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

Questions for Trustee Olver

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

To the editor:
Where are the affordable apartments for Croton residents and teachers? The proposed massive rezoning to encourage multi-story apartment buildings along Riverside Ave is promoted by our Croton Board of Trustees as being necessary to serve the Croton community.

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Board member Richard Olver (The Gazette, week of April 4/10) points to the imminent opening of the apartments at Benedict and South Riverside as the beginning, and challenges others to come up “with your own good ideas for keeping our children, parents, teachers and municipal employees here in Croton.”

Trustee Olver says the purpose of erecting all these apartments is to have “affordable private housing for Croton people.” As Mr. Olver notes, this new building on Benedict is the first of many to come. Since the Board of Trustees is pushing this new vision as a benefit to “Croton people” how about telling us how many of the new Benedict apartments are going to “Croton people” and how much the “affordable” monthly rent will be?

So far, the village has been silent as to how any children, parents, teachers, or municipal employees can get those affordable apartments. Other municipalities require landlords to publicize and have lotteries and preference systems for affordable apartments. Croton has remained silent as to how village residents and workers are going to be able to get the first of these apartments on Benedict. We don’t even know the rental prices or how many affordable units are set aside for Croton residents and employees.

In fact the only benefit so far is to the residents of Young Avenue. They are being offered the opportunity to provide parking spots for tenants of the new building. Understandably, the folks on Young Avenue are not clear as to why turning their street into a parking lot is a benefit.

Trustee Olver says the purpose of erecting all these apartments is to have “affordable private housing for Croton people.” As Mr. Olver notes, this new building on Benedict is the first of many to come. Since the Board of Trustees is pushing this new vision as a benefit to “Croton people” how about telling us how many of the new Benedict apartments are going to “Croton people” and how much the “affordable” monthly rent will be?

Paul Steinberg

Why Are Our Politicians So Fond of Cop-killers?

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

To the editor:
Why are our politicians so fond of cop-killers? This past week we saw the disturbing attitude expressed in Albany and here in Croton.

Our televisions were filled with the beaming smile of Judith Clark, who was a getaway driver (armed with a 9mm handgun) for the 1981 Brinks robbery, where her fellow self-described “revolutionaries” killed Nyack police officers Sgt. Edward O’Grady and Officer Waverly Brown, along with Brinks guard Peter Paige.

Edward O’Grady, “Chipper” Brown, and Peter Paige will never walk the streets of Nyack again but Judith Clark is being paroled to walk the streets, having been granted clemency because Governor Cuomo chatted with Ms. Clark and came away smitten with “a sense of her soul… almost transparent as a personality.”

Governor Cuomo is more transparent than Croton Mayor Pugh. In his official “Mayor Brian Pugh” Facebook post last week, Mr. Pugh put up a clipping about the Italians striking at New Croton Dam 119 years ago, together with an FDR quote praising “immigrants and revolutionists.” Having grown up in Croton, Mr. Pugh ought to be familiar with the April 1900 incident at New Croton Dam.

History is a messy thing because the people who make history happen are complex. In the case of New Croton Dam, Mr. Pugh is well aware that this was no labor action or “strike” in the sense we use the term today.

At the Dam, “revolutionists” murdered a cop in cold blood while hiding in the darkness of night. Afterward a cheer rolled through the hills of Croton as news of the assassination spread across the worker’s encampment.

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The workers who built New Croton Dam were rough men (plus a few women) living in a rough time. They were poorly paid and overworked, as was common at that time. There was a lot of fighting and even murder, fueled by anger and alcohol: the Croton of April 1900 had some very dangerous neighborhoods. There were also tensions between the skilled immigrant laborers and their less-skilled countrymen. Tensions existed between immigrants working on the Dam and immigrants who made their living supplying goods and services to the construction project.

Immigrants at the Dam were oppressed and oppressor—sometimes the same person was both.

The NY State wage and hour law changes of 1900 resulted in a serious financial problem for the companies building the Dam under a government contract which did not anticipate such legislation, as Albany ultimately recognized with a 1902 law resulting in the builders being able to retroactively recover a large amount to recoup for increased labor costs.

Robert Douglass was a Westchester County Deputy Sheriff, a native of Mt. Vernon called up as a Sergeant in the NY National Guard. Douglass was a law enforcement officer doing his job, shot down by a coward hiding in the forest. He was on duty there because some of the workers at New Croton Dam had taken knives and clubs, beating workers and vendors who did not support the strike.

Most importantly, Robert Douglass was there because the strikers had made explicit threats to use explosives on buildings and even threatened to blow up the Dam itself.

Neither the employers nor the workers at New Croton Dam in April 1900 were as one-dimensional as today’s Croton politicians would have us believe. That does not change the fact that Robert Douglass was a human being, killed because he was a law enforcement officer doing his job here in Croton.

Why are our politicians so fond of cop-killers? This past week we saw the disturbing attitude expressed in Albany and here in Croton.

Mr. Pugh’s choice of the FDR quote from 1938 is offensive on several levels. April 19 is the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord. Back in 1938 it was common to commemorate that event, which is why President Roosevelt was speaking to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and why he referred to “immigrants and revolutionists.”

There is a big difference between the shot heard round the world in April 1775 and the cowardly shooting of Sergeant Douglass at New Croton Dam in April 1900.

FDR’s speech did not commemorate cop killers. His Patriot’s Day speech to the DAR in April 1938 commemorated “immigrants and revolutionists” at Lexington and Concord who established what is now the United States of America.

Today the commemoration of April 19, 1775 known as “Patriot’s Day” is primarily celebrated in Massachusetts on the third Monday in April. It is the reason the Boston Marathon is run on that day. Many of us only know of Patriot’s Day because of the eponymous movie documenting the 2013 attack by the Tsarnaev brothers. For Mr. Pugh to take portions of any Patriot’s Day speech to celebrate people who killed a cop is more than historically tone-deaf; it has painful resonance in our own time.

The Tsarnaevs regarded themselves as immigrant revolutionists, but I don’t think that we would apply the FDR quote to them, despite the fact that the Tsarnaevs assassinated Officer Sean Collier after blowing up bombs at the Boston Marathon.

A century from now, will a future Mayor of Croton use the FDR quote about “immigrants and revolutionists” to apply to the Tsarnaevs? Will a future Governor of New York speak of the Tsarnaevs’ “sense of soul?” I don’t know.

I do know that just because you call yourself a revolutionary does not justify killing a cop.

Let Croton political leaders celebrate “immigrants and revolutionists” who killed a Westchester police officer at New Croton Dam. Croton residents should celebrate the man the revolutionists murdered in the night: Sergeant Robert Douglass.

Paul Steinberg

Take Responsibility for What You’ve Done

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

To the Editor:
Last week in these pages, Trustee Richard Olver blamed the Croton-Harmon School District for residents’ high rate of property taxes. Two weeks ago, local Democratic party boss Richard Masur tried to blame Croton United for his party’s failure to get the Croton Point Avenue project done during any time since 2009 that his party has had sole control of the village.

As Joel Gingold might say: C’mon guys. Take responsibility for what you’ve done.

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Is there fat in the school district budget and are there areas where reasonable school district residents could disagree as to spending priorities? No doubt. And it is certainly true that school taxes make up the largest single portion of real property taxes. However, the notable lack of anger or contention concerning school district budgeting and leadership is also without doubt a result of the fact that Croton-Harmon schools are delivering—to their students, to the taxpayers and for those homeowners whose home values are positively impacted by the excellence with which the school district conducts its business.

By contrast, what is the value being imparted by the conduct of village business as reflected in the village budget?

Just scanning recent events, Croton’s Board of Trustees has committed to spending the remainder of the “perpetual” Gouveia endowment (over $700K) on paving the park in order to prepare this property to become the Recreation Department office (another $500K) and a truck/vehicle parking lot. How far we’ve come since the days when “Gouveia Park” was going to remain a unique open space that enhanced the value of our homes.

Our village board’s primary responsibility to the residents and taxpayers is to govern in such a manner as to maintain and enhance the value of our investments in this village. When the board truly takes responsibility for this, blame shifting will not be necessary.

Residents should be prepared over the next three years to see the village board undertaking a renovation of the Municipal Building and expansion of the Police Department, budgeted for just over four and a quarter million dollars.

If Mr. Masur gets his way, residents should also be prepared to borrow millions (yet to be determined—increased from an original projection of $300,000) for the installation of several new stoplights and two dead-end bike lanes on Croton Point Avenue.

More immediately, now that the new construction on South Riverside and Benedict Boulevard is finding tenants, we see that resident concerns about commercial encroachment in residential neighborhoods which were wholly ignored by prior Democratic boards are now becoming a reality. With only ONE new building opening so far, commercial parking on Young Avenue is being discussed by the Planning Board. Heads-up for those in the new rezoning corridor.

Our village board’s primary responsibility to the residents and taxpayers is to govern in such a manner as to maintain and enhance the value of our investments in this village. When the board truly takes responsibility for this, blame shifting will not be necessary.

Roseann Schuyler

As We Look Forward, What We See is Distressing

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

To the Editor,
Among Democratic Chair Richard Masur’s many accomplishments, he is an historian, reaching back in time to pluck tidbits from the past in an attempt to demonstrate that Croton’s Democratic Village Boards are fierce defenders of the public purse. We should not criticize Mr. Masur for such actions; after all, that’s his job. So let’s take a page from his book and stroll down memory lane to see how those Boards performed.

Under Croton’s previous Democratic Mayor Leo Wiegman, whose administration included Trustee Ann Gallelli and, towards the end of his term, now-Mayor Brian Pugh, Croton’s debt rose from about $17.3M in May 2008 to $32.6 M in May 2015, an increase of nearly 90%.

Not satisfied with that, for FY 2015/2016, the Dem Board’s adopted budget included new borrowing of $11.6M, more than a third of the already existing total. Their forecast anticipated more than $20M in additional borrowing over the subsequent three years.

Mercifully, the voters turned the Dems out of office in November 2015. But by the time Croton United took control in December 2015, much the money from the proposed borrowing had already been committed by the Wiegman Board. Nonetheless, Croton United was able to cut about $3M from the total. It was this sequence of events that resulted in the debt numbers that Mr. Masur ballyhooed in his letter last week.

Appreciating that no one on the board was a fiscal expert, one of Croton United’s first actions was the appointment of the Financial Sustainability Committee (FSC), a group of fiscal professionals who volunteered to assist the board in navigating the rocks and shoals of municipal finance. Among the FSC’s first tasks was the creation of a Debt Policy to bring the village’s massive debt under control. That policy was adopted by Mayor Greg Schmidt and his colleagues and is still listed on our village website.

Working with the FSC, the Schmidt Board was able, for the first time in many years, to actually reduce the debt significantly in FY2016/2017. In the following year, a further reduction in outstanding debt was achieved despite the fact that the village purchased the building that is now our new village garage. Again, the FSC was invaluable in this effort. Are you following all of this, Mr. Masur?

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When the Dems won back control of the board in 2017, Mayor Pugh and his colleagues continued with the FSC’s recommended Debt Policy, and in their first year, the debt once more declined. We were encouraged. Perhaps the Dems had got religion and we could rely on a steadily declining debt load as the years went by, as envisioned by Croton United and the FSC.

But ominous signs first began to appear during the mayoral debate in 2017, when Mr. Pugh publicly stated that he would not be bound by the Debt Policy. Mayor Schmidt firmly avowed that he would.

But that, as they say, was then and this is now, and as we look forward, rather than back, what we see is distressing. The Dems’ recently adopted FY2019/2020 budget includes over $4M of new capital projects of which $3.1 million represents new borrowing. And this is after deleting $1.5M for the ill-advised Croton Point Avenue Project. The FSC was intentionally excluded from the Board’s deliberations and our debt is projected to rise for the first time since the adoption of the Debt Policy. And that increase would have been greater had they not increased the amount taken from the Fund Balance from $441K in the preliminary budget to $711K.

The Pugh Board’s projections for the next two years call for additional capital expenditures of about $8.3M. Considering that these days we typically pay off about $2.5 M in existing debt each year, the amount we will owe is sure to increase . . .

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Pugh Board’s projections for the next two years call for additional capital expenditures of about $8.3M. Considering that these days we typically pay off about $2.5 M in existing debt each year, the amount we will owe is sure to increase again and again.

The Board projects the debt on May 31, 2020 to be $34.9M. That’s over $4,200 for every man, woman, and child in our village. Debt service will be about $3.3 million (~17% of the total budget). Interest represents more than one-third of the total. By contrast, in 2010, total debt service was $2.1M.

The real danger in all of this is what will happen if there is a need for millions of dollars in unanticipated emergency funding. We will be forced to borrow it, regardless of the impact it wreaks on our municipal finances, and ultimately, on our taxes.

I am told that, since the Dem Board has declined to consult with the FSC, several key members have resigned. On behalf of all of us in the village, except perhaps, for the Board and Mr. Masur, I’d like to offer our sincere thanks for the countless hours you have all devoted to putting our village on a sustainable fiscal course. The value of your input is incalculable and there is no way the village could have afforded it if we were to retain you at your normal commercial rates. It is profoundly disturbing that what seemed so promising a few years ago has ended like this.

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold

Can Croton Afford High Density Housing?

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

Croton-on-Hudson is a village that has been built on a tax base of individual home ownership.

The historic economic advantage of this lifestyle has been eroded by negative growth in middle class income over the past 20 years and outrageous growth in property taxes. Adding to this dynamic we now have a federal tax structure designed to punish us.

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Our individual home property taxes  are a function of the sales value of our house. For those of us who live in condominiums our taxes are based on the  the rental value of the unit. These differences in valuation methodology have condominium owners  paying a fraction of the taxes individual home owners pay. 

For example, in the 1950s a pool was built on my property which Increased its  property tax. There are condominiums in Half Moon Bay that pay property taxes that are equal the property taxes I pay just for my pool.

I’m not complaining about my taxes, I understand that my combined property taxes fundamentally pay for the administration of our municipal government and local schools. The per pupil cost of our excellent local school system exceeds $29,000 per year.

My gravest concern is that my local municipal government leadership has a myopic view of their role in sustaining the value of individual home ownerships in our village. They are desperate in their attempt to close their municipal spending gap on the highest taxed properties in the United States of America. They think the Gateway initiative . . . is the solution. The reality is it would increase the school tax burden on the vast majority of individual homeowners and not resolve the issues inherent in our municipal government’s out-of-control spending.

My gravest  concern is that my local municipal government leadership has a myopic view of their role in sustaining the value of individual home ownerships in our village. They are desperate in their attempt to close their municipal spending gap on the highest taxed properties in the United States of America.

They think the Gateway initiative (a study examining the possibility of amending village zoning to encourage new multi-family development along commercially zoned sections of Maple Street and North and South Riverside avenues) is the solution. The reality is it would increase the school tax burden on the vast majority of individual homeowners and not resolve the issues inherent in our municipal government’s out-of-control spending.

Please study and return the public survey that has been mailed to Croton residents. It doesn’t ask for your vision of our village but directs you to affirm their intention to give us high density housing. Please speak up.

John McKeon

Advice for the Village Board

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

To the Editor,
I have some simple and proven-to-work advice that might be helpful to the Village Board.

When deciding whether to borrow money for a project, consider “want vs need.” Would the proposed project be a lovely addition or change or is it absolutely imperative? Are there less expensive alternatives? What terrible danger will befall the residents of the Village if you don’t proceed with a project? If it is indeed an imperative need, what are you willing to ask someone on a tight budget to give up in order to pay for it?

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It’s similar to the thought process my husband and I go through when making a large purchase or borrowing money to purchase something for our family. We often find we don’t need the purchase after all or that we can put it off until we can better afford it.

Sincerely,
Carolyn Whiting