The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.
To the editor:
Croton government officials and politicians wanting more space is nothing new. That was part of why in 1992 the Cortlandt offices moved out of the then-shared building on Van Wyck Street. Only a few years ago, there were complaints that the building (now exclusive to Croton use) was beyond hope, and that it was necessary for Croton taxpayers to pay for a magnificent municipal palace on the grounds of the Katz property. A change of mayoral administration put a stop to that, but Croton politicians’ desire for expansion will never stop.
Two years ago, Croton bought the large building out on Route 129. We were told it would accommodate DPW and also some other offices. We were told that the multi-million dollar building could be modified at low cost to reduce the large lobby atrium, and that would add even more office space.
Laurel Gouveia’s supposed “gift” was anything but a gift from the perspective of Croton taxpayers. The claim was that this was to be a park. The “park” quickly became a parking lot for municipal trucks.
Now the much-touted Gouveia residence that was to be the pride and joy of Croton, where we could sip afternoon tea on the patio overlooking the Hudson, will become a municipal office building and storage facility.
Meanwhile, the Croton Police Department is going to have a breathtaking expansion of space, taking over the first floor of the Municipal Building. The Village Manager assures us that this will keep the department content for about 2 decades, which is about how long it is going to take Croton taxpayers to pay off the bonds that will finance this series of real estate boondoggles.
To sum up where we are today: the DPW just moved into a big new building, the Recreation Dept is taking over our supposed crown jewel (Gouveia Park) for vehicle storage and office space, and the Police Department will soon have spacious facilities capable of handling Bonnie & Clyde if they come thru Croton plus handle any zombie apocalypse.
This is insane. Fiscal management has rarely restrained the grandiose ambitions of Croton officials, but we now see that so long as a square inch of land remains open in Croton the taxpayers are at risk.
I have had dealings with the DPW, the Recreation folks, and our Croton police. They are all top-notch and neighborly. In particular, I appreciate the Croton police who were passing by one time, saw my car stuck on a snowbank, and helped push me out. Those are the kinds of things you don’t see from police officers in Yonkers or Manhattan. So I am open to listening when our department heads ask for funding to maintain their high-quality delivery of service to Croton residents.
I am not opposed to the idea of renovation or even expansion of government office space. But there is a matter of reasonableness: Croton taxpayers foot the bill, and—contrary to what our village trustees and village manager seem to believe—there is a limit to what we taxpayers of Croton can afford.
I can understand the environmental benefits to the DPW relocation, and also appreciate the long-term savings to taxpayers. I don’t understand why the DPW building can’t handle some additional tenants, as we were told just a few years ago when the building was purchased.
The Police Chief has a valid point about the current cramped conditions under which he operates. Space constraints impact his ability to perform his job, and at times can be a public safety concern. Action to resolve this is overdue, so relocation of village court proceedings to the second floor plus renovation of the vacated courtroom for police use seems a reasonable request.
If the trend in state and federal requirements is such that holding detainees on-site is becoming impractical for a small police department, then Croton should be having shared-service discussions with Cortlandt about detention and arraignment being done at a location more conducive to current and future mandates. It is unlikely that there is going to be a reversal in any such trend, particularly at the state level.
Rather than spend a huge amount of money gutting and rebuilding the Municipal Building, Croton should take this as an opportunity to anticipate future needs in light of the village’s finances and shortage of undeveloped space.
Gouveia Park was a soap opera of woe for years before the village even finalized the scheme. This new plan by the Croton Board of Trustees is not only fiscally foolish, it is a violation of the donor’s intent that the land be used primarily for park purposes. It is also a breach of the promise our Board of Trustees made to Croton residents when this “gift” was accepted.
I doubt Ms. Gouveia would have given the land if the Village Manager had told her: “Thanks for your property. We can store our heavy vehicles there and use the house for office space.”
Our village officials should have been honest with us and not said that Croton was getting another park. A previous village Mayor, and 2 of the current sitting members of the Board, misled us as to their true plans for Gouveia. That is water under the bridge; the question before us is what use to make of the land.
Any use is restricted by both the conditions of the bequest and by state law. That severely limits any plan to make Gouveia a revenue-generating opportunity. So let us start from the premise that Croton is going to use Gouveia Park as….well, as a park.
We have heard about how there would be poetry readings on the Gouveia lawn and senior citizen discussion groups using the house: Alan Ginsberg meets Algonquin Roundtable. I doubt that use is in much demand, but we have the library’s Ottinger Room and also the current senior meeting space in the Municipal Building. I don’t know that many folks would trek out to Gouveia for events; something the village impliedly acknowledges by saying that it will continue to provide senior citizens space in the muni building and will have a drop box for Rec Dept communication at the muni building.
So what other alternative is there? One which has been given short shrift in all the debates, discussions, and committee reports over the years: rewilding.
Croton has never seriously discussed the possibility of rewilding. This environmental practice has emerged as a credible method of managing parkland such as Gouveia.
Normally the maintenance or restoration of a natural ecosystem is difficult or impossible because after development, the remaining open space is too small. Rewilding can work in instances where the land in question is large, and/or where it connects to adjacent undeveloped parkland. This is because avian and mammal populations often need a critical mass of space to survive.
Gouveia can be part of the corridor created by the Graff Audubon Sanctuary and Oscawana to the north, Brinton Brook Sanctuary and Jane Lytle Arboretum to the east, and even the Hudson National Golf course is helpful since it is undeveloped.
Croton has spent more than a decade bickering over what is now Gouveia Park. Those who originally opposed the project keep saying “I told you so” with every new chapter in the story. Those responsible for the acquisition don’t want to give more reason to critics who foresaw the impracticality and financial drain.
We need to stop pretending that the Gouveia site is something that it is not. Under an environmentally-conscious plan, Gouveia can be a thing of natural beauty.
It is time we start with a clean slate. Take down that ugly giant Quonset hut and the decrepit house. Stop using the property as a storage lot for municipal vehicles. Work with the neighboring parklands. Consult with local environmentalists and arborists. Develop a long-range plan to ensure that native species survive and thrive for the benefit of future generations.
Rewilding gives Croton the opportunity to do something unique and environmentally progressive. Before we turn Gouveia into a municipal back office and parking garage in clear violation of the donor’s intent, Croton should think about an alternative which preserves Gouveia Park as a park.