The following letter appears in this week's issue of the Gazette.
To the Editor,
The article about rental of the Gouveia residence (The Gazette, week of March 1/7) was déjà vu all over again.
As noted in the article, the Village now finally admits it cannot use the building for public use without major renovations, although then-Mayor Leo Wiegman had assured Croton that the building could be made ADA-compliant without taxpayer money.
The Board of Trustees proposes to square that circle by renting the building as a private residence after the expenditure of $40,000 in taxpayer money. That “lowball” amount is obtained by ignoring the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but our Trustees won’t tell us how they can avoid compliance with a federal law.
This is the same discussion Croton taxpayers had more than five years ago. Some argue that use as a single-family home takes the building outside the ambit of the ADA. Others disagree, saying that as a municipal corporation, the “landlord” would seem to be covered under Title II and not Title III.
I don’t see how renting the Gouveia house could be exempt from Title II. According to the US Department of Justice, ADA title II applies to “all services, programs, and activities provided to the public by State and local governments, except public transportation services.”
Even if the Village is for this limited purpose covered under Title III (a dubious assumption), there may still be ADA requirements if the renter has a home office used for meeting clients. In addition, there may be accessibility obligations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Fair Housing Act, and other federal and state laws.
Any balancing test of what modifications are “readily achievable” would necessarily take into account the deep pockets of the “landlord” and as our Board of Trustees will gleefully acknowledge, there is an unlimited pot of money to be sucked from the wallets of Croton taxpayers. That means that any refusal to make Gouveia ADA-compliant on the basis of unreasonable cost may be problematic.
If the Village is covered under Title II, the provisions of 28 CFR 35.102 and 35.151(b)(1) would appear to cover the Gouveia property under pretty much any use other than a bus depot. If the “lowball” cost of $40,000 is designed to set up a disproportionate cost defense, then there still should be a written analysis. Moreover, there may still be a problem if during the subsequent 3 years the Village undertakes further renovations.
As residents of Croton, we have no idea what the official position of the Village is because our Trustees and Village Manager simply refuse to discuss the issue with us. Nobody is questioning the competence of the Village Manager and no doubt she has done her predicate research, but the Board’s refusal to discuss these matters is odd.
Regardless of the requirements, as residents of Croton, we need to ask ourselves whether in 2018 we are the type of community which would initiate a new facility that cannot be used by those with disabilities.
It is bad enough that the Village chose to throw a few picnic tables out on the sloping lawn but declined to provide a pathway for people in wheelchairs or walkers to reach the tables (apparently they should be content to sit on the portion of the parking lot which the Village decided to pave). Do we really want to rub it in to our disabled and elderly residents?
An even more basic recurrent question which the Board of Trustees has never publicly addressed is whether Croton may even rent the building as a private home. In Croton, “Groundhog Day” is not a movie, it is a governance model.
Even while Ms. Gouveia was alive, questions were raised about the applicability of the public trust doctrine to the proposed revenue-producing activities at Gouveia Park. As discussed many years ago, in NY state the idea that public parkland is held in trust is about as engraved in stone as is possible.
The land is titled in the name of the municipality, but the Gouveia parcel is owned in public trust and the power to regulate use is vested in the Legislature up in Albany—not the Croton Board of Trustees and not the Village Manager. The Trustees refuse to tell the people of Croton why they can give public parkland to a private person without leave of the state Legislature.
There is no indication that the citizen committee ever considered this when they wrote their report on possible uses for the park, probably because the committee was given a very narrow charge and firmly instructed not to deviate.
So it is understandable why the citizen committee did not address the public trust doctrine in the January 13, 2015 report which suggested use either as a private residence or private office space rental.
The 2015 report specifically states: “Long-term rental can be achieved without much work” and contemplates “a two-acre site.” Even as the citizen committee was drafting that report we all knew that such proposed “long-term” use was likely a violation of law if legislative approval was not obtained. Nobody wanted to discuss the cost or mechanics of obtaining approval from Albany.
Fast-forward to 2018 and our Croton Trustees are going to erect a permanent fence around the building. That is about as alienating as you can get with a plot of land, and the folks whose land is being taken is we the people.
Naturally, the home is situated on the best part of the property, and the best views are from inside the home; the new occupant will have the option of looking out from their choice of lower patio (with a new $4,600 railing) or upper patio ($5,200 railing).
The parkland being alienated by our Trustees is the prime acreage with the magnificent house that Ms. Gallelli gave such tantalizing reviews of back when we residents naively thought that it was to be public access.
Now, we the lowly taxpayers are left with metal picnic tables and affixed hard benches where we will be (literally and figuratively) looked down on by the occupants of the home from behind their $6,000 locked gate and taxpayer-funded $7,000 perimeter fence. Franklin Roosevelt worked to put a chicken in every pot; Croton Trustees use taxpayer money to put a coq au vin in every Viking range.
No doubt the perimeter fence is another one of those issues which have been discussed and resolved prior to the Board putting a renovation budget together and announcing the intention to alienate public parkland for private use.
I realize that the Village Manager is highly experienced in municipal matters and has lengthy service in a Village which has large amounts of parkland. Ms. Gallelli and Mr. Murtaugh have long involvement in Croton politics during the time when the Gouveia acquisition was discussed and finalized, Ms. Attias and Mr. Pugh are attorneys themselves, and the Board has a Village Attorney at their meetings.
These are not incompetent people who lack knowledge of the problems relating to application of the public trust doctrine to Gouveia. So obviously this has been satisfactorily resolved after discussion. But any discussion did not take place in an open public meeting and the Board refuses to tell us their conclusion and the basis therefor.
I can understand the Trustees refusing public discussion of their conversations with Village Attorney Staudt, but at very least an opinion letter explaining why the Village can alienate public parkland and also refuse to make the building ADA-compliant should have been appended to the agenda supporting documents when this matter last came before the Board f Trustees.
Former Mayor Dr. Schmidt never discussed the public trust doctrine, but his administration never proposed alienating public parkland. By contrast, his predecessor and his successor have been quite open about their intent to alienate public parkland and yet neither of them have ever addressed the moral or legal aspects of such action.
This is not an obscure issue, and was even discussed in popular media last year due to the re-development of the Shea Stadium site in Queens. So why won’t our Trustees discuss this subject with the taxpayers of Croton? The reason we know about the Shea Stadium site is because of an Article 78 proceeding which went all the way up to the highest court in New York. Do we really want to get embroiled in lengthy and expensive litigation rather than put the facts out on the table now?
Our Board of Trustees refuse to discuss why the carving-out of parkland would not run afoul of the public trust doctrine, or in the alternative what communication the Village has had with Senator Murphy and Assemblywoman Galef about gaining assent of the Legislature.
Even if the Board of Trustees finally gives us an explanation as to the ADA and alienation aspects of the Gouveia rental, there is once again the matter of the classist attitude of our Trustees.
Just a few weeks ago, the Trustees voted to change the village law to promote “affordable” housing and even promised to waive zoning laws if a developer put up sufficiently large numbers of such units. As a practical matter, that decision is going to apply to Harmon and to Riverside near Brook Street. Those are neighborhoods occupied by hard working people frequently treated as an afterthought by elected officials in Croton.
By contrast, the grand renovation of Gouveia being done at taxpayer expense is in one of the wealthiest parts of the Village, near the ultra-exclusive Hudson National golf course and Audubon sanctuary. No high-density housing in that part of the Village, which is why the Village Manager says she will demand rent of $66,000 per year.
I realize that $66,000 is a pittance to our Trustees and Village Manager, but there are members of our Croton community who don’t make that much in salary in a year. Given a customary 40x multiplier (30% rent to income ratio) that means that Gouveia will be occupied by someone with a minimum annual income of $220,000.
According to Wikipedia, Croton per capita income is $39,441 and median family income is $100,182.
That means that the renter sleeping in the bedroom at Gouveia will have more than double the median income of the hardworking families being taxed to buy that $2,400 carpet for the Gouveia bedroom.
Speaking as someone who got his house carpets from the ABC Carpet remnant basement and on clearance at Bloomingdales, this strikes me as unjust. But then again, our Trustees and Village Manager live in a more rarified environment and they wouldn’t want their tenant to have to live like a (gasp!) Croton taxpayer.
If Ms. King or Mr. Pugh want to meet me at ABC Carpet, I’m sure we can find a good new carpet at a reasonable price. I will even help load it into the van and unload it at the Gouveia estate, provided they let me take a quick look out from that upper patio.