

If Croton wants affordable apartments, it will be necessary to take a more direct route.

Assuming there is agreement on the need to construct “affordable” units in Croton, the second question is: Who are these apartments intended for?

In the abstract, affordable housing can be seen as a social good but in the context of the Croton rezoning we need to be more practical. Are we looking to have housing for low-paid service jobs? Housing for municipal employees? Teachers? Grown children of Croton residents? The elderly? Special groups such as veterans or artists?

Trustee Olver tells us (The Gazette, week of April 4/10) that we are building “affordable private housing for Croton people.” That would be nice if true, but it is not going to happen and might result in Croton getting sued if the Board of Trustees tried to make that happen “for Croton people.”

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There are three basic problems with this vision.

The first problem is eligibility. Let’s take Croton teachers as an example. For the 2017-18 school year, Croton schools had 212 active participants in the NYS Teacher’s Retirement System. Of those 212, 154 were above the $65,000 cutoff for a 3-person household and 163 were above the cutoff for a 2 person household. “Affordable housing” eligibility is based on the income of the entire household—not just the person named on the lease. Even if the Croton school employee was the only income for their family, about 70 percent of Croton school district employees would not be eligible for the “affordable” apartments. 40 school district employees were paid less than $10,000 which means that they are not likely to be the primary support of the family and that income would not qualify on its own to rent an apartment.

Given the maximum household income requirements, there are not going to be many Croton teachers who have a low enough household income to qualify for the “affordable” apartment program currently established in the village code. A married couple who make $33,000 each and have a child are excluded from even getting considered for an “affordable” apartment.

The second problem is the racial composition of the proposed preferenced group. I don’t know the racial composition of the Croton school district employees, and the Board of Trustees has not chosen to disclose that information. But it is critical to whether Mr. Olver’s plan is lawful. If the teachers (or any of the “Croton people”) who are going to be preferenced are not racially diverse, then the taxpayers of Croton may be buying a very expensive lawsuit and a lot of bad publicity.

I am genuinely puzzled as to why our Board of Trustees is so hellbent on packing apartments into Harmon and lining Riverside Avenue. If it is to have “affordable housing” as that is defined in Croton’s village code, I don’t see how this rezoning is going to accomplish that. And while no doubt the Board of Trustees and the $75,000 consultant have reviewed the racial composition data, until they release that information I am skeptical that preference can be given to any sub-group of Croton residents or teachers.

The famous example of this is Darien a few years ago. While Croton does not have the history of explicit discrimination that Darien had, the fact is that Croton is not diverse. Because of that, even a facially non-discriminatory preference can be illegal due to the discriminatory result. It is true that in the boroughs of New York City it is common to have set-asides for persons residing in the specific community district where the affordable units are being marketed. But since most of those districts are diverse already, there is no de facto discrimination as the preference is applied.

Peekskill and Cortlandt have done set-asides for artists and veterans. But both of those are racially-diverse groups, and the groups were spread over a wide geographic area. I also have discomfort with the idea that someone with an MFA in pottery is somehow more deserving of cheap rent than a single mother working at McDonald’s. I understand what Peekskill is trying to accomplish, but it is a bit classist.

That brings us to the third problem: the wide geographic net required to be cast. Croton village code requires that affordable apartments be marketed in accordance with the then-current “Westchester County Fair and Affordable Housing Affirmative Marketing Plan.” As a practical matter, this means that the Croton apartments must be marketed from the beaches of Coney Island to Fairfield County and everywhere in-between. In fact the Peekskill apartments are at this very moment being touted on artist blog sites in Brooklyn.

Croton’s Board of Trustees talks about affordable units for Croton teachers and Croton residents, but they won’t show us the racial composition data which demonstrates that preferences for those groups will survive a challenge under the Fair Housing Act. Nor have they given us any data as to how many Croton teachers have a household income that falls under the maximum income thresholds as set forth in the current Croton village code.

There is nothing wrong with the philosophical position that Croton residents have an obligation to market affordable housing to the 10 million people in the 9 counties which surround Croton, and indeed that is what is required under the language of the Croton village code. But our Board of Trustees should be honest with us, and not push through a rezoning scheme based on the false premise that they are acting to provide affordable apartments for current Croton residents and teachers.

Lastly there is the matter of whether the current physical plant can accommodate an influx of students. Since the Board of Trustees adamantly refuses to tell us how many apartments and how many school-age children they expect to result from rezoning, they have made it deliberately difficult to have an honest discussion.

Trustees don’t want to talk about rezoning’s impact on the Croton school district. If they told us how many students are anticipated, they would have to tell us how the school district will deal with the influx. So they leave it to the rumor mill (and talkative developers) to imply that these apartments will be filled with childless millennials and the elderly despite the strict federal laws prohibiting rental discrimination based on the presence of a child in the household.

At least as far back as the Harmon rezoning, we have been told that the apartments will be skewed to a size distribution which will discourage children. In one recent proposal that did not come to fruition, a developer was telling people that “there are ways” to keep out children. This is untrue, and any such attempt will be illegal. Age-restricted communities are illegal unless you have a development which complies with strict requirements; most importantly you must adhere to a federal law known as “Housing for Older Persons Act” (HOPA). Neither our village officials, politicians, or our $75,000 consultant have discussed HOPA and how that impacts the breezy assurances that these new affordable apartments will have units set aside for Croton seniors.

I am genuinely puzzled as to why our Board of Trustees is so hellbent on packing apartments into Harmon and lining Riverside Avenue. If it is to have “affordable housing” as that is defined in Croton’s village code, I don’t see how this rezoning is going to accomplish that. And while no doubt the Board of Trustees and the $75,000 consultant have reviewed the racial composition data, until they release that information I am skeptical that preference can be given to any sub-group of Croton residents or teachers.

Our Board of Trustees needs to talk to all of us about these questions, not just a few privileged insiders.

Paul Steinberg

Public Policy Should Not be Made in Secret

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor:

I attended the Village’s Zoning Workshop at the Harmon Firehouse on March 21, 2019. The public learned for the first time at that meeting of the existence of the “Municipal Place Gateway and North Riverside Neighborhood Zoning Working Group,” which had apparently been meeting for quite some time to discuss plans to rezone large portions of the village. The next day, March 22, 2019, I submitted a FOIL request to the village for documents related to this group, including communications between its members. On April 24, 2019, over a month after my original request, I was told by the village clerk that I would not receive a response from the village concerning whether or not any documents would be provided to me until June 28, 2019, which is ten days after the only other scheduled public information session about the rezoning plans.

Why the extraordinary delay?

If it’s true, as we’ve been told by Trustees Gallelli, Olver and Simmons, that no plans have been made to rezone these areas, then shouldn’t the village be able to release whatever minimal documentation exists in less than three months? Conversely, if real plans have been made, and recommendations for zoning changes that will be implemented have actually been discussed, then not only should these plans be released for public review in advance of the June 18 public information session, they should already be publicly accessible on the village website.

Of course, with the publication of the most recent Bicycle Pedestrian Committee minutes, it is clear that very specific changes to the zoning code are already being planned, and this simply calls into question the motivation for the village’s delay in making the “working group’s” work public.

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Our village is run by a small number of individuals from one political party—some elected, some not—who make public policy in secret while sitting in their mansions behind stone walls in the part of town where density is discouraged by re-zoning to enlarge lot requirements, and where the homeowners are never going to be faced with a diminution of the value of their property resulting from short-sighted, results-driven zoning policies that bring about commercial encroachment of their residential neighborhood.

Our village is run by a small number of individuals from one political party—some elected, some not—who make public policy in secret while sitting in their mansions behind stone walls in the part of town where density is discouraged by re-zoning to enlarge lot requirements, and where the homeowners are never going to be faced with a diminution of the value of their property resulting from short-sighted, results-driven zoning policies that bring about commercial encroachment of their residential neighborhood.

As a matter of official policy, our village board refuses to answer questions from the public at their meetings. They distort the FOIL process to prevent freedom of access to information. The public has the right to know what its representatives are planning. The village must release this information now.

Roseann Schuyler

The Katz is Out of the Bag

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
The Katz is out of the bag. After months of rumor and speculation, the Board of Trustees have deigned to let a few select friends know what is going to happen with the village property which is the focus of the rezoning. Last week, the plan for development of the Katz property was finally told to the bottom level of citizens.

The Katz property is located at the intersection of Maple Street and Municipal Place.

The Katz property is located at the intersection of Maple Street and Municipal Place.

After months of rumor and speculation, the Board of Trustees have deigned to let a few select friends know what is going to happen with the village property which is the focus of the rezoning.

Croton has three levels of citizenship, as seen in the current re-zoning project discussion. At the peak are people like Ann Gallelli and Richard Masur: the ones whose vision will be imposed. Below that are people like Messrs. Doyle, Brumleve, and Kauderer: those who may whisper into the ears of Party leadership. At the bottom are folks like Mr. Schuerman: those who by the grace of Party leadership are granted a private audience for the purpose of being told what will happen in Croton.

Most readers of this newspaper don’t fall into any of those categories. They may be residents of Croton, but they are not citizens of Croton. They don’t participate in the actual decisions except to dutifully applaud and give a veneer of democracy. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

Remember the village meeting a few months ago? Ms. Gallelli told us (The Gazette, week of March 28/April 8) at the time: “last week Croton’s Village Board began a discussion with residents.” We were told of a taxpayer-funded $75,000 consultant study that would seek input. We were treated to a PowerPoint and they humored us with earnest expressions of thoughtfulness as audience members got up and spoke. Remember the consultant firm employee who circled around taking photos of us? It wasn’t because we were a particularly attractive group, nor because of our cutting-edge fashion. It was to build a record so that if there is a lawsuit about re-zoning, the Board of Trustees can show a judge that they followed procedure.

Croton residents were literally were reduced to stage props at a dog and pony show. The fix was in, and unless you are in the tiny group in the second-tier of Croton citizenship you would not have known the ending.

It was only with the release of the May 21 minutes of the Bicycle Pedestrian Committee that we learned of the private audience which Ms. Gallelli granted to a member of the BPC where Ms. Gallelli said that the Katz “rezoning will include increasing structure from 2 1/2 stories to 3 stories” and various other details.

I am not clear as to why some are chosen to be informed and most are not. Membership in a specific political party seems to be a necessary but not sufficient condition. Nor am I clear as to why the BPC is now the go-to source for information on the disposition and development of village property, but since that is the case, there needs to be transparency. The BPC is advocating for various measures, but the only one which we know about is the BPC view that parking requirements for new businesses should be reduced or eliminated. This is a significant step, as people living on Young Avenue can attest. We don’t know what other goals for new development the BPC is working on, since those are being discussed by email and not in public session.

Almost every Monday, there is a public session of the Board of Trustees. Those sessions are televised and available online. Croton politicians need to start conducting business during those televised sessions. They need to inform the citizens of Croton during those televised sessions. We should not have to rely on private meetings with hand-chosen constituents being disclosed in minutes of the Bicycle Pedestrian Committee.

In the meantime, be sure to dress nice when you go to the next dog and pony show at the Harmon firehouse. You don’t get a session fee unless you are in the union, but you do get to be part of the live performance.

Paul Steinberg

Stop the Secret Plans, Secret Sessions, and Secretive Working Groups

The following letter was published in last week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
There is a wide gulf between Karl Marx and Milton Friedman, but Richard Olver managed to travel the distance in just 5 weeks.

In the April 4/10 issue of The Gazette, Mr. Olver said he is taking “careful steps” to “encourage the building of affordable private housing for Croton people” and he cited “a pair of rather attractive buildings” at Riverside and Benedict as examples of how this was working. He specifically noted that prices in Croton were so high that teachers were forced to live in the snowy north of New York State, where roads were bad; so many teachers lived in the tundra that one day last year, the schools in Croton had to close due to lack of teachers. Mr. Olver said this was why “Croton needs good, affordable middle-class housing.”

By the May 9/15 issue of The Gazette, Mr. Olver said of those very same buildings: “I neither know nor care what the landlord wants to charge.”

In Croton the Board of Trustees says virtually nothing at public sessions, preferring to hold secret “Executive Sessions” and to set up a “Zoning Working Group” which does not even appear on the Croton village government webpage, let alone publish minutes. The lack of transparency is deliberate. Much like a one-party state, the Board of Trustees is an arm of a political party and in the online age, the official Party organ is the Croton Dems Facebook page.

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The same public officials who won’t speak at a televised Board of Trustees meeting will speak to those citizens who are members of their party on Facebook. It is there that Mr. Olver doubled down last week and said of the Benedict apartments: “They shall see whether their calculations on rental prices meet market demand. If not, they will adjust.”

Croton’s Board of Trustees cannot have it both ways. Either there is a community need that must be addressed by the entire community, or there is an opportunity for developers to get rich and that is not a burden that should be borne by the residents of Harmon.

For many years we have been told that it is necessary to increase zoning density along Riverside, while at the same time the northern part of town where folks like Trustee Ann Gallelli live was re-zoned to prevent apartments from being built. It seems to me that if it is really necessary for Croton as a community to have high-density development that Ms. Gallelli should bear some of that burden, particularly since her neighborhood consists of wildlife sanctuaries, parks, and a ritzy golf course.

It is not just the homeowners in Harmon who have suspected that the village is trying to urbanize the less-wealthy parts of Croton, and the statements of Mr. Olver indicate those beliefs may have merit.

This is a simple question for the Croton Board of Trustees: why do you want a lot of apartment units, and how many do you want? Westchester County has a surprisingly low number of rental units: only 142,000 plus another 16,000 planned. The rate of growth has been less than 1% for the last five years, which accounts for a vacancy listing rate of about 3%. If the Board of Trustees is waiting for enough market-rate housing to saturate the market and drive prices down to “affordable” levels, they can line Riverside wall-to-wall and still not have market rates that are “affordable.”

By definition, market rates are not “affordable”—if they were, we would not be passing laws requiring “affordable” units and we would not have a massive NY State taxpayer-funded subsidy program for “affordable” apartments. By way of example, the Peekskill apartments I mentioned (The Gazette, week of May 9/15) have two-bedroom units for $1,059 if you are an “artist” and $1,600 for non-artists. That is for a two bedroom unit in a building with a courtyard, fitness center, and a terrace overlooking the Hudson River! One-bedroom units are $888 for artists or $1,350 for non-artists.

Taciturn Andy Simmons has nothing to say during public sessions. But for those who follow his political party online, he is willing to set up a time to chat over coffee at the Black Cow. Seriously. Mr. Simmons has no problem with participating in secret “Executive Sessions” and the existence of a mysterious “Working Group” which doesn’t even appear on the menu of the official Croton village webpage. During televised sessions, Mr. Simmons is the closest thing we have in Croton to the Sphinx. But if you are a loyal reader of the party’s Facebook page, he will consider giving you a private session at the Black Cow.

The Black Cow is a coffee shop. It is not a municipal meeting place, any more than a political party Facebook page is a Village of Croton-on-Hudson site. Contrary to the implications of Mr. Simmons’ artful language regarding the Katz property, there is most assuredly planning that has been done and discussions which have taken place outside the view of the public.

I realize that the Croton Board of Trustees does not like many of the laws of this state, particularly those which impose a legal requirement to at least pretend to inform the residents of Croton. But they are bound by requirements of transparency. . . . Stop the secret plans, secret sessions, and secretive working groups. Much as public participation is anathema to the Croton Board of Trustees, it should not only be a hand-selected group of residents who has a voice. All of us have a right to hear what our government is planning, and all of us have a right to be heard.

I realize that the Croton Board of Trustees does not like many of the laws of this state, particularly those which impose a legal requirement to at least pretend to inform the residents of Croton. But they are bound by requirements of transparency.

Mr. Simmons would do well to read the actual text of the law: “It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy. The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it.”

Mr. Olver, Mr. Simmons, and the other trustees need to stop the secret plans, secret sessions, and secretive working groups. Much as public participation is anathema to the Croton Board of Trustees, it should not only be a hand-selected group of residents who has a voice. All of us have a right to hear what our government is planning, and all of us have a right to be heard.

Paul Steinberg

We’ve Seen This Movie Before!

The following letter was published in last week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:

I grew up in Elwood, Long Island; a place not altogether different than Croton.  Like Croton, Elwood has a small but excellent school district in an otherwise big town. Also similar to Croton, Elwood still had lots of natural beauty and open space. Often referred to as an exception to the rule, Elwood was supposed to be a tight knit community and a great place to raise a family.

By the time my wife and I decided to move our young family from the City, Elwood was an easy choice. However, after doing so we quickly realized little Elwood had big problems. Like many suburban districts, Elwood had a perpetual budget crisis, a bloated town government and many other issues conspiring to push taxes to new heights every year. In accepting, and despite those taxes, we expected to be content, but year after year we weren’t. Eventually we realized Elwood wasn’t what we had hoped. You see, Elwood, like anywhere I suppose, kept developing over the years. Little by little, or sometimes a lot at a time, open space was consumed by suburban sprawl. As houses multiplied and the population grew, little was done to improve the infrastructure. As a result, we suffered under the crushing burden of local traffic.

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Traffic simply made everything harder. Mundane errands became hair-raising ordeals. We couldn’t let the kids roam around the neighborhood as it was in my youth. Where proximity to the schools prohibited busing, parents were forced to drive their kids. Parents were under constant pressure to keep children entertained, endlessly shuttling them between activities; all leading to still more traffic.

We attended the first Croton rezoning forum on March 21 and felt like we’ve seen this movie before! Of course, no analogy is perfect, but it was abundantly clear we weren’t being told the whole truth. In fact, the presentation was woefully inadequate. No authority at the meeting, nor documentation thereafter, suggested a motive for even broaching the topic. And yet, talk of 3-story structures, mixed residential/commercial, etc. was pervasive. The introduction was laced with politically charged phrases like demographic and economic diversity, making it clear the Village Board already had an agenda. Later, we discovered the Village had already been approached regarding such developments; an omission which is tantamount to a lie! Worse still, the potential tax ramifications either to the Village or the school district went completely unmentioned. Call me old fashioned, but I would’ve thought that to be a central issue on the minds of those specifically elected to protect our interests.

It wasn’t simply the number of cars. As traffic increased, attempts to control it also grew. Stop signs and traffic lights among other controls slowly multiplied. The latter being expensive, poorly programmed, uncoordinated and ultimately neglected. It was a losing battle. The more it was controlled, the more pressure people felt and the worse they drove. A vicious cycle took hold.

In 2011 a developer proposed a 400-unit condo complex on aptly named Elwood road; the busiest and most critical route in our community. As rezoning was required, this conversation bears a striking similarity to Croton’s current rezoning discussion. A benevolent and beholden tone was struck, such to suggest no one would dare do anything without the community’s consent. It was a ruse. Ultimately, despite overwhelming opposition the town rewrote the very zoning laws that were meant to protect the community from exactly this type of thing.

Given the prospect of still worse traffic, we finally decided to move, and chose Croton in large part because we felt the Village government would protect us from over development. Elwood isn’t a village, therefore the town was able to force such projects on them. We turned our lives inside out to move here, accepting even higher taxes to escape gridlock, and now we feel like the same thing is going to happen in Croton.

We attended the first Croton rezoning forum on March 21 and felt like we’ve seen this movie before! Of course, no analogy is perfect, but it was abundantly clear we weren’t being told the whole truth. In fact, the presentation was woefully inadequate. No authority at the meeting, nor documentation thereafter, suggested a motive for even broaching the topic. And yet, talk of 3-story structures, mixed residential/commercial, etc. was pervasive. The introduction was laced with politically charged phrases like demographic and economic diversity, making it clear the Village Board already had an agenda. Later, we discovered the Village had already been approached regarding such developments; an omission which is tantamount to a lie! Worse still, the potential tax ramifications either to the Village or the school district went completely unmentioned. Call me old fashioned, but I would’ve thought that to be a central issue on the minds of those specifically elected to protect our interests.

Elwood is hardly unique. Many area suburbs are tense, and it shows in people’s attitudes. Over-development, overcrowding, and grinding traffic are big components in creating an atmosphere where people aren’t very nice to each other. What sets Croton apart, is the people don’t just say they are a community they act like it. Simple things like greetings from total strangers are commonplace. Courtesy and consideration are the norm, rather than the exception. It’s this collective personality and character that’s at risk, with cavalier plans to turn Croton into just another New York suburb.

Furthermore, we later learned of numerous costly fiscal and administrative missteps from current and former regimes. I’ll leave it to longer-term residents to expound on that, but certainly we have a right to demand fiscal responsibly before entertaining indelible changes to our community.

Given the significance of zoning changes, and the heretofore myopic discussion, I was further bewildered by the proposed timeline. Rushing through the process denies residents the opportunity to air their concerns and contribute to a consensus. As such, discussions of this magnitude must be on a timeline that assures the full conveyance of potential risks, benefits etc. . . . Without casting further suspicions, the Village should stop this process and focus on fiscal responsibility, prudent management and above all government transparency. The public trust must be rebuilt, only then can the Village legitimately propose major changes.

Sincerely,

Steven Saporito

What is the Purpose of the New Humanities and Arts Advisory Council?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
Since 1977, the Croton Council on the Arts has been the principal vehicle for promoting artistic expression in our village and bringing the fruits of those efforts to all of our citizens. While I am certainly not an artist myself, I have had the great pleasure of attending a good number of the exhibitions and productions of the CCOA and its numerous offspring for many years. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of Croton residents join me in appreciation of CCOA’s efforts in spreading the arts throughout our community.

Yet now, more than 40 years later, our Village Board feels compelled to create a separate Humanities and Arts Advisory Council under the direct purview of the Board. Perhaps I just don’t understand exactly what the purpose of this new entity is meant to be and how it is supposed to mesh with CCOA and other arts organizations already established in Croton.

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It strikes me as a duplication of effort in this area and holds the potential for conflicts in a venue that should be devoid of them. Or is it that the Board wishes to exert more control over this phase of life in Croton? Or does it have something to do with the Board’s grandiose (and exceptionally expensive) plans for Gouveia Park? Or is there already a schism in our arts community of which the new council is a manifestation? I simply don’t know.

I found it instructive that during the discussion of the new arts council during Monday’s Board Work Session, the name of CCOA was not mentioned once.

I hope when the resolution to create the Humanities and Arts Advisory Council is brought to the floor, someone will explain exactly how it is intended to interact with CCOA and the other representatives of our arts community and why it will enhance, and not detract, from Croton’s art scene. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold

Turning Gouveia Park Into a Government Office Should Trouble All of Us

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:

What the Croton Board of Trustees is doing at Gouveia Park should be of interest to all residents, even those who don’t have strong feelings about the development of the park.

The terms under which Croton took the land are set forth in Laurel Gouveia’s Will. The land is to be maintained “and its principal use shall be as a park which shall be open to the public.” Allowance is made for flexibility in the development and usage “provided that the park like setting is maintained for a public and park-like purpose.” In addition, $1 million was given to Croton “to be used for the care and upkeep of the park.”

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The fact that the Croton Board of Trustees operates with impunity and hence feels free to disregard their own promise to Laurel Gouveia does not make their decision either legally or morally right. This is yet another example of the contempt which our trustees have for the citizens of Croton and the rules and laws which bind the rest of us. Turning Gouveia Park into a government office should trouble all of us, regardless of our view on the original acquisition.

The claim that there would be tens of thousands of dollars in revenue each year from concerts, poetry readings and other events was never realistic. None of the official financial projections developed by the village as to expenses and revenue has ever been seen during the lifetime of Gouveia Park. Nobody seriously believed the spreadsheets; they were lies designed to support an action the Board of Trustees had already decided to take.

Lack of candor in the acquisition of the park four years ago does not mean that it is now acceptable for the Board of Trustees to violate the terms of the bequest and wishes of the donor.

Originally, about a quarter of the endowment was used to put in a parking lot and driveway. That was entirely in keeping with the development and maintenance of the land for a “park-like purpose.” Now the Board of Trustees is going to blow the remainder of the million-dollar endowment by paving over the park in order to turn it into a government office campus for one of the municipal departments.

I have always been skeptical of the financial projections for Gouveia. The first citizen’s committee was deliberately hobbled by unrealistic constraints imposed by the Board of Trustees. The recent committee led by Ms. Horowitz was perhaps a bit optimistic, but they were certainly in line with the terms of the bequest. If Laurel Gouveia were alive today, my guess is that she would prefer her house being used as an artist studio and exhibition space rather than filled with desks and filing cabinets for government employees.

Croton’s Board of Trustees may be pragmatic in turning Gouveia Park into a secluded government office building. Arguably that is its best use. There is one small wrinkle: that is not what the donor intended, and it is not what the Board of Trustees agreed to when they took the land and the million dollars.

I doubt that the Gouveia heirs or any of the contingent beneficiaries want to go to court to get this land and money. Theoretically the Attorney General’s office could take action, but that is not going to happen given the political actors who are violating the terms of the charitable bequest.

The fact that the Croton Board of Trustees operates with impunity and hence feels free to disregard their own promise to Laurel Gouveia does not make their decision either legally or morally right. This is yet another example of the contempt which our trustees have for the citizens of Croton and the rules and laws which bind the rest of us. Turning Gouveia Park into a government office should trouble all of us, regardless of our view on the original acquisition.

Paul Steinberg

What is Croton’s Board of Trustees Doing with the Katz Property?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
As Croton embarks on a re-zoning to encourage apartment development, we are told that these will be affordable apartments for Croton seniors, teachers, and the like. Last week’s announcement of a 75 unit affordable development in Peekskill has some relevance to the Croton discussion.

The Peekskill development is well thought-out and designed with today’s multi-family market in mind. Amenities include a performing arts studio, gallery exhibition space, a courtyard, fitness room, and a rooftop terrace with Hudson River views. There will be a bake shop, gallery, and Green’s Natural Foods on the ground floor.

This is not the “affordable housing” of yesteryear. It is upscale living designed to attract an upscale demographic who don’t want to pay market rental rates but do want to munch on organic hors d’oeuvres while sitting on a taxpayer-funded terrace watching the sun set over the Hudson.

The numbers look like a vote of confidence in Peekskill: out of a near $28 million asset, there is $14.6M in equity. That sounds like a strong vote of confidence from private investors. But a closer look shows that the “equity” is actually comprised of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation tax credits.

In reality, the only risk to the developer is in a $6.8M mortgage guaranteed by SONYMA, the NYS mortgage agency. SONYMA gets funded thru tax-exempt bond issuance, and SONYMA multi-family mortgages are insured from money raised by a tax you pay when you record your home mortgage. In short, even that $6.8M mortgage is subsidized by we the taxpayers.

There are unique issues with the Peekskill site which arguably warrant some taxpayer subsidy. But Peekskill illustrates some hard economic truths about our Board of Trustee plans to have massive “affordable” apartment complexes in Croton.

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We are seeing no transparency as the village prepares to develop the Katz property. Our tax dollars paid for the Katz property. In February 2007 we spent $900,000 taken from village reserve funds and bond issuance. Given the rise in Croton property values over the last 12 years, this asset is enormously valuable to any developer. The Board of Trustees’ secrecy and backroom dealing is a historical norm here in Croton. But that does not mean that it is proper, and in the case of the Katz property it is time for the Board of Trustees to stop with all the secret “Executive Sessions” and scheming. Come clean and tell the taxpayers of Croton what developer is getting this asset, and what are the terms of the deal.

There is strong demand for multi-family development in Westchester, and the 16,000 units currently under construction or planned will increase apartment stock in the county by 11%. Westchester is expensive, and this creates a problem when developing “affordable” apartments. Tax subsidies in the Peekskill project equate to over $265,000 per apartment, and that number does not include the perpetual annual subsidy resulting from a reduced property tax assessment due to the income restrictions.

As the Peekskill example demonstrates, apartment housing can be upscale and luxurious, and profitable for developers. At the same time, it remains “affordable” because of subsidies: your tax dollars paid for the Hudson River terrace view and fitness room the Peekskill renters will enjoy.

Someone always has to pay, and even with Gov. Cuomo’s claimed expenditure of $20 billion for Peekskill-style affordable apartment development in the next 5 years there is no assurance that there will be enough taxpayer money flowing from Albany to fund Croton’s plans.

Government largesse also raises concerns, particularly when it comes to New York real estate developers. The ability of private investors to get assets for pennies on the dollar makes it vitally important to have transparency. So far in Croton, we are seeing no transparency as the village prepares to develop the Katz property.

Our tax dollars paid for the Katz property. In February 2007 we spent $900,000 taken from village reserve funds and bond issuance. Given the rise in Croton property values over the last 12 years, this asset is enormously valuable to any developer.

The Board of Trustees’ secrecy and backroom dealing is a historical norm here in Croton. But that does not mean that it is proper, and in the case of the Katz property it is time for the Board of Trustees to stop with all the secret “Executive Sessions” and scheming. Come clean and tell the taxpayers of Croton what developer is getting this asset, and what are the terms of the deal.

Paul Steinberg

A Response to Mayor Pugh

The following letter was published in last week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor:
It has been brought to my attention that the mayor of our Village has taken issue with a letter that I wrote stating that it is well established that Westchester County has the highest property taxes in the United States of America. He has chosen to challenge my assertion that the Village of Croton-on-Hudson is the highest taxed village in the County relative to the market value of our homes.

He cites the New York State Comptroller’s Office Report that uses the “full value” (a mathematical model of assessed value designed to mimic sales value) to analyze our effective tax rate, and then refers to the wrong table.

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Even the mayor’s methodology establishes Croton-on-Hudson as one of most highly taxed villages in Westchester County. For a bit of perspective, residents should note that the mayor’s table embarrassingly displays that villages like Scarsdale pay half the taxes that we pay relative to the value of their homes.

I remain convinced that my earlier statement is correct, however, even the mayor’s methodology establishes Croton-on-Hudson as one of most highly taxed villages in Westchester County. For a bit of perspective, residents should note that the mayor’s table embarrassingly displays that villages like Scarsdale pay half the taxes that we pay relative to the value of their homes.

John McKeon