The Buck Stops Where?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
Last week, Dems chair Richard Masur published an extensive narrative of all of the actions taken by village officials in connection with the travesty on Piney Point Avenue/Nordica Drive, exonerating the village board of any direct responsibility for this debacle. Now, it is Mr. Masur’s job to promote and protect every politician with a D after his or her name and he does this admirably.

However, there was one thing missing from Mr. Masur’s dissertation—concern for people. Call them citizens or residents or constituents or what you will, the paramount impact of this atrocity is on those of us who live in its vicinity, and nowhere have we seen any really sincere concern or compassion expressed for those immediately affected.

The entire character of our neighborhood has been altered for at least decades, and possibly forever, and none of the procedures enumerated by Mr. Masur or penalties that may be imposed on the developers or the contractor will alter this one iota. It’s as if this was standard procedure in Croton, and once the system has gone through its cycle, life will go on as before. If he has not been down here, I would invite Mr. Masur to visit Ground Zero and I will personally give him a tour.

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We are a pretty close-knit group down here by the river and we endure the depredations of the hordes who mob the gorge in the summer months because we really enjoy the (normally) quiet, sylvan nature of this area. Our annual block party is a highlight of the social scene in the village.

But now, a giant scar has been etched into our landscape. And it’s not the only one. Just down the street, near the base of Cedar Lane, another parcel has been ripped asunder. Giant excavators tore up that hill as well in anticipation of another dwelling on a lot that we all knew could not be effectively built upon. And now it, too, sits idle waiting for the next heavy rain to wash away the hillside. I am told that the contractor has quit the job because of the difficulty and cost of building there, but no remediation of the property is in evidence. It’s as if a curse has been levied on Nordica Drive to destroy the lifestyle we have come to love.

President Harry Truman famously had a sign on his desk. “The Buck Stops Here!” As the chief executive of the nation, he accepted responsibility for whatever actions were taken by the federal government. The Board of Trustees is Croton’s chief executive and it would have been at least some solace if the board stood up and affirmatively and publicly took responsibility and vowed to determine the causes and to remedy whatever was found to be amiss.

President Harry Truman famously had a sign on his desk. “The Buck Stops Here!” As the chief executive of the nation, he accepted responsibility for whatever actions were taken by the federal government. The Board of Trustees is Croton’s chief executive and it would have been at least some solace if the board stood up and affirmatively and publicly took responsibility and vowed to determine the causes and to remedy whatever was found to be amiss.

Did the board direct the contractor to cut down all of those trees? No, they did not. Did they come down with chain saws and remove the trees themselves? Of course not. But as Harry Truman understood so well, the ultimate responsibility rests with the chief executive and that is the role played by the Board of Trustees in Croton.

To be fair, Trustee Richard Olver did proclaim that something untoward had happened and that the board needed to find out exactly what it was. It would have been encouraging if the entire board had publicly stood with Mr. Olver, expressed solidarity with our neighborhood, and guaranteed to the area’s residents that this would expeditiously be accomplished. But since that time, I have not heard any announcement of an inquiry to root out the causes or to recommend changes to Croton’s development procedures.

John Habib will be joining the board in about two months. I do not know Mr. Habib, but he will bring a fresh perspective to the board. So if Mr. Olver has not completed this work by the time his term has expired, I urge Mr. Habib to pick up the torch and assure us all down here that he truly understands what we are experiencing and will do whatever is necessary to determine how this occurred and lead a review of all of the village’s procedures for future development and fix whatever needs revision, so that no other neighborhood will have to go through what we are experiencing.

A public statement in this regard will certainly be welcomed.

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold

Croton. Love it or Leave it?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:

There is either a degree of irony or a puckish sense of humor at work when somebody lectures about acceptance and civility while in the next breath saying that those who don’t meet the lecturer’s standard of conformity should literally move out of town.

Ms. Kooney says (The Gazette, week of Oct. 1/9): “I also teach my children acceptance and kindness. Some people in our community may want to consider going back to school for a refresher. If that doesn’t work and one still doesn’t appreciate and respect our community and all its wonderful differences… you always have the option to move.”

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Such an intolerant view is not unheard of either in the United States or in Croton. It is why we have Monrovia, The Castro, and a local parkway named after Anne Hutchinson. I am old enough to remember the bumper sticker from the 1970s: “America. Love it or Leave it.” More recently, our Governor said that those holding dissenting viewpoints on abortion or gun control “have no place in the State of New York.” Our President says that naturalized citizens who disagree with him should “go back” to their birthplace.

I disagreed with the 70s bumper sticker, I disagreed with Mr. Cuomo, I disagreed with Mr. Trump, and I disagree with Ms. Kooney.

I have heard variants of Ms. Kooney’s neo-ostracism philosophy since I arrived in Croton. I recall one irate politician some years back who snapped at a constituent and said that if he did not like the way Croton was run, then he was free to move out. Readers of this newspaper may recall that I wrote in defense of Mr. Levitt when he was attacked while running for office on the basis of the belief that he had not lived in Croton long enough. My position was and remains that each of us has a right to participate in our Croton community, and indeed an obligation to do so.

Ms. Kooney quotes Bambi for the proposition “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” Of course, a threshold question is what constitutes “somethin’ nice.” This is particularly problematic given the trend (as seen in the Climate Strike and the Parkland walk-out) to see our children as oracles of public policy.

Bambi is based on a 1928 book (translated by Whittaker Chambers, of all people). When the movie was released in 1942 eight months after Pearl Harbor, the story of a child (Bambi) being raised by his mother while his father (The Great Prince) is absent—off protecting the herd against an evil force (“MAN”, always in all caps)—resonated with viewers.

As a child, Bambi is shielded from much of the horror of the world. Bambi’s mother is killed, his father imparts wisdom to his growing son, and when the father dies the now-adult Bambi takes his place guarding the forest: think “Circle of Life” premiering while fathers were being shot down over the Pacific and Jews were being sent to Dachau. Kids were made of sturdier stuff back in our grandparents’ day.

Bambi is a sophisticated presentation of mature themes for a young audience, and Walt Disney was criticized both for the dark themes and for the depiction of hunting. When I was growing up, mothers didn’t let you go to Bambi till they thought you were old enough and even then Mom went with you. Disney walked a fine line between telling the truth and respecting the fact that there were children watching.

Today we have the Church of Sweden declaring that Jesus Christ has appointed Greta Thunberg as a successor (really, they said that). From Davos to the United Nations, 16 year-old Ms. Thunberg is the icon of the youth-as-oracle movement.

Ms. Kooney says she has never written a negative letter to The Gazette (apparently telling people who don’t conform to Ms. Kooney’s viewpoint to move out of Croton is a positive letter). But as Ms. Thunberg says: “I often talk to people who say ‘No we have to be hopeful and to inspire each other, and we can’t tell [people] too many negative things’… but no, we have to tell it like it is.”

There is nothing wrong with Ms. Kooney buying citrus to support the trip to Disneyworld, and nothing wrong with serving ice cream to guests watching Bambi. It only becomes an issue when the youth are the guiding light of a movement which criticizes, inter alia, airplane travel and meat/dairy production but then those youth embark on a plane trip to an amusement park and plan their protests at an ice cream shop.

As our Congressperson Nita Lowey said last month in praising Ms. Thunberg: “Fighting climate change is about putting your money where your mouth is, not banal platitudes and hollow empty gestures.” With due civility to Ms. Kooney, I think that quoting what was said to a cartoon rabbit and shouting outside an ice cream shop in the Upper Village is the very definition of a banal platitude and empty gesture.

Personally I think that we have gone down a bad road. Watching David Hogg and Greta Thunberg brings me flashbacks of Bill Mumy in It’s A Good Life. Given that the soaring rates of mental disorder among our youth are now percolating down to elementary schoolchildren, the data is flashing a danger sign.

If our youth are mature enough to impart wisdom beyond that of their elders, then they should do as Ms. Lowey suggests and make a small personal sacrifice, such as a foregone ice cream cone. By these small acts, children can regain a sense of agency and mitigate the nihilism and depression now appearing in children obsessed with climate change.

Ms. Kooney is also not alone in favoring normative social influence in our community. Those disagreeing with Ms. Kooney’s position normally frame the counter-argument in terms of First Amendment jurisprudence, academic freedom, or the inherent social good flowing from each individual feeling free to express themselves without fear of ostracism. Those are valid arguments, but I would add that there is a Croton-specific beneficial aspect to those Gazette letters which Ms. Kooney finds objectionable.

Croton is precisely the type of insular environment where conformity is most likely. Usually we view this in benign terms such as Ms. Kooney expresses. But Solomon Asch’s foundational experiment illustrates the impact on municipal governance in a place like Croton.

Asch presented his subjects not with opinions, but with an obvious fact. In a private setting with no pressure to conform, 99% gave the factually correct answer. But in a group setting where Asch’s confederates gave the false answer, the results were far different. In repeated runs, only 25% of people were always willing to break with the group and 5% always agreed with the group despite the demonstrable mathematical fact that the group was wrong.

Conformity can facilitate accomplishment of difficult tasks thru the increase in cohesion. Conformity can also result in bad policy.

Croton already has a tiny number of people who set policy, and recent events prove that the people developing Croton policy often do so in secret. Distortions of perception and judgment seen in the Asch paradigm are a real issue in small communities. The cure is dissent: research shows that even a few group members publicly deviating from the normative pack leaders will result in a greater willingness by others to express alternate viewpoints.

Croton can benefit greatly by open and robust discussion. I appreciate the forum provided by the publisher of this newspaper. Even if you disagree with the views expressed in these pages you should consider the need to be welcoming of diverse viewpoints if for no other reason than to improve the quality of decision-making. I disagree with Ms. Kooney on some issues but I respect and value her opinion as a member of this community. I hope she stays in Croton for many years to come.

Paul Steinberg

A Sad Commentary on Our Board of Trustees

The following letter was published in last week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
In 1980, preservationists mobilized to save architecturally significant grillwork and limestone relief friezes at the shuttered Bonwit Teller flagship store. The Metropolitan Museum of Art arranged with the real estate developer to acquire the friezes, and preservationists were seeking a home for the grillwork. Having lulled the preservationists to sleep, the developer quickly ordered his team to take acetylene torches to the grillwork and a sledgehammer to the limestone friezes.

Developer Donald Trump had lied, as he would do often in the years to come. That did not bother Trump: his eponymous tower still stands on Fifth Avenue, and Mr. Trump now lives in public housing on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Five years later, developer Harry Macklowe wanted to build a hotel and conference center in Times Square. The problem was that he was not going to be able to get the permits due to an upcoming change in the laws. So in the middle of the night, Macklowe destroyed four buildings without even turning off the gas lines. Rubble and glass lay in the street as people arrived at work that morning, but Macklowe didn’t care. He got his hotel, which still stands today. The city did get a token $2 million to pay for homeless housing, but Macklowe sued and got that money back four years later, plus interest.

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Developers are a goal-oriented bunch. Often that trait is beneficial, but not always: It is common for them to confront an obstacle by destroying it—creating facts on the ground. You can’t put back together a limestone sculpture after the sledgehammer, and you can’t put back a 100 year old tree once it is cut down. A few weeks of uproar and the public is on to the next thing. A few dollars in penalties and that is a cost of doing business.

The most troubling aspect of this event is the action (or more accurately, the inaction) of our Board of Trustees and the Croton Village Engineer. During the time of massive clearcutting destruction, nothing was done by the Village of Croton-on-Hudson. Only after all hell broke loose was a stop work order issued. The Croton Board of Trustees professed to know nothing about Piney Point and Nordica construction when residents showed up at their meeting a few weeks ago. There are two possibilities: either some or all of the trustees are lying, or some or all of the trustees were oblivious to a flagrant destruction of their village and creation of a condition threatening the lives of Croton residents. Given past history, either possibility is equally likely and both of them are a sad commentary on our Board of Trustees.

The most troubling aspect of this event is the action (or more accurately, the inaction) of our Board of Trustees and the Croton Village Engineer. During the time of massive clearcutting destruction, nothing was done by the Village of Croton-on-Hudson. Only after all hell broke loose was a stop work order issued.

The Croton Board of Trustees professed to know nothing about Piney Point and Nordica construction when residents showed up at their meeting a few weeks ago. There are two possibilities: either some or all of the trustees are lying, or some or all of the trustees were oblivious to a flagrant destruction of their village and creation of a condition threatening the lives of Croton residents.

Given past history, either possibility is equally likely and both of them are a sad commentary on our Board of Trustees.

I can understand the Board of Trustees not being bothered to care about what is going on in Croton: The Board of Trustees “think globally” and Croton is just a place to deliberate on the great issues facing the world. The Village Engineer’s office is a different matter. That is a staff led by a professional engineer, paid by our tax dollars to do a job.

The key function of Mr. O’Connor’s job is to keep Croton residents from being killed by hazardous conditions. He is paid almost $200k plus benefits. I think he can commandeer a car from the village fleet and take a quick spin out to eyeball a major project on a steep slope.

It may be that because this was a well-regarded local builder at the one site, some folks in the Municipal Building did not exercise the oversight that would have been done with an unknown developer or one with a shady reputation. From the Village Engineer’s report, it looks like the less well-known builder also took advantage of the fact that the village was not paying attention to what was going on at Piney Point. This case illustrates why the law should apply equally to everyone, and should be enforced equally against all residents.

In the cases of Trump and Macklowe, there was a hubbub for a few months but no consequences. In fact, both of those developers made millions of dollars from their projects. The public be damned, so long as the developer makes money. There are those in Croton who feel that this will happen again with the developers on Piney Point and Nordica.

One Croton resident spoke what a lot of us are thinking: “the damage is done and contractor(s) will laugh their way to the bank regardless of how much we complain.” Quite apart from the facts of these particular developments on Piney Point and Nordica, the perception that rules are different depending on who you know is causing long-term damage to our society both at the local and national level.

A big part of this problem is that there is no incentive for Croton politicians to change. In a few weeks, this will die down. A few weeks after that, residents will troop to the polls and dutifully vote the party line. Even where there is no opposition candidate, people will fill in the Row “A” bubble. This is not like the old Soviet days where people filled in the unopposed bubble under threat of the gulag. Nowadays people in Croton vote to support even an unopposed candidate because our fictive tribal loyalties are more important than our real local environment.

Even in the privacy of the voting booth, we think that we must support the team no matter how awful they are. Unfortunately that is not reciprocated in Croton: the team players and management don’t support us.

Our own Croton Board of Trustees claims to have been blindsided by the biggest environmental disasters since the closing of the garbage transfer station decades ago. First the Croton River, then clearcutting on Nordica and Piney Point.

Maybe they are telling the truth. Maybe the Board of Trustees is truly are oblivious to what is going on in Croton. What does it say about us when we take up pitchforks in September and then vote for them in November?

Granting steep slope variances, looking the other way when old-growth trees are cut down—oops!—this is normal business in Croton. If we are going to protect our environment, we need to beg our Board of Trustees to spend just a teeny bit of their important schedule dealing with local concerns.

The Planning Board needs to speak up and explain their position. It has been said that much of the uproar is over matters which were known by the Planning Board, and that some of the problematic behavior was approved by the Planning Board and Village Engineer after complications arose during construction. It is easy to blame the most prominent name involved, but it appears that this environmental and safety disaster was a group effort.

For decades, Croton has had a cavalier attitude toward the steep slopes law and to trees being clearcut as land is developed. There is a way to stop this problem: make violating the law unprofitable for developers in Croton.

This past January, Croton saw the case of the “Big Black Cherry Tree” (BBCT). A couple hired a tree company go onto the property of the couple next door and chop down several trees which were on their neighbors’ property (in Brooklynese: that’s chutzpah!). The aggrieved couple won their case and the issue was how much to award for the loss of the trees. In particular, the BBCT (as the judge called it) was 20 years old. The court awarded replacement value of $40,000 for just that single tree (To read more, Google “Salzberg v Sena”).

BBCT was a case involving adjacent Finney Farm homeowners. But the logic of BBCT applied to municipal penalties assessed for steep slope tree destruction will cause any developer to look twice at his village permit before cutting down a three foot diameter tree.

Croton should also adopt the practice followed in Yorktown, where the violator can be required to post a bond in sufficient amount that if any replacement trees fail to grow, the municipality has the funds to keep planting trees till they reach the maturity of the trees which were destroyed. Requiring a developer who decimates the landscape to post a large bond for the next 20 or 30 years will take away some of the developer’s economic incentive to destroy Croton’s environment.

There should be a special penalty for intentionally violating a village permit. There is a big difference between sloppiness and intentional violation of the law, and at very least the penalty should rise sharply after the first violation, with each tree being a separate violation.

If there is one thing the residents of Croton have learned this summer, it is that we cannot trust the Board of Trustees to do their job—we are lucky if they even know what is going on in Croton. And we can’t rely on the Village Engineer or the Planning Board to exercise oversight. But it is because there is no incentive on the front end that we must have very stiff penalties on the back end. That will at least take away the profit motive and thus guide future developers to be more compliant with the laws and terms of their permits.

Croton’s Board of Trustees is in a tough spot, and I sympathize with their difficulty. They want to line Riverside Avenue with apartments, starting with a massive building on the village-owned Katz property. Only the Croton powerbrokers know what is going to happen, but from publicly-released documents it appears that the Board of Trustees will allow clear-cutting and give steep slope variances to the developer who is given the Katz property.

It is a of bit awkward timing, since what will be likely be allowed on Katz looks very similar to what happened on Piney Point. The developers keep making money, the Board of Trustees keeps rolling along. We at the bottom of the heap are left with the New Croton.

Croton needs to put some teeth into the steep slopes law and demand that the Village Engineer monitor steep slope clear-cutting, or we need to eliminate the law.

Paul Steinberg

We Got Trouble Right Here in Our Own River Village

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
In The Music Man, Professor Harold Hill warns, “Ya got trouble! Right here in River City!” Well, we got trouble right here in our own river village.

The devastation created by the developer of three properties on Piney Point Avenue and Nordica Drive, ostensibly under the watchful eye of Croton officials, as so graphically depicted in these pages, is so egregious that it drew two individuals from across the Croton River in Ossining to join neighborhood residents at last week’s village board meeting to admonish the trustees for the conditions created on their watch. They can clearly see the ravaged properties from their homes several hundred yards away and they expressed surprise that there were not many more Croton residents in attendance demanding answers.

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In The Music Man, Professor Harold Hill warns, “Ya got trouble! Right here in River City!” Well, we got trouble right here in our own river village. The devastation created by the developer of three properties on Piney Point Avenue and Nordica Drive, ostensibly under the watchful eye of Croton officials . . . is so egregious that it drew two individuals from across the Croton River in Ossining to join neighborhood residents at last week’s village board meeting to admonish the trustees for the conditions created on their watch. They can clearly see the ravaged properties from their homes several hundred yards away and they expressed surprise that there were not many more Croton residents in attendance demanding answers.

While most members of the board responded with only the usual platitudes of concern, Trustee Richard Olver was willing to step up and express a real willingness to try to do something about it when he made a passionate call for an investigation to determine all of the facts of the matter and ascertain how we got to this deplorable state. Was he serious or was it just theater? I don’t know, but I will take him at his word and assume it is the former.

Consequently, since Mr. Olver is not seeking reelection, and his term on the board will end in a couple of months, let’s appoint him to oversee a thorough investigation of what brought us to this juncture, what errors of commission and omission were committed by various boards and individuals, etc. And to produce a public report to the community detailing the facts, before he steps down.

Some have implied that village officials were on the take or too cozy with developers. Others have attributed this atrocity to gross incompetence on the part of some or all of those involved. I have no idea which it is, but it can only be one or the other.

While November’s village election will be uncontested, we can expect the Croton Dems to inundate us with propaganda extolling the virtues of the current all-Democratic village board. Telling us about all of the marvelous things they have done, and will do, for the community, and exhorting us to return them to office. I would invite the board’s acolytes and supporters to visit us here on Nordica Drive to view first hand what has occurred under this board’s purview. I doubt that it will be highlighted in their campaign literature. And why should we expect their next term will be any different?

Maybe, just maybe, the board, instead of creating new committees with no real function; instead of looking for ways to overwhelm Croton’s already overburdened parks with people from other communities; instead of squandering millions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars on projects of highly questionable value to the community in order to justify past indefensible decisions; maybe, just maybe, the trustees might devote some of their valuable time to performing an in-depth review of development procedures and practices in the village, the roles of the various village officials and boards in issuing authorizations and permits and enforcing their requirements, the penalties for violating those requirements, and most importantly, the specific responsibilities of individuals for every aspect of the development process. And then make the changes necessary to preclude such fiascos in the future. That, I think, would be a much more effective use of village resources.

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold

What Was the Alternative?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor:

Apparently some people in the village are unhappy with the new DPW building which was purchased by the Village in 2017 while Croton United held the majority of the village board. (The Gazette, August 8-14, 2019) What I’ve not heard is a better alternative to that purchase.

Some facts to readers and new residents are appropriate. The old DPW building is in a flood plain. The concrete floor is sinking and the foundation is cracking. The in-ground fuel tanks are old and a potential environmental disaster. The roof is leaking and the repair estimates were very high. These issues and the urgency of finding a new location for the DPW led the board to vote unanimously to acquire the properties on Route 129. That board included current Mayor Pugh and Trustee Gallelli.

The board was advised at that time that the cost would be $2.7 M, plus another $500 K for repairs and the demolition of the old structure for a total of $3.2 M.  New construction was not an option, nor were repairs to the old structure. The new location is not perfect, but the benefits of it, which are numerous, far outweigh the negatives.

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The old DPW building is in a flood plain. The concrete floor is sinking and the foundation is cracking. The in-ground fuel tanks are old and a potential environmental disaster. The roof is leaking and the repair estimates were very high. These issues and the urgency of finding a new location for the DPW led the board to vote unanimously to acquire the properties on Route 129. That board included current Mayor Pugh and Trustee Gallelli. . . .  A unanimous bipartisan decision was reached with the best information we had at the time and it was a good one. There was no realistic alternative proposed at that time and criticism at this point is about two years too late.

What has happened since the current administration took office in December 2017 is owned by the current (single) party in power. I understand from knowledgeable sources that costs associated with this project have ballooned and are now approaching five million dollars. I don’t know if the water department has moved into the building, as was planned. I don’t believe there was an open house for the residents to view the building, as was planned. I don’t know if any other departments have moved or have at least moved some records for storage to create additional space in the municipal building. I have no idea how the decision was reached to locate the DPW fueling station in a village gateway rather than at the new building.

The board at that time discussed a gas card program in lieu of new fuel tanks and I thought that made sense and would be cost efficient. I’ve heard that we couldn’t do that because there could be a power outage and what would we do. If Linda Puglisi and the town with a land area of 50 square miles and a population of 42,500 can manage such a program why can’t the Village? Our village of ten square miles (5 underwater) and 8,000 residents, which is one of four areas of the county chosen as an emergency area due to storm hardening that has happened here makes the power issue a stretch. The point being, the additional cost of installing new tanks and the expense of environmental compliance add to already ballooning costs associated with the DPW project.

I’m a little tired of Croton United being blamed for everything associated with the project as it progresses, particularly as it has now been almost as long since Croton United left the board as it was that Croton United controlled the board. A unanimous bipartisan decision was reached with the best information we had at the time and it was a good one. There was no realistic alternative proposed at that time and criticism at this point is about two years too late.

Bob Anderson

Think Local, Act Local

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,

I strongly suggest that all residents take a short ride over to Piney Point and Hill Street to view the destruction of a very steep hillside. Perhaps the Board should make a site visit. I guarantee it will be eye-opening.

Old growth trees with diameters almost four feet are gone. The slopes have grades greater than 45 degrees and they are now barren with the exception of construction equipment. Fifty pilings are being dug on the site with all the related noise and dust disturbance to the surrounding homes. Complete your tour with a ride on Nordica Drive and decide if this is a good thing after viewing the two sites there.

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I’ve been told you don’t make money on single home development, you need commercial. Why then are we destroying the Village with these projects? Can we really trust the engineering? Do we really believe there will be a viable storm water runoff plan? One parcel is about 20 feet from the Croton River and I cannot believe that the river will not be affected by this project no matter what was told to the planning board.

The environmental disturbance to the land and surrounding homes is significant. There have been subsidence issues in the past in this area. My guess is their home values will plummet rather than increase.

I find it interesting that the Mayor removed a rather qualified individual from the planning board who was not only a landscape architect but also an environmental attorney. He brought great knowledge to the board and is now gone just like the trees on Nordica and Piney Point. I’m not sure the replacement can measure up and you have to wonder if patronage is in play.

There have been climate walks, save the planet demonstrations, etc. in the Village much of which deals with more global issues. Perhaps it’s time to sit back and reflect on what you can do here in our quaint little Village. Maybe those trees would have been saved. Perhaps this development train should be slowed down. High density housing may be a detriment and not a savior. The rezoning charade has already been decided by the folks in the back room and this is just political theatre. Maybe at the next “Post Card Tuesday” some cards should go to this Board asking how the Village environment is being protected. Think Croton first.

It seemed at the 9/3 board meeting that the members were surprised and thought something was “amiss.” The Mayor was content to say that the planning and zoning boards are “independent entities” and the board is not really involved. This can’t be true in a municipal corporation such as Croton. The mayor is part of the whole operation and should know what’s going on in the Village and cannot duck issues, like these projects.

There have been climate walks, save the planet demonstrations, etc. in the Village much of which deals with more global issues. Perhaps it’s time to sit back and reflect on what you can do here in our quaint little Village. Maybe those trees would have been saved. Perhaps this development train should be slowed down. High density housing may be a detriment and not a savior. The rezoning charade has already been decided by the folks in the back room and this is just political theatre.

Maybe at the next “Post Card Tuesday” some cards should go to this Board asking how the Village environment is being protected. Think Croton first.

Finally, it’s time to scrap the current steep slopes law since it’s clearly being ignored. Money, power and influence will get you a variance.

Bob Anderson

Save Us, Senator Harckham!

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
One person can save Croton: Pete Harckham. He will be visiting the village on Tuesday, and he has the ability on that visit to significantly improve the quality of life for all Croton residents.

Recently the Croton Board of Trustees was shocked—shocked—to learn that on warm summer days, massive crowds inundate Nordica Drive and leave mounds of garbage everywhere. That our village politicians were shocked by this in itself is shocking, considering that the Board of Trustees got a report from a citizens committee 12 years ago discussing these very same problems.

Croton Mayor Brian Pugh (left) and NY State Senator Pete Harckham (right).

Croton Mayor Brian Pugh (left) and NY State Senator Pete Harckham (right).

Last week, the Croton Board of Trustees was again shocked. This time, the subject was the environmental disaster along Nordica and Piney Point. On three plots of steep sloping forest land, there has been clearcutting of trees. Not a single weed remains standing. For those of you who have not seen it, the best analogies would be to those aerial shots of the Amazon rainforest where cattle ranchers tore down everything, or a hillside in California after a mudslide.

This is Croton today.

Undisturbed since the glaciers receded up the Hudson 15,000 years ago, the steep hillside was covered in trees until 2019. I measured one stump alongside the road and it was 39 inches in diameter. That was one single tree among the many cut down. Today, nothing remains. An expensive house will soon stand there, albeit maybe not the most stable structure. And that is one of three sites along Nordica and Piney Point.

We have a steep slope law, but that only applies to regular folk: rich and powerful people regard Croton steep slope laws as a joke. Fran Allen spoke out about this a few years ago when the village approved the development of land between Turtle Creek and Lower North Highland Place. Ms. Allen said that there was a reason why the law existed, and that either Croton should enforce the steep slopes law or abolish it.

The point made by Ms. Allen back then remains valid today. The rich get exemptions, or as they say at the Municipal Building, “variances.”

This is where Pete comes in. He is the most influential person in Croton right now. Not because he is an elected official, but because he has his own podium. It is a magical podium: wherever the Harckham Podium is, there too will be Brian Pugh waiting for his turn to speak to the cameras.

I can appreciate that Croton is a small village, and not worthy of the ambitions of our politicians who yearn to rise up in the party organization. Unfortunately for those of us who reside in Croton, the Village of Croton-on-Hudson is at the bottom of the party organizational chart. Our Mayor has more interest in what is going on in Peekskill or White Plains than in his own village. Our village trustees no doubt follow with interest the inner workings of the Cortlandt Democratic Party apparatus, but are shocked when residents tell them that steep slopes in Croton are being clearcut.

I can appreciate that Croton is a small village, and not worthy of the ambitions of our politicians who yearn to rise up in the party organization. Unfortunately for those of us who reside in Croton, the Village of Croton-on-Hudson is at the bottom of the party organizational chart.

Our Mayor has more interest in what is going on in Peekskill or White Plains than in his own village. Our village trustees no doubt follow with interest the inner workings of the Cortlandt Democratic Party apparatus, but are shocked when residents tell them that steep slopes in Croton are being clearcut.

We should consider renaming Piney Point as Peekskill Point and rename the Croton River as Cortlandt River. Perhaps that would get our Board of Trustees to pay attention to what is going on in Croton, but that won’t solve our problems today.

So I appeal to Senator Harckham: when you visit Croton on Tuesday, please bring your podium.

After tequila shooters, you can lead the Croton Board of Trustees to the scene of the devastation. Set up at Piney Point facing the river so they can get a good view as they stand at the podium. Maybe you could make a habit of visiting Croton on a regular basis, so that our Board of Trustees is not again shocked to learn about conditions in the village. If you need help setting up the podium and lighting for the tv cameras, I would be happy to assist.

Paul Steinberg

What Will the Croton Point Avenue Project Really Cost?

Village residents learned in the September newsletter that our village board is preparing to re-bid a scaled-back version of the multi-million dollar Croton Point Avenue project this fall. The necessary work that is being removed from the bid will now be performed by the village instead.

Residents are told that “by doing these projects independently of the main project, it is hoped that the new bids received in the fall will be in line with funding estimates.” The “funding estimate” referenced is approximately $3 million dollars. This is twice the original estimated cost of the project, which was supposed to be funded by an 80% grant of $1.2 million and a village expenditure of $300,000. The taxpayers’ current estimated expenditure on this project will be close to $2 million dollars, approximately six times the original estimated cost to the taxpayers.

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When bids for this project went out earlier this year, the board expected residents to pay six times as much for the same project. Now, residents are being told that the bids will require the winning bidder to perform even less work for six times the original estimated cost, and that we’ll have to pay even more to complete the project by having village employees perform the rest of what’s required. What will be the cost of the work that will have to be performed by village employees? What impact will this have on our village budget, or on village debt, which is now growing again under the spendthrift Pugh administration?

When bids for this project went out earlier this year, the board expected residents to pay six times as much for the same project. Now, residents are being told that the bids will require the winning bidder to perform even less work for six times the original estimated cost, and that we’ll have to pay even more to complete the project by having village employees perform the rest of what’s required. What will be the cost of the work that will have to be performed by village employees? What impact will this have on our village budget, or on village debt, which is now growing again under the spendthrift Pugh administration? Notably, not one member of our one-party government, nor any of the candidates from that party who expect village residents to support them this November, are discussing this subject in public at all.

Roseann Schuyler

Will Croton’s Board of Trustees Make the Hard Choices?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
Climate change is causing a rise in sea levels. That rise is going to continue for decades to come. Croton is located next to an estuary which is impacted by Atlantic Ocean water levels. Those two facts taken together suggest that we need to start coming up with a plan. But so far, the only near-term actions being taken in Croton are ones which will make matters worse.

In October 2018 Croton, Cortlandt and Buchanan convened a workshop to address the impact of climate change (see my letter in The Gazette, week of June 3/19). At that meeting there was discussion of the projected impact of rising water levels on Croton. In particular there was discussion of Riverside Avenue and Brook Street, including potential buyouts of property and construction of levees in the Hudson River. But our village government has never discussed this with Croton residents—before or since the 2018 workshop. Our Board of Trustees continues to avoid having any discussion of what steps the village will take in light of the floodplain projections.

I realize that dealing with mitigation of the North Riverside and Brook Street floodplain is not as fun as having demonstrations and marches. Instead of demanding action and shifting responsibility on national politicians, it necessitates taking action and making hard choices right here in Croton. So far the only action taken by the Board of Trustees has been to propose rezoning to increase apartment density in the very area which is going to be most impacted by the rising waters. This is the exact opposite of what common sense suggests.

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I realize that dealing with mitigation of the North Riverside and Brook Street floodplain is not as fun as having demonstrations and marches. Instead of demanding action and shifting responsibility on national politicians, it necessitates taking action and making hard choices right here in Croton. So far the only action taken by the Board of Trustees has been to propose rezoning to increase apartment density in the very area which is going to be most impacted by the rising waters. This is the exact opposite of what common sense suggests.

Climate change denial comes in many forms, including people such as our village officials who acknowledge the science but then make a conscious decision to ignore the science.

Croton needs to start doing something more concrete than holding workshops and chanting loudly at demonstrations in Peekskill. We can start by addressing the impact of climate change on Croton rezoning. We can look at the adequacy of the existing building code and permitting process in light of upcoming expansion of the floodplain. We should be looking at the various methods of mitigation. We should start figuring out how much things such as levee construction and property buyouts are going to cost and how we will pay for the projects.

Paul Steinberg

Let’s Stop Blaming Trump for Our Own Selfishness and Profligacy

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
It has only taken 10 years, but Croton is finally going to enforce the vehicle idling law. As I noted in this paper more than a year ago (The Gazette, week of July 5/11, 2018) the law has been blatantly ignored on a daily basis, including by the J&S taxi drivers who occupy a prime space granted by the same village which has previously refused to enforce the law.

Of course this is Croton and we do things the Croton way. So it is only after much jawboning and 10 years of delay that we act. Better late than never, I suppose.

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And this is Croton 2019, where you can’t stub your toe without at least implicitly blaming Donald Trump and engaging in sanctimonious virtue-signaling. So Brian Pugh announces that Croton will finally enforce the law (The Gazette, week of August 15/21), but not without taking a swipe at actions “at the national level” contrasted with Croton, where the “Village Board’s Democratic majority will continue, consistent with the interests and values of our community, to empower residents to take environmentally responsible steps and protect our local habitat.”

While not technically inaccurate, Mr. Pugh is misleading: Croton’s Village Board is a Democratic monopoly. And for most of the period since the anti-idling law was passed but not enforced, it has been a Democratic majority or monopoly on the Board of Trustees which has refused to enforce the law.

Indeed, Croton is overwhelmingly a Democrat village: in 2016 the village went 69% for Hillary Clinton versus 25% for Donald Trump. Both Nita Lowey and Chuck Schumer got over 72% of the vote in Croton.

So it stands to reason that the cluster of vehicles which have been idling at the Croton train station belching toxins and greenhouse gases for the past 10 years of non-enforcement are not exactly a hotbed of Trump supporters. Statistically speaking, it is likely that most of the people in Croton who are breaking the law and idling their vehicles are not Trump voters. Most of the gas-guzzler SUVs you see driving around Croton are owned by Croton residents, and it was not “industry actors” at the “national level” who forced Croton residents to purchase those SUVs.

I support the belated decision to actually enforce the idling law that went into effect 10 years ago. And if it took the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States for the village of Croton-on-Hudson to finally enforce a Westchester County law, then that is at least a silver lining from the 2016 election.

Mr. Pugh’s sanctimonious tripe about empowering residents and community values is not only false, it is counter-productive. If you simply look at the act of idling in violation of the law while at the Croton train station, we all can agree that this is wrong, wasteful, and damaging to our Croton environment. By changing the subject and talking about “uninformed idealogues [sic]” “at the national level” we avoid discussion of the actions of well-informed ideologues at the Croton level, and even give ourselves a pass: we may selfishly belch greenhouse gases while idling in Croton, but at least we don’t like the guy in Washington.

Mr. Pugh’s sanctimonious tripe about empowering residents and community values is not only false, it is counter-productive. If you simply look at the act of idling in violation of the law while at the Croton train station, we all can agree that this is wrong, wasteful, and damaging to our Croton environment. By changing the subject and talking about “uninformed idealogues [sic]” “at the national level” we avoid discussion of the actions of well-informed ideologues at the Croton level, and even give ourselves a pass: we may selfishly belch greenhouse gases while idling in Croton, but at least we don’t like the guy in Washington.

Contrary to Mr. Pugh’s implication, Croton’s ticketing of violators does not “empower residents” any more than the State Trooper who ticketed me on the Thruway “empowered” me to drive 55. The whole reason that Croton must now have police enforcement of environmental laws is because the vaunted “community values” of we the residents of Croton do not include turning off the damn key while we wait at the Croton train station in our 26 mpg, 3,500 pound behemoths, cranking the AC up to the max and forcing law-abiding drivers to breathe our gas fumes.

We need to stop blaming Mr. Trump and/or Republicans for our own selfishness and profligacy. We need to start taking action on our own. It should not take the election of Donald Trump to get the Village Board of Trustees to enforce environmental laws, and frankly it should not take the threat of a court fine to get residents of Croton to be environmentally conscious.

I remember a few years ago when the Trump administration announced it was pulling out of the Paris accord on climate change. Croton was in an uproar and the upper village was packed as people gathered to send off angry postcards to Trump/Ryan/McConnell. What struck me most was the number of gas-guzzling SUVs that lined the street that day. I applaud any mother who is out front on climate change, but when I see you drive up in a single-occupant vehicle that is larger than my college dorm room I have understandable doubts as to how woke you are with regard to environmental issues.

Donald Trump is an eminently whackable piñata on many issues, including environmental issues. But he is not preventing you from turning off the key when you are waiting at the Croton train station, nor is he forcing you to blast the AC instead of opening the windows. We need to start taking responsibility for our own actions. We need to start protecting our Croton environment even when the Croton police are not looking over our shoulder and issuing tickets.

Paul Steinberg

Finding a Path Forward on Park Access

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
A month ago, we were told that the Diversity & Inclusion Committee had recommended dropping the residency requirement for Croton parks. Then we were told that the recommendation was made at the “listening session” held on June 20. As part of the reason for the need to drop the residency requirement, we were told that the Croton Police Department had recently questioned teenagers playing basketball on Benedict while their parents were attending the adjacent church.

None of this was true.

The basketball incident apparently occurred ten years ago, but nobody really knows what went on because the Board of Trustees has not put up the police reports as part of the backup material on the agenda. Nor did the village append minutes of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee; in fact the last minutes that were posted came from the March 29 meeting of the D&I Committee.

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After residents raised the issue of missing minutes which were being used in support of a proposed legislative action by the Croton Board of Trustees, the village finally released the minutes from the June 20 session.

At the bottom of a 2-page summary is suggestion 4(m)—the 24 words that have upended Croton for the past month: “For people from Ossining but spend time in Croton, the access to Croton parks is overly restricted. Can they pay to use Croton parks?”

That is it. That is what our Board of Trustees interpreted as a call to drop the residency requirement.

Our Board of Trustees is composed of intelligent people who can read. Two are lawyers and one is a teacher. And our Village Manager has an advanced degree from a top school. Unlike the ordinary residents of Croton who did not get to read the actual minutes until a few days ago, the Board of Trustees of the Village of Croton-on-Hudson had 2 work sessions and a Board of Trustees session before public pressure forced them to release the basis for this uproar.

If the Board of Trustees wants to drop the residency requirement for village parks, then just say so. That is a legitimate conversation to have. But to hide behind a purported suggestion from the Diversity & Inclusion Committee is cowardly and unnecessary.

If the Board of Trustees wants to drop the residency requirement for village parks, then just say so. That is a legitimate conversation to have. But to hide behind a purported suggestion from the D&I committee is cowardly and unnecessary.

Ironically the suggestion “M” is reasonable and would have been well-received by residents if it had been presented in a dispassionate and logical manner. In fact that suggestion is the best thing to come out of the June 20 “listening session.” The person is not seeking removal of residency restrictions, only the opportunity to pay a fee as a resident of a neighboring community and thereby get access to the village parks.

We share a waterfront and riverfront with our neighbors in Ossining. Ossining residents contribute greatly to the Croton economy and support our tax base, particularly with their patronage of ShopRite and several of the childcare centers. I have had interactions with the Mayor and municipal officials in Ossining, and they are friendly people who are good neighbors.

Many waterfront communities have programs similar to what is being proposed by suggestion “M.” This is common with beach permits on Long Island and elsewhere. Croton already does something similar with train station parking: a certain number of permits are available for residents to purchase and a limited number of permits can be purchased by non-residents who often pay a slightly higher fee than residents.

A pilot program such as this would make a lot of sense. Croton would set aside a limited number of permits for residents of Ossining, and seek reciprocity for Croton residents wishing to use Ossining facilities. The program would run for a season and be re-evaluated at the end of the season and modified as necessary.

The conversation in Croton—especially online—has gotten very nasty. It is perfectly fine to have a conversation about racism and hatred in Croton, but our Board of Trustees should not be stoking the fires of hatred between residents and anti-police sentiment by making stuff up.

Suggestion “M” is a good starting point, and a way forward. It is a pathway to inter-municipality cooperation, neighborliness, and projecting an image of Croton as a welcoming village.

Paul Steinberg

Is This Any Way to Run a Government?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
In light of some misunderstanding about my letter last week, I would like to clarify: the Croton Board of Trustees is certainly within its legal authority to dispose of the Hollis Lane property, and in doing so it does not have to accept the highest price. It also has broad discretion in the manner of sale.

However the State Comptroller has taken the position: “Although there is no public hearing requirement in Village Law… we note that the village board is subject to the Open Meetings Law…and, therefore, board actions in connection with the sale of real property are subject to the requirements of that law” (for the full document, Google “OSC opinion 90-37”).

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If the Board of Trustees takes action in a meeting which is closed to the public in violation of state law, this can subject the taxpayers of Croton to liability, and also potentially the individual trustees in their personal capacities unless they dissented from the decision to enter into “Executive Session.”

If you stand in the middle of Grand Street with a megaphone and shout that you are contemplating putting your house on the market, the publicity does not “substantially affect the value” of your house. Nor would it “substantially affect the value” of a lot on Hollis Lane if the Croton Board of Trustees openly discussed selling that lot.

Unless a board’s discussion will “substantially affect the value” of the property under discussion, it is against the NY Open Meetings Law to have an “Executive Session.” For many years, it has been common in Croton to go into “Executive Session” when the Board of Trustees doesn’t want the public to know what is going on. But in the case of Hollis Lane, this could open the door to a legal challenge.

Once the Board of Trustees decided to put the property for sale on BidNet, it was in theory public information. In reality, the only people who would know of the sale are government vendors registered on BidNet and those select few who are plugged-in to the inner circle of Croton government.

I don’t get private briefings from Croton trustees at local coffeehouses. I don’t sit on any of the citizen committees whose members are occasionally granted the honor of a private audience with the Deputy Mayor. I am glad that the Hollis Lane information leaked out and was put up on social media, but is this any way to run a government?

I don’t get private briefings from Croton trustees at local coffeehouses. I don’t sit on any of the citizen committees whose members are occasionally granted the honor of a private audience with the Deputy Mayor. I am glad that the Hollis Lane information leaked out and was put up on social media, but is this any way to run a government?

I understand that the Croton Board of Trustees believes “fiduciary duty” to be an offensive concept, but even so they have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers. The decisions regarding Hollis Lane were not an accident, nor a random act. This was a deliberate planned course of action selected by the Croton Board of Trustees and executed by the Village Manager.

Normally the secretive nature of Croton’s Board of Trustees is just an inconvenience and anti-democratic, but in the instance of disposition of real property the backroom dealing has monetary consequences.

Raw land tends to be more difficult to sell than a regular house. There is a limited pool of buyers, and a prospect needs to have a vision and perform due diligence to ascertain that construction after purchase can be realized in a manner which is economically feasible.

It is rare for a vacant parcel to be sold in 25 days. By way of comparison, according to Coldwell Banker in 2018 the average house in Croton stayed on the market for 73 days; 51 percent were on the market for more than 45 days. And this is in the hottest Croton market in 10 years.

Hoping to sell your house in 25 days is optimistic even in this market. Mandating the disposition of a vacant plot of land in 25 days is a fire-sale. Only letting BidNet-registered government vendors and those who are informed by Croton insiders know that the Hollis Lane plot is for sale may be in keeping with Croton tradition, but it is not in keeping with the legal and moral obligation of the Board of Trustees.

On several occasions, the NYS Comptroller has said that at least one appraisal is recommended, if not two. Even at that, Croton’s Board of Trustees has a responsibility to carefully evaluate the terms of the sale. In a 2011 sale of school property, the NYS Dept of Education set aside the sale because the second appraisal was obtained after the RFP had closed, and because the RFP only allowed a 30-day bid window (to read the decision, Google “NYSED 16,239”).

In the case of Hollis Lane, there is no indication the Croton Board of Trustees has bothered to get a single appraisal, and Croton only allowed a 25 day RFP bid window. Perhaps in those secret sessions, the trustees discussed appraisals. Perhaps they discussed the reason for the urgency of the sale. Perhaps they reviewed the options for marketing the property.

Perhaps there is a reason why the rest of us are left to wonder what was discussed in secret.

I am not disputing the authority of the Board of Trustees to sell the Hollis Lane property, and I am not opposing the sale of the property. But as the NYS Comptroller noted (Opinion 96-11): “The method of sale chosen is within the board's discretion, but should be the one which the board believes will yield the best price or maximum financial benefits. To fulfill this fiduciary duty, the board should take appropriate measures, which may include obtaining one or more appraisals and utilizing a real estate broker to identify potential buyers.”

Operating in secrecy and putting village land up for sale in a manner which minimizes the number of potential bidders and minimizes the sale price hardly seems to rise to a basic level of competence. We have the right as citizens to expect at least that much.

Paul Steinberg

A Mystery on Hollis Lane

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
Does any reader have a Brownells core brush to sell? A digital scale? A stadiometer? How about some diatomaceous earth? If you do, get yourself online and go to BidNet, which bills itself as the place to “Win More Government Contracts.”

BidNet is a restricted site, but if you are a vendor you can register and see local and state bids and Requests for Proposal. It is a bit difficult to navigate, which is why they offer paid assistance to vendors. So everyone out there who isn’t using their Brownells core brush, take heart—BidNet is the place for you.

It is a bit of a Croton hobby to look on Zillow or Redfin, and to window shop at River Towns Realty. I like to flip thru the glossy Houlihan Lawrence books while grabbing a snack at Franki’s. We all know where to look for information about our property values, and we know where to go if we want to buy or sell real estate in Croton.

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I don’t pretend to have the real estate expertise of Brian Pugh, but I have bought, sold, and leased property: residential, office, and retail. And in all that time, I have never thought to look on BidNet. I do pretend to have some opinion as to the lack of transparency at our Municipal Building, particularly when it comes to real estate matters.

For 24 years, the Village of Croton has owned a 4.15 acre plot of land on Hollis Lane in Cortlandt, near the Brinton Brook Sanctuary. Then some urgent need arose, and the Village of Croton got in a panic and needed to unload the property in 25 days, 1 hour, and 38 minutes.

For 24 years, the Village of Croton has owned a 4.15 acre plot of land on Hollis Lane in Cortlandt, near the Brinton Brook Sanctuary. Then some urgent need arose, and the Village of Croton got in a panic and needed to unload the property in 25 days, 1 hour, and 38 minutes.

So at 2:22 p.m. on June 17, the village quietly posted the land for sale on BidNet. It said that sealed bids are due by 4p.m. on July 12. After that time, “The village will evaluate the offers and then proceed to enter into a Purchase Agreement with the chosen buyer, who will be chosen based upon an evaluation and comparison of all terms of the offers submitted.”

I wonder if the last time Mr. Pugh sold his house, he went to his realtor and said: “You’ve got 25 days, 1 hour and 38 minutes to bring me offers. Not a minute more. And be sure to list this on an obscure website where people are selling diatomaceous earth and Brownells core brushes. I am not necessarily looking for the best price. Nor will I tell you what I am looking for or what weightings I am assigning to the criteria which I refuse to disclose.”

Is there any homeowner reading this who does not think this is a peculiar way to sell a property in Cortlandt? If so, I have some Brownells core brushes to sell you.

The secretive nature and social hierarchy of information dissemination is a feature of Croton government, particularly when it comes to real property matters. Our Board of Trustees goes into secret “Executive Session” and tells us it is because they are going “to discuss the proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property.”

Of course, Mr. Pugh himself is an attorney, and there is a Village Attorney present at board meetings. So the Board of Trustees knows that New York law states that the discussion can be in secret “only when publicity would substantially affect the value thereof.” If the Board of Trustees has been unaware of this, I urge them to Google “pub off law 105” and read the actual law which they are supposed to be following. I understand that this is Croton, where the New York Open Meetings Law is regarded as a non-binding suggestion, but they might want to read it anyway.

Did you ever wonder why, when our Board of Trustees goes into “Executive Session,” it only recites the first part of the exception to the Open Meetings Law, and never the second part? An open discussion of the fact that Croton is going to sell the Hollis Lane property after 24 years would not have substantially affected the value of the property.

Since 1996 when the Village of Croton acquired the property, I doubt the Board of Trustees has ever had a public discussion about Hollis Lane. All of a sudden this is a super-secret crisis and Hollis Lane must be sold on a website where you have to register as a government vendor in order to get access.

Presumably there will be another “Executive Session” after the July 12 deadline, and we will never know what the true story is about this odd real estate transaction. In fact if Hollis Lane is sold to one of the infamously opaque New York real estate LLCs, the taxpayers of Croton may never find out who the buyer is. Sen. Brad Holyman (D-Manhattan) has been trying for years to change the LLC law because of its abuse in real estate purchases and also in campaign financing.

If the Croton Board of Trustees approves sale of Hollis Lane to an LLC purchaser, I hope they will require transparency as to beneficial ownership. In fact, it should be required that all bidders for Hollis Lane disclose beneficial ownership to avoid even the appearance of non-transparency. I for one am curious as to who is shopping for a vacant Cortlandt home plot on a government contractor website.

I am sure there is a good reason why the Board of Trustees operated in secret with regard to Hollis Lane. No doubt there are machinations and moving parts hidden from us regular folk which account for this sale of village land being conducted in a manner seemingly calculated to minimize the number of bidders and sale price. Frankly it really doesn’t matter, because the Board of Trustees doesn’t care: they behave the way they choose, and tell us what they want us to know when they want to tell us.

On the off chance that the Board of Trustees will change its mind with regard to future sales of village real estate, they might consider using one of the many fine real estate agents in Croton. They might consider having the property listed on the MLS and other public websites. They might consider abiding by the Open Meetings Law.

Oh, one final tip for Mr. Pugh: If your realtor lists your property on a website where the other listings are for Brownells core brushes and diatomaceous earth, then you should switch agents.

Paul Steinberg

Is Croton’s Debt Sustainable?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

To the editor,

I had the pleasure of serving as Chair of the Village of Croton-on-Hudson Financial Sustainability Committee (FSC) from July 2016 through April 2019. Through its first three years, the FSC interviewed, researched, investigated and reported to the Village our primary conclusions. These were:

  1. Village debt levels are among the highest in the state and the Village Board should focus on ways to lower our debt burden.  Stemming from that analysis the Village Debt Policy was unanimously voted on by the Board. The Debt Policy mandated the Village make best efforts to borrow less than what bonds get paid off each year. Over time, our debt burden would become more manageable. Since being enacted in 2017 the Village adhered to the Debt Policy the next two budgets but breached the debt policy this year.

  2. Village Fees (Parking, Water) are among the highest in the region and the Board should do its best to maintain service levels while keeping costs to Village residents down. Last year the Village increased parking fees.

  3. Village budget expenditures are growing faster than what should be considered sustainable and the Board needs to undertake a Village-wide review of its operations and capital plan. I don’t believe the Village has undertaken this review yet, though they may have a plan to do so in the future.

Our reports are on the Village website under Boards and Committees, Financial Sustainability Committee. Please have a look! FSC members took time away from family to create these reports. I’m very proud of my FSC colleagues and neighbors and I admire them greatly. We came from all sides of the political spectrum and while we may have disagreed on various issues but we worked well together. Most important, we were in lock-step on what the Village needed to do financially. Once examined the numbers don’t lie.

After the passage of the 2019-20 Village budget and subsequent breach of the Debt Policy I and several other members of the FSC resigned from the Committee. Prior to that we had minimal communication with the Mayor and Trustees, which is perfectly fine! The Mayor and Trustees can utilize our committee and take or leave our advice as they see fit. But the financial problems facing our Village persist and we just didn’t think there was enough focus on addressing the core problem of overspending.

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One issue you may not be aware of has been cost overrun with the DPW Relocation and Remediation project. In May 2017, the Village Manager and Trustees requested FSC opinion on the financial impact of the DPW Project on the Village budget. Our committee was given an estimate of the total cost of the project of $3.5 million without taking debt financing into consideration. That included $2.6 million for the purchase of the two abutting properties on RT. 129 and $900 thousand for retrofit of the purchased property and demolition/paving over of the existing Train Station DPW facility to make additional parking. At the time, the FSC commended the Village for making a very large infrastructure investment on a core service while staying within the limits of the Debt and Reserve policies. Our letter of recommendation is on the Village website as well.

A few weeks ago after reviewing the latest budget and the proposed Village Capital Plan I contacted Village Manager King to get her best estimate of the total cost of the DPW Project to-date. After filing a FOIL request, I received a report from the Village that shows the cost of the DPW project currently stands at nearly $5.2 million, which is $1.7 million over the cost estimate used to vote on the project. The $5.2 million does not include finance costs which will add an additional 30%.

A few weeks ago after reviewing the latest budget and the proposed Village Capital Plan I contacted Village Manager King to get her best estimate of the total cost of the DPW Project to-date. After filing a FOIL request, I received a report from the Village that shows the cost of the DPW project currently stands at nearly $5.2 million, which is $1.7 million over the cost estimate used to vote on the project. The $5.2 million does not include finance costs which will add an additional 30%....Have you heard of any major issues or stumbling blocks that ramped up the cost of the DPW project above initial estimate by $1.7 million? Neither have I. And that’s the problem as it seems like business as usual. How did this DPW project overshoot initial cost estimates by nearly 50%?

So far, $3.4 million has been spent for the purchase of the Route 129 properties, renovation of the new DPW building and remediation and engineering design. In its 2019-20 capital budget, the Village projects an additional spend of $1.6 million to demolish the old DPW facility and make it additional parking spaces. The project concludes in 2021 with an additional $120,000 to update an oil tank.

Have you heard of any major issues or stumbling blocks that ramped up the cost of the DPW project above initial estimate by $1.7 million? Neither have I. And that’s the problem as it seems like business as usual. How did this DPW project overshoot initial cost estimates by nearly 50%?

Once I found out this detail I understood clearly why the Village Board voted to breach the debt limit. It seems they really didn’t have a choice. If the Village was more accurate in estimating the cost of the project in 2017, would the 2017 Board have voted for the project or instead asked the Village Manager to come up with something more cost effective? From our perspective, the FSC anticipated some cost overrun and felt that the estimate provided was a bit low, but we would have raised red-flags on the project if we were given a $5.2 million estimate.

Is this difference in actual vs. projected costs of capital projects common? Looking at the numbers for recent projects like Gouveia and the Grand Street Firehouse renovation I believe its more common than it should be. But as far as I’m aware, the Village doesn’t report on this or establish any benchmarks or procedures to ensure the estimates they bring to the Board for vote are accurate and take into consideration worst case contingencies. If my calculations are wrong or I missed something, I’m happy to be corrected. But if I’m right the Village needs to provide an explanation.

Currently the Village is planning over $6 million in additional capital improvements to the Municipal Building and Croton Point Avenue, if the cost estimates are accurate. The Village Board needs to be more critical of cost estimates of these capital projects going forward.

Respectfully,
Dan Osborne

Understanding “Affordable” Housing

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
There has been some uncertainty as to the economic impact associated with income-restricted apartments on a community. Regardless of how you feel about such development in Croton, it is important to understand the numbers.

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The first issue is the cost of development. This involves land acquisition, construction, and ancillary costs. “Affordable” is a term defined by statute, and it includes restrictions on the rent charged to tenants. As a result, government must provide incentives so that developers build “affordable” units rather than market-rate units.

Costs associated with development can be significant. As I outlined previously (The Gazette, week of May 9/15), the Peekskill affordable units targeted at artists required initial subsidies in excess of $265,000 per apartment. The Regent Street project in Port Chester involved $5 million in construction funding from NY State on top of $4.3 million (spent by Westchester County) for land acquisition and infrastructure. So the 34 apartments in Port Chester required $273,000 per unit.

It is fine to say that Croton should build “affordable” apartments. But we need to account for not only the initial subsidies (which can be in the millions of dollars), but 50 years of property and school taxes which are unlikely to cover the actual costs associated with the additional residents. And we need to remember that just because a building is 80 percent market-rate does not mean that it will pay its fair share of the tax burden.

The take-away: “affordable” apartments are not cheap, and government often gives land away to private developers as an incentive. That is not an argument against building such apartments, but it does mean that taxpayers need to pay attention to what their elected officials are giving away in order to get “affordable” housing.

Many years ago, Croton paid almost a million dollars for the Katz property and there is a legitimate question as to what development plans the Croton Board of Trustees have for the property. This being Croton, only the insiders know the answer. But if the Board intends to give away Katz to a private developer this should be a discussion conducted in public.

The second issue is the ongoing cost to taxpayers. Back in 2005, New York passed a law restricting how high a municipality can assess an “affordable” apartment complex. (If you want to read the law, Google “rpt 581a”). Various taxes, including school and property taxes, are a function of the taxable assessed value of the piece of property.

Apartments are commonly assessed based in large part on how much income they provide to the landlord. What the 2005 law did was to dramatically shift the burden from landlords to taxpayers on any “affordable” unit.

Many of the monetary benefits which landlords get such as tax credits, subsidized mortgage financing, and project grants (such as the NYSERDA grants used in the Peekskill development) are now excluded from the calculation of landlord income. In addition, the municipal tax assessor is prohibited from using standard assessment metrics such as comparable sale prices. Nor may the assessment of an “affordable” building take account of value from a potential conversion to condo/coop ownership.

The effect of the law can be dramatic. In the first litigation challenging an assessment under the new law back in 2008, a 24-unit development had the assessment reduced from $220,000 down to $6,158 (The Gazette, week of Aug 26/Sept 1, 2010).

Mr. Olver recently discussed the market-rate apartments he wishes to see in Croton (The Gazette, week of May 9/15). Given that the units would be market-rate, the assumption would be that the landlords will pay their fair share of Croton village and school taxes. That assumption would be wrong.

Croton law essentially requires (Section 230-48) that 10 percent of apartments in new buildings must be “affordable” as that term is defined by law. Croton can also grant incentives (such as floor-area-ratio waivers, height waivers, etc.) to developers who voluntarily provide more than the legal minimum of “affordable” units. Under state law, once there is a 20 percent “affordable” component, the tax assessment of the entire building falls under the lower assessment criteria.

This should be a concern to Croton taxpayers and also to those living in the Croton Harmon Union Free School District (CHUFSD). This affects taxpayers living outside the Croton electoral district.

Some taxpayers who pay school taxes don’t live in the electoral district of the Croton Board of Trustees. If the village grants benefits to a private real estate developer in exchange for a 20 percent “affordable” set-aside, then that building will have a CHUFSD school tax payment which quite likely will be less than the landlord’s fair share. That may not matter much if it is a senior-restricted development, but it is very important if the development has many school-age residents.

Under Croton’s law, the “affordable” units must remain that way for 50 years. Most of us will be retired or dead while future CHUFSD taxpayers will still be paying higher taxes so that landlords can get a break, even if 80 percent of his units are market rate.

Decisions made by the Croton Board of Trustees in 2019 are going to be burdening taxpayers in 2069. Those burdens will be falling on many homeowners outside of Croton: even if they don’t have children in Croton schools, they will be paying higher taxes to subsidize people living in apartments—even those renters in market-rate units who have a higher income.

NYS affordable assessment law presumes that the landlord will be honest. But as we have seen with efforts to game the rent laws in NYC, landlord accounting for operating expenses can be…. Um, let’s just call it “creative accounting.”

That was one of the issues in an “affordable” tax assessment case upstate back in 2015. The town basically said the landlord was claiming bogus expenses and fudging income numbers. So instead of the $350,000 assessment under the special NYS law, the town assessed at the market rate for such an apartment building—$4,543,059. In that case, the town board entered into an “Executive Session” (much like the tactic of our Croton board). The court found that the board’s executive session was illegal (no surprise there), but the court still held for the town on the issue of the tax assessment.

Since the Croton Board of Trustees is determined to have “affordable” apartments lining Riverside, at very least they should institute a mandatory audit procedure to ensure that landlords don’t submit creative bookkeeping. Given past history, the Board of Trustees would be well advised to not try and review the records themselves; a CPA with knowledge of audit and property management accounting should be retained.

It is fine to say that Croton should build “affordable” apartments. But we need to account for not only the initial subsidies (which can be in the millions of dollars), but 50 years of property and school taxes which are unlikely to cover the actual costs associated with the additional residents. And we need to remember that just because a building is 80 percent market-rate does not mean that it will pay its fair share of the tax burden.

Paul Steinberg

The Board Must Take Account of Existing Realities in Retail Trade

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
Much of the discussion of the prospective North Riverside Rezoning has focused on the addition of mixed use and/or other new retail outlets in the subject area. Great care must be exercised in considering any retail expansion in Croton, as brick and mortar retail is a declining industry in our area and the country as a whole. Under pressure from on-line retailers more and more retail outlets are closing.

According to Coresight Research, 5,864 stores closed in the U.S. in 2018. Thus far in 2019, 6,175 such closures have been announced and the projected total for the year is about 12,000 (Journal-News, 5/10/19). In some locations, entire malls have gone dark. Over the past year or so, Croton has lost its hardware store, the locksmith shop, and the athletic shoe store, and there have likely been others as well. The old Blockbuster Video store stood empty for years before a new tenant was found; the former German deli remains empty; and the small shop behind the dummy light is unoccupied more often than not.

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An unscientific survey of village retail suggests that the largest number of our retail establishments offer food and drink. Restaurants and taverns. Supermarkets, groceries, and delis. Bakeries and ice cream shops. From this group, we have recently lost Anton’s, Memphis Mae’s, Umami, Justin Thyme, Tagine, and perhaps others. Although other restaurants have filled some of these spaces, how many more food outlets can Croton, with its limited population, support? The new Mexican restaurant in the old Umami space is just a few steps from Mex-To-Go. Can both of these establishments thrive in such close proximity?

It has long been recognized that one of Croton’s problems with retail is the lack of a unified business district like, e.g., Pleasantville. We cannot do much about the existing dispersion of stores throughout our village, but encouraging even more of them across the entire study area will only make this situation worse.

We cannot dictate what type of retail outlets may choose to rent any of the prospective new spaces, but our recent history, combined with the growing preference for on-line shopping by many, if not most, people does not bode well for new stores in our village. For example, if there are two similar successful stores in Croton, and a third one enters in competition, it could result in the failure of one of them, or two, or, in the extreme, all three.

The concept of mixed-use assumes that rent from a healthy retail store will allow the developer/landlord to charge lower rents for residential apartments, and perhaps even allow for the affordable housing units being touted as part of the rezoning. But if that business cannot prosper in the current retail climate, the economic model falls apart. And in addition, we will have empty storefronts in our Gateway area that will certainly not enhance the impression made on those entering our village.

It has long been recognized that one of Croton’s problems with retail is the lack of a unified business district like, e.g., Pleasantville. We cannot do much about the existing dispersion of stores throughout our village, but encouraging even more of them across the entire study area will only make this situation worse.

Thus, it is incumbent on the Village Board and its zoning consultant to take account of the realities existing in retail trade in 2019 and not foster the expansion of retail space which may be difficult or impossible to rent and which may well result in failed businesses and empty storefronts in our village. One can only hope that this will be one of the topics discussed at next week’s meeting on the rezoning issue.

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold

Trustee Olver Should Deal with the Facts

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor:
Trustee Olver has made it clear that he favors the rhetorical device of the “straw man argument,” as several of his recent letters to this paper have employed this strategy, including his letter last week. Instead of addressing the actual points made by a critic, Trustee Olver prefers to make up a fictionalized version of a critic’s statements that he can then attack. It’s not honest, but it can be convincing and it’s certainly easier than dealing with the facts.

Trustee Olver says that as an attorney, I should know how to “time” my FOIL requests so that I can receive timely responses, and scolds me for insinuating some kind of malfeasance by the Village Clerk in response to my “rush” FOIL request. The FOIL request in question, which sought the public release of documents from the “Municipal Place Gateway and North Riverside Neighborhood Zoning Working Group” was submitted to the village on March 22, 2019, which was the day after the evening meeting on March 21 when this group’s existence was revealed to the public. I suppose I could have whipped out my phone while sitting in the Harmon Firehouse to compose my FOIL request that very evening, but to do so seemed both rude and unlikely to prompt any faster response than sending my request the next business day.

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Since taking control, the current administration has adopted a policy of refusing to address questions from the public at public meetings. They have subverted the FOIL process to keep information about the rezoning process and other public policy away from the public, while engaging in selective information sharing for members of their own political party, as the minutes of a recent Bicycle Pedestrian Committee meeting have shown. If Trustee Olver wishes to defend the oligarchy he is a part of, he should at least do so honestly.

What, exactly, was wrong with my “timing” of my FOIL request, Trustee Olver?

I have now been waiting almost three months for documents that Trustee Olver, Trustee Gallelli and Trustee Simmons have stated will show no plans and no discussions about plans to rezone the North Riverside area. As I asked in my earlier letter, if these statements by our public officials are true, then why is the village taking more than three months to decide whether to even make these documents public, and why will they not release any of them until after the only scheduled public meeting on the rezoning issue?

The problem is not, as Trustee Olver posits, the “rush” nature of my FOIL request, submitted now almost a quarter of a year ago. The problem is not about my “timing”. It is about the content of my request and it is about this village board’s demonstrated preference to share information that should be public with only those associated with their political party.

Since taking control, the current administration has adopted a policy of refusing to address questions from the public at public meetings. They have subverted the FOIL process to keep information about the rezoning process and other public policy away from the public, while engaging in selective information sharing for members of their own political party, as the minutes of a recent Bicycle Pedestrian Committee meeting have shown. If Trustee Olver wishes to defend the oligarchy he is a part of, he should at least do so honestly.

Roseann Schuyler

Why is the Board of Trustees Putting Innocent People at Risk?

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
I am not one of those residents who is granted private briefings by Ms. Gallelli or Mr. Simmons, let alone someone who has input into the opaque operations of our village government. I certainly don’t get to sit in on those secret “Executive Sessions” in which the Croton Board of Trustees discusses “real property” matters. But I hope that some charitable reader of The Gazette who is granted admission to the Croton inner circle can clarify something for me:

Given what the Board of Trustees know about how climate change is going to affect Croton in the coming years, why is the Board of Trustees putting innocent people at risk?

The report on a little-known workshop on climate change shows in detail that the rise in sea level will endanger residents living in Half Moon Bay, Brook Street, and North Riverside. So why do our Board of Trustees and Village officials want to endanger lives by encouraging construction of apartments in an area that is—by their own admission—becoming a floodplain?

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Given what the Board of Trustees know about how climate change is going to affect Croton in the coming years, why is the Board of Trustees putting innocent people at risk? The report on a little-known workshop on climate change shows in detail that the rise in sea level will endanger residents living in Half Moon Bay, Brook Street, and North Riverside. So why do our Board of Trustees and Village officials want to endanger lives by encouraging construction of apartments in an area that is—by their own admission—becoming a floodplain?

A half-day workshop to discuss government response to climate change in Croton, Cortlandt and Buchanan was held on October 18, 2018. Attending that day were Ms. Gallelli and a “who’s who” of Croton government, gathered with officials from Buchanan and Cortlandt. This included top officials from the Village of Croton and also from the Croton-Harmon school district.

A report of that meeting was issued in January 2019, and on page 13 of the report it says something of great relevance to the rezoning of Brook Street and Riverside Avenue: “Village of Croton to determine buyout options and implications for North/South Riverside Ave and Brook Street, as well as the possibility of levees.”

Wow.

At the same time the Board of Trustees is talking about lining Riverside and Brook Street with apartments, our Deputy Mayor, Village Manager, Village Engineer, Chief of Police, Superintendent of Public Works, and a Croton resident identified as being a member of the Sustainability Committee (he is also a member of the Business Development Committee) are having a discussion about “buyouts of the properties in this area over the long term.” (Report at page 8)

At the March 21, 2019 rezoning presentation, there was discussion of how rezoning would impact the portion of North Riverside near High Street. Yet none of the Board of Trustees, nor the Village Manager, nor our $75,000 consultant saw fit to mention that last fall they were at a workshop which concluded that one of our “Medium societal priorities” is “Evaluate options for the Washington Engine House on High Street, considering new sea level rise and flooding projections.” (Report at page 13)

When the Village Manager and other notables want to discuss the possible buyout of private property by the government, this should be done at a regular meeting of the Board of Trustees. This is particularly true given the fact that the discussion involved a particular limited area (Brook Street).

It is true that under NYS Open Meetings Law section 105(1)(h) there is a provision for the Board of Trustees to enter into Executive Session when discussion would “substantially affect the value [of real property]” In this instance, talk of “buyouts” of private land was discussed with at least one public citizen (the Sustainability Committee member) present. In addition to the Croton politicians and officials in attendance, there were residents of Cortlandt and Buchanan. This was not a discussion limited to the Board of Trustees. Moreover, the workshop generated a report.

Croton’s village government did not put the report online for the public; given the pervasive secrecy of our Croton Board of Trustees that is not news. Fortunately Ms. Pugliese runs a transparent government and posted the workshop report on the Cortlandt website.

The report indicates that the foundation of the Croton input was based on a “recently completed Storm Study Group.” I did not even know Croton had a “Storm Study Group” since this is one of those quasi-secret groups like the “North Riverside Neighborhood Zoning Working Group” that was instrumental in the rezoning plan first presented to the public on March 21.

The “Storm Study Group” documents and reports should be made public on the Village of Croton website. So should the records of the “North Riverside Neighborhood Zoning Working Group.” This is essential information needed for Croton residents to evaluate the planned rezoning.

Since the village is talking about “exploring the possibility of having levees” in the Hudson (Report, page 13), this issue needs to be resolved prior to rezoning. Once routinely used, levees have fallen out of favor. There are cases (such as New Orleans) where millions of people will either have to move or risk death without levee construction.

Croton is not New Orleans.

The area which would be protected by any levee is presumably a portion of North Riverside. With the notable exception of Brook Street, that area currently has a low density of residents. While Croton’s Board of Trustees is sending Deputy Mayor Gallelli and Village Manager King to a workshop discussing levee construction to protect parcels along North Riverside, they are simultaneously putting forth a rezoning designed to encourage multi-story residential apartments along North Riverside. This is insane.

Levees have significant deleterious impact on the environment. They also can change the floodplain, in fact that is their primary purpose. There are good reasons why levees have fallen out of favor with engineers and environmentalists specializing in riparian ecosystems.

Croton is considering levees at the same time it is seeking to increase population density in the floodplain the levees would protect. This is specifically what not to do.

The Association of State Floodplain Managers notes that levees “are inappropriate as a means of protecting undeveloped land for proposed development” and cautions that “given enough time levees will either be overtopped or will fail—leading to severe flood impacts on an unsuspecting population. Unlike a natural flood, levee failure flooding is often rapid, forceful, extremely damaging, and occurs with little or no warning.”

Because a levee would change the course and volume of Hudson River water flow, the residents of Half Moon Bay should be particularly concerned. In the report of the October 2018 conference that discussed “buyouts” of landlords on Brook Street and Riverside, there is no contemplation of “buying out” the condo owners at Half Moon Bay.

The report identifies Half Moon Bay residents as a “vulnerable” population (page 6), and says that “emergency and evacuation planning for vulnerable populations and neighborhoods, including the Half Moon Bay Condos in Croton” is a “high societal priority” (Report, page 11) but then leaves Half Moon Bay residents to their own devices: “Since the Half Moon Bay Condos are privately owned, the municipalities should communicate with the owners, and determine if they have resilience and emergency plans in place.” (Report, page 12)

I think our neighbors at Half Moon Bay do indeed “have resilience.” I also think they are residents of Croton and deserving of the same rights and benefits as anyone else. So what if the property is “privately owned?” That is true of the property along Brook Street and North Riverside, and we are discussing “buyouts” and levees for them. Indeed it is quite possible that any levee to protect parts of Brook and North Riverside might increase the risk to residents of Half Moon Bay.

If for no other reason than cold self-interest, we should care about Half Moon Bay. It is a significant part of the village’s taxable land and the residents contribute to Croton’s economy. Rising water levels and risk of flooding at Half Moon Bay is not a trivial matter.

Discussion of “potential buyouts of the properties in this area over the long term” is not something that the Croton Board of Trustees mentions when it tells us about the wonderful things that will come from rows of apartment buildings along Riverside. Any “buyouts of properties” would have to be done voluntarily or by eminent domain. In either case, the cost is going to be based on property value. If you line North Riverside with new construction, it is going to be exponentially more expensive to conduct any “buyouts of the properties.”

There is also a liability aspect. The Village Manager, Deputy Mayor, and Village Engineer have now been at a workshop discussing the fact of climate change and the current and projected impact. They have talked about “emergency plans” at the Croton Yacht Club (Report, page 13) and Half Moon Bay, and the risk to the Washington Engine firehouse.

When the municipality has actual knowledge of projected risk to human life, and is so concerned that it is talking about buying out properties and asking residents at Half Moon Bay about their emergency plans, how can the municipality possibly take an action (rezoning) for the express purpose of increasing population density in the most dangerous part of the village?

Croton’s Board of Trustees is willing to spend $1.5 million to turn Gouveia into an office campus for the Recreation Department, willing to spend $5.2 million on a building for the Deptartment of Public Works, willing to spend $4.26 million to give the Police Department a grand new space.

That same Board of Trustees doesn’t want to talk about how much needs to be spent to secure the drinking water supply by “[r]aising equipment, such as the intake mechanisms, and incorporating resilient design” at “the drinking water well fields and controls along the Croton River in the Village of Croton.” (Report, page 12)

As Chair of Croton’s Water Control Commission, Mr. Greenbaum was in attendance at the October climate change workshop. So was Croton Superintendent of Public Works Frank Balbi. It would be helpful if the WCC and the Croton DPW told us about plans to deal with the impact of climate change on our drinking water supply infrastructure, as well as whether the WCC and DPW feel that our existing water system can accommodate the influx of new apartments resulting from rezoning.

Maintaining water supply quality is a critical matter. If we draw water out faster than the aquifer can be replenished, problems can result including increased particulate matter in our drinking water. Constructing new apartments by definition will increase draw on our aquifer.

Can our water supply stand the stress of hundreds of new residents? I don’t know. Since Mr. Olver is liason to the WCC, perhaps he can enlighten us.

My guess is that when Croton issues more of Mr. Pugh’s beloved Bond Anticipation Notes, it will not disclose the knowledge of projected flooding, nor the fact that our top village officials went to a conference and discussed “potential buyouts of the properties” nor the risk that Half Moon Bay may be wiped out, or the environmental risks which will impact our drinking water system.

On July 10, 2017 Croton released a 169 page Comprehensive Plan. Perhaps somewhere buried in there is a discussion about the effect of climate change and rising water levels in the Hudson River, but I couldn’t find it and I even read the appendix.

On March 21, 2019 Croton released a rezoning plan developed with the aid of people including working group members Ted Brumleve, Paul Doyle, and Ann Gallelli. Those very same people participated in the 2017 Comprehensive Plan. Again, there was no discussion of the impact of climate change on the North Riverside/Brook Street floodplain.

Croton should go back and revise both the Comprehensive Plan and the rezoning plan. Croton should not encourage multi-story residential buildings in an area which Croton officials acknowledge is going to be eventually flooded.

At the March 21 public meeting, our $75,000 consultant would not say how many new units the rezoning plan would allow along North Riverside and Brook Street. Nor did the consultant say anything about the effect of climate change on the area which is to be rezoned. Nor did our Police and EMS people tell us how they would handle a natural disaster in the Riverside flood plain.

At the public meeting on Tuesday, June 18 (7:30 p.m. at the Harmon firehouse), our politicians need to stand up and tell us the truth. Climate change is real, and to ignore the science for the sake of building apartments is not only foolish. It is putting lives at risk.

Paul Steinberg

Click here to see the full report discussed in this letter.

Croton’s Village Board Must Act More Transparently

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the Editor,
The following was sent to the Village Board nearly a month ago. Other than an acknowledgement of its receipt, I have not yet had a response nor has the Board altered its attitude toward and interactions with its constituents.

The North Riverside Area Rezoning process currently underway holds the risk, like the Harmon Rezoning of the past, of engendering acrimony with one group of citizens touting it as the savior of the village and another decrying it as the end of life in Croton as we know it. In my own opinion, neither is even close to the truth, but it is incumbent on the Board to act in a manner that precludes the type of animosity we have endured on more than one occasion in the past.

My suggestions are not meant to be political (although you may choose to take them that way), but are predicated on my observations of the village during the 75+ years I have been resident in Croton. With a number of other controversial issues already on the table, we do not need to engage in a fierce battle over the rezoning as well.

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The following was sent to the Village Board nearly a month ago. Other than an acknowledgement of its receipt, I have not yet had a response nor has the Board altered its attitude toward and interactions with its constituents.

While you may not agree, it is a fact that there is a sizable group of our citizens who do not have faith that the Board will objectively study all of the relevant issues and make a decision in the best interests of all of the citizens of our village. That a decision has already been made and that the process we are ostensibly involved in will lead to the Board’s desired conclusion regardless of the facts it may generate.

To combat this view, the Board must act more transparently during the entire process. You must inform your constituents of everything that is happening with regard to the rezoning that is not specifically prohibited by law.

For example, it is widely believed that there have been extensive discussions regarding the fate of the Katz property, but no information has been released to the public. The rumors have already begun, including one that projects the construction of a number of four-story buildings containing “affordable” apartments. Similar rumors on other aspects of the proposal abound. Such rumors can only be put to bed if the Board is more open in sharing information with the public.

One action that I suspect will resonate very well with those skeptical of the process is to appoint one of those very skeptics to the committee overseeing the study. Let him or her participate in the process, raise the appropriate questions, explore the facts, etc. If nothing else, this will add credibility to the conclusions reached or, if he or she takes exception to any part of it, to have to justify that exception with facts generated by the process itself.

You can do much to restore public confidence in the objectivity of the Board by answering the questions posed by citizens at Board meetings, as you are obligated to do under the Rules of Procedure you yourselves adopted earlier this year. You will recall late one night in January, the night Russ Harper was installed as Chief of Police, you and I had a lengthy discussion on this very subject. You assured me that it was not your intent to ignore questions from Croton residents, but to answer them either at the meeting itself or as soon thereafter as practical.

I have heard from many residents that this is not what has been happening, and that on at least one occasion, the Mayor actually prevented one of the Trustees from responding to a questioner.

This is not how you build trust with your constituents.

The choice is yours. If you diligently explore all of the relevant issues and are open and honest about all of its aspects; if you listen to those who question the process and respond directly to their concerns, much of the potential dissension can be precluded. Alternatively, if you choose to adopt a “Father Knows Best” attitude, the process will rapidly degenerate.

This rezoning is a big deal and will have a very significant impact on the future of our village. And how you manage it will go a long way toward determining whether we end up with a result that is acceptable and favorable to the vast majority of Crotonites or whether we fall into the type of rancor that divided the village during the Harmon Rezoning debate. As George Santayana famously said, “Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.”

Sincerely,
Joel E. Gingold