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