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.
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.
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.