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.
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.
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.