The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.
To the editor:
The new vision for Croton unveiled last week by Mayor Brian Pugh and Village Manager Janine King is a bold step forward for our village. For some time the North Riverside Neighborhood Zoning Working Group has been hard at work developing plans for an urban city of the future, with input from Village Manager King and Village Engineer O’Connor.
Trustee Ann Gallelli led resident appointees Paul Doyle, Ted Brumleve, and Bruce Kauderer in this major revision to carry Croton forward into the next century. The plan calls for development of 2-3 story buildings from the Croton Colonial Diner, looping up to include the area now occupied by the Post Office, across to the Katz property, and all the way north on Riverside past the firehouse.
The goal of the plan is to bring hundreds of apartments to Croton, starting with construction on the village-owned Katz property. It is not known how many new residents this will bring: the current plan calls for a retail mall strip running on the ground floor with either one or two floors of apartments above. When ultimately complete, the plan will allow Croton to welcome well over a thousand new residents and remake the image of Croton into a medium density suburban town.
Croton’s Board of Trustees has been working on development of infrastructure to handle urbanization for some time. The DPW now has a large new building, the Recreation Department will be soon taking over Gouveia Park, and the Police Department will be taking over the entire first floor of the Municipal Building.
There is also significant transportation infrastructure being developed in Croton. There will be new stoplights along Croton Point Avenue, and the dummy light intersection is currently the subject of a consultant study which will likely result in the installation of new pedestrian lights and possibly a reconfiguration of the intersection itself to handle vehicular and pedestrian volume increases.
There are some concerns about the effect on home values, but the consulting firm retained by the Board of Trustees assured attendees at last week’s presentation that if they like their Hudson River views, they will be allowed to keep them.
The concern for home values expressed by residents may be unwarranted. In places like Nassau County, there are mixed-use strips similar to what the Croton Board of Trustees envisions. Along Jericho Turnpike and Hillside Avenue, such development exists and although the homes adjacent to the thoroughfare are at lower price points, the impact on value lessens as distance increases.
The consultants did have some hesitation about the demand for retail, which suggests one significant change to the vision presented. For various reasons, physical retail presence is on a sharp decline throughout the United States. It is questionable whether development of a strip mall stretching along the western length of Croton will stimulate demand for retail space.
Given the forecast for retail demand, the likelihood is that much of the ground floor space will ultimately be devoted to residential occupancy or ancillary uses. In fact the consultants discussed using ground floor space for parking cars, and this would also address concerns about the substantial increase in vehicle use.
“New Croton” is on the way. The starting point is the Katz property development. Since this is owned by the village, the Croton Board of Trustees will determine how it is developed.
One concern about Katz is the price which Croton will get from the buyer. Although there has been talk in the past about a reduced sale price in exchange for the developer committing to income-restricted apartments, the presentation did not mention this. On the plus side, the Katz property will generate well in excess of a million dollars which can be used to partially offset the cost of the streetlights and sidewalks being put in down by the train station.
There was mention of “economic incentives” for several purposes. The Board of Trustees has not specified what form the incentives would take. At the public presentation, the consultants were wary of an increase in the floor area ratio (FAR) so it is unlikely that incentives would take the form of increased building height. Even the current allowable FAR may be too high at some locations.
The alternative would be for Croton to incentivize with tax breaks. That is a bit problematic because the substantial population increase is going to put significant demands on village and school district services. Particularly with income-restricted apartments, this creates a triple whammy: increased demand, increased property taxes, and burden-shifting away from the new apartment units.
This burden-shifting effect is due to the reduction in assessed value for property that has significant restrictions which impair market value. This is not a reason to shy away from development of income-regulated apartments, but by definition this means that there will be slightly increased property taxes for those Croton residents who own homes. In turn, the increase in property taxes may lead to reduced interest from prospective new homebuyers and thereby reduce home values in Croton.
For many years, new residents have complained about the lack of certain retail amenities in Croton such as organic restaurants and food markets, artisanal toy stores, and the like. The lack of these is due in large part to Croton’s low population density.
Some residents have looked to a Brooklyn-style zoning plan to increase density, but for various reasons this is not practical in Croton. The vision which has emerged from the Working Group and the Croton Board of Trustees uses instead the Long Island-style model of medium density mixed-use buildings along a municipal roadway.
As Croton prepares to sell the Katz property to a developer and install new stoplights, sidewalks, and bicycle lanes along Croton Point Avenue, our village trustees are setting Croton on a new path toward a bright urban future.