Sunday, June 26, 2016

It Needn't Take Eight Years

Whether you call it a Comprehensive Plan, a Master Plan or something else, it’s an idea whose time is long overdue for our Town. In Greenburgh, a Comprehensive Plan already exists that was created numerous years ago by many forward thinking leaders. Most residents don’t know of it because Mr Feiner and his Board have allowed pretty much any design or proposal to be built, regardless of whether it blended with the surrounding area or not. However, eight years ago an effort was undertaken to create a new Comprehensive Plan for the Town, citing a need for a plan for the Town’s future.

Many residents, including ABG and the G10 favored this idea. But we favored it for more selfish reasons. We wanted a Comprehensive Plan in place to slow Mr Feiner and his Board’s spot-zoning explosions throughout Unincorporated Greenburgh. You see, when there is a Comprehensive Plan for a Town or Village, it makes rezoning more difficult to do according to NYS law and sets some ground rules in place that must be followed. The ground rules in Greenburgh are pretty much “anything goes” and it shows.

In Fulton Park, for example, Mr Feiner championed the Westhab low-income apartment building that has been referred to by most who see it as The Gulag, a hideously designed building mostly of exterior grey slabs that add no warmth, feeling of neighborhood or community to it and stands out like a sore thumb. It reminds many of the drab Russian buildings seen in the 1960’s and 1970’s, hence the name, The Gulag. In fact, residents were ignored when they asked for a more attractive and conducive structure to be built, being told it was patterned after area buildings, specifically the old Nynex phone company building across the street. Even it, designed and built in the 1950’s shows more character. Now that it is being leased to the County for DSS services, it will never be given a fresh look.

Another example is the Greenburgh Library, often referred to as “The Ski Slope”, an apparently award-winning design. But that matters little after the lead agency approved it and then tried to cut corners. Who was the lead agency? Mr Feiner and his Board, of course. And, they approved the design even after Mr Feiner said he didn’t like it – he was hedging his bets and was “playing” the public by doing his typical rope-a-dope, “I like it, I don’t like it.” While the old library offered more space and utilization even though it may not have won any awards, there were immediate issues with the new addition, overseen by Mr Feiner and his Town Board sans planning, building or construction experience.

The thermal heat pump HVAC system that was supposed to be put on the south side of the building where the drive and employee parking is, was not put there because the lead agency didn’t do their due diligence, their homework, or ask the correct questions of the plans. Had they correctly followed the process they often brag about, they might have learned that moving it to the other side of the building – which they authorized – and only going half as deep as they needed, would prove ineffective and be a waste of time, money and resources. Other issues continue to plague this facility: leaks in the roof, failed boilers for heat, inadequate and failed air conditioning units, lack of community room space, frozen sprinklers and leaks every year and more. Is it any wonder the Library was unable to stay open on weekends several years ago?

At the last Town Board meeting, another hearing for the proposed Comprehensive Plan was on the agenda. The watered-down and almost ineffectual newly proposed Comprehensive Plan was more proof that this has been shaped into a political agenda and wreaked of a lack of open government from 177 Hillside Avenue. Town Councilman Francis Sheehan and then Planning Commissioner Thomas Madden were leading this project. Members from different Boards were also members of the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee. You must keep in mind that all Board members for Building, Zoning, Planning and others are appointed positions by Mr Feiner and ratified by his Board. All of those Board members know they must tow the Feiner-line or risk being “Sonya’d”. So the shapes of these Boards along with their decisions are easily influenced and results had by Mr Feiner. His Board just knows to go along or be jettisoned in the next election.

Speaker after speaker as well as community leaders all bemoaned the changing of so many sections and how the document no longer reflected the will of the people who were given several opportunities to not only provide initial creation input, but to review various iterations of it at 5 road-show meetings. The people were clear. They wanted more green space, less traffic, smaller buildings, bike and walking paths and cohesive designs so buildings create a beautiful community, not a disjointed, ad hoc corridor of competing designs. Why did the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee summarily dismiss the will of the people? ABG staffers believe Mr Feiner told those he controls that it was what he wanted. Why do we think this? Because almost every time Mr Sheehan would report at a Town Board meeting that the committee was wrapping up its proposal for public consumption, Mr Feiner would throw another task at them that would delay them, sometimes for more than a year! He does not want a Comprehensive Plan because it will stunt his ability to help his developer friends.

Eight years is a long time for any committee to exist and not provide any substantive and positive conclusions. In fact, in Pleasantville, they are undertaking the updating of their Master Plan for themselves. Smartly, they have hired BFJ Planning to assist them with this undertaking and are already making headway. Their existing plan dates back to 1995 and they thought it time to refresh it as they have so little developable space left. One resident said he favored seeing more retail space in the center of the Village and a green gathering space instead of parking spaces. Obviously, he doesn’t get it. If you have retail, a) you must accommodate parking as to attract shoppers; b) short of restaurants, nail salons, pizza parlors and such, how much “downtown” shopping would be generated?; c) with current taxes, vis-à-vis rents, what kind of retail operation can afford to maintain their business especially if there is limited parking? Sadly, the retail they will get is limited mostly to large retail chains that small Towns and Villages seem to resist.

Having a plan for almost anything is a good idea. Undertaking such an intensive project is not for the faint of heart. The Greenburgh Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee took on a big task. They got sidetracked with city development planning terms like “charrettes” and “nodes” thanks to Thomas Madden and perhaps others. They wasted time on Climate Change when they could have used one line to say, “they would strive to have developers and the Town participate in the most ecologically sound practices to preserve our resources and environments.” In fact, the Town Board adopted LEEDS certification requirements that they never enforce that could work toward that end. The committee watered down other areas, which would allow extremely loose interpretation on zoning change requests by developers, giving Mr Feiner the carte blanche he currently has with spot-zoning changes he wishes to make.

The Greenburgh Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee needs to ask for a “time-out” and go back to the drawing board and construct a plan that is actually forward-thinking for the future and does not just explain what we currently have. This golden opportunity missed can still be salvaged. If the pressure from the corner office is too great, perhaps it’s time for a change in the committee and especially at Town Hall. Only then will we get A Better Greenburgh.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Witholding Information and Selective Open Government

Last week’s Town Board meeting had two issues of significance that had residents turning out in numbers. The first was the alleged Comprehensive Plan Hearing for the latest iteration of a diluted and less potent Comprehensive Plan document that was met with mostly resistance. The other was numerous residents from Ardsley in attendance to protest the proposed Jefferson housing project in the area of Lawrence Avenue. Previously, several hundred residents had turned out in opposition. In fact, due to the volume of people at that meeting, the Police Chief began enforcing the occupancy limits and herding people into other areas of Town Hall.

While there is much to discuss about the watered-down and almost ineffectual proposed Comprehensive Plan, we want to focus on the lack of open government from 177 Hillside Avenue. Our previous post details an email that was received by Mr Feiner from Rick Rucoba, the Public Affairs Manager from the Akzo Nobel chemical titan that owns the property under contract for sale to create The Jefferson. The contract is only valid however if the developer could get approval to build the 272-unit housing extravaganza. 

Below is a copy of the email Mr Feiner received at 7:27PM on Wednesday night. Where was he at 7:27PM on Wednesday night? Of course, he was at the Town Board presentation arena using up residents’ valuable time forcing a limit with their engagement with a critical public. So he received the email from Mr Rucoba at roughly the beginning of the night’s proceedings. Yet, knowing there were people from the Ardsley community there planning to speak against The Jefferson and seeking his help in doing so, he chose to secret the information and remain silent! Is it possible he chose not to share this crucial information because he would not get as much publicity from it than if he waited and had a full day to publicize this? That’s our belief. In fact, two days later found a rather large article appearing in one of the area’s daily newspapers!

We've highlighted in yellow the 7:27 time stamp when the original email was sent to Mr Feiner. Then, highlighted in purple at 10:11, is the time stamp when he forwarded the email to someone else. Did he forward it to the “Say No to Jefferson” group or his press release list or his press release agent? We know he sits at the dais during meetings ignoring the speakers while he plays with his phone. ABG staffers are convinced he was already mapping a press release strategy during the meeting – concerned residents be damned! 

It’s difficult enough for citizens of Greenburgh to get straight answers and honest information from the Town and it’s elected officials without having to file a Freedom of Information request (FOIL). It’s sad that Mr Feiner would choose to conceal valuable information such as this from a group of people who were anxiously seeking his help. Obviously, politics is more important to him than the welfare of others. This needs to change and more importantly, be stopped. Only then will we get A Better Greenburgh.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ardsley Residents Victorious Against Jefferson

In a rare residential upset, Ardsley residents who organized the “Say No 2 Jefferson” campaign, will be celebrating after a hard fought battle and a sweet victory against The Jefferson. Originally in contract with Akzo Nobel, the leading global paints and coatings company and a major producer of specialty chemicals giant that used to own the property, the Jefferson’s original plan was to build a 296 units of single and two-bedroom apartments for Millennials, empty-nesters and first-time owners. After meeting with some representatives from the community, the Texas-based company scaled back the quantity to 272 units, to be located at Lawrence Street between Saw Mill River Road and the Saw Mill River Parkway.

Once the neighborhood got wind of the size and scope of the project, there was a backlash that was unforeseen from numerous players: residents, school board members, Village Board members and the Mayor. Normally, Mr Feiner and his Board will approve any project from almost all developers and residents be damned. But with roughly several hundred residents packing the Town Hall meeting, another conference room and the cafeteria, he couldn’t ignore their pleas.

An email to Mr Feiner stated the following:

Paul Feiner,  
This email is to inform you that Akzo Nobel has terminated contractual relations with a prior potential purchaser of its site at 1 Lawrence St. in Ardsley, NY and has commenced marketing the property for Commercial or Industrial development.
Rick Rucoba 

Public Affairs Manager
Akzo Nobel

Not to be outdone, Mr Feiner did an email blast, using the GBList that he was ordered to turn over to the Worthington Woodlands Civic Association, announcing this update. Many other Civic Associations as well as the Council of Greenburgh Civic Associations had worked closely with leaders of the Ardsley community to assist them in the fight. Several of the issues were significant traffic congestion in Ardsley, parking problems, impact to the schools and flooding. We congratulate the Ardsley community for their steadfastness, spirit and resolve.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Last Day to File Tax Assessment Grievance

The last day to file a grievance to challenge your tax assessment is June 21 at 9 PM. A link that appears on the town website is below: cut and paste if the link doesn't work or visit our website Grievance deadlines are set by NYS. Grievance applications MUST be received by the 21st.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Curse and Growth of Spot Zoning

ABG has previously written about spot zoning and its perils. In Greenburgh, for instance, Mr Feiner and his Board cavalierly change zoning on his whim to satisfy his developer friends. There aren’t any developers, larger ones anyway, who fear submitting a proposal in Greenburgh as long as Mr Feiner is at the helm with a submissive Board in tow. In fact, smaller contractors and builders have been said to avoid doing business in Greenburgh due to excessive taxes also known as fees and permit costs and extended review processes. The people who suffer are the homeowners, of course, who want to add a bathroom, deck or dormer to their home. The approval process can take up to a year between the different departments, the various fees, meetings etc., only to be refused at any point and force a restart of the entire process.

There is even more going on around us in Greenburgh and elsewhere throughout the County. Here in Greenburgh, the Town Board follows Mr Feiner’s instructions and rubber stamps whatever project he favors. Several years ago he announced he was in favor of an eight story commercial entity being built in a residential neighborhood. He had had the opportunity to simply sell off the property but chose to politicize it and play games against the residents of the area. Is this what we elect our leadership to do? Hardly. Then there was the over-sized assisted living facility to be built on what amounted to a postage-stamp parcel of land in yet another residential neighborhood. While the residents, current taxpayers that government should be protecting from outside interests, strenuously objected to Mr Feiner and the Board, he laughed in their faces and not only approved every aspect of the proposal, but let the projects attorney’s write what would later become the zoning code for assisted living facilities!

Now that an approximately two-year old assisted living zoning code exists, Mr Feiner and his spineless Board are pushing to approve another inappropriate assisted living facility. To top it off, they seek to ignore this recently adopted zoning code to accommodate another developer! Interestingly, this time, while the immediate abutting property owners are against the project, some of the residents in the area have spoken in favor of this sale. We believe they are speaking less in favor of the mega-proposal and more in favor of trying to help the owners complete the sale for retirement income. Regardless of the reason, the facility does not meet the assisted living zoning code and requires variances to proceed.

Rather than wait and follow the process, we believe Mr Feiner instructed his Board to prematurely initiate and subsequently approve a SEQR study/report. This bastardization of “the process” belies the hollow words heard from the dais at various meetings by Mr Feiner and his Board. They parrot him by saying that they want, “the public to have faith in the process”, “that they’ll do their due diligence” and more. The list of hollow expressions is almost unlimited.

Beyond the lies from our own corner office comes a growing trend, an agenda if you will, with housing and spot zoning. Excuses in favor of it abound as developers push community leaders to covertly endorse spot zoning. In North Castle for example, JMF Properties of New Jersey, is seeking to construct 200 high-rental apartments on 22 (of 36)
acres on the North White Plains’ Jennie Clarkson school campus. Their argument they use for this is that there is an abundance of multi-family homes that already exist. Here’s their rub: empty nesters are looking to down size and young professionals – often referred to as millennials – don’t want to own a home yet. 60% of these proposed units would be two bedrooms and the remainder would be single bedroom, with twenty units set aside as affordable housing. The moniker might change but the only way to proceed is to pepper the proposal with enough buzzwords so politicians can jump on board: affordable, workforce, low income, welfare, senior, veterans, etc. The final nail in the coffin of the argument is that businesses are leaving the area because of a lack of housing for workers. Could it simply be they are leaving because they are overtaxed and over-regulated? Believe it.

The real issue here is that to build this huge facility would require several zoning changes. And, as luxury units priced at about $2,800 to $3,200, the affordability aspect seems a bit distant if not contradictory. These residents would have, according to one of the spokesman, “…fat wallets and they’re looking to spend in that local community.” That may appear to be justification to some, but to us it seems weak. It certainly does not qualify as a reason to spot zone an area, even if spot zoning is illegal. Using other words for it doesn't make it right.

Similarly, Purchase College, part of the State University of New York system, is proposing to build 385 units of housing for people ages 62 and older on 40 acres of its 500-acre campus. The proposed site — mostly weedy land that had previously been used as a dump for construction debris — is located south of the college's administration complex and west of Lincoln Avenue. The arguments for this project, while not as necessary because this is NY State property and not held to many of the same zoning and other standards as Towns and Villages, include 220 units of one and two-bedroom apartments in a four-story building and single-family, duplex and triplex homes; 36 beds for assisted living and 36 beds for memory care would be offered. The rest of what is being touted is merely window trimmings of sorts to increase the projects attractiveness.

In nearby Harrison, the Brightview “senior steamroller” received approval for their latest proposal for their contentious Brightview Senior Living facility. The necessary-to-proceed zoning amendment was passed by the Village Board, even though the Harrison mayor said, “…the zoning amendment passed Thursday did not constitute a fait accomplis.” He added, “It's all part of the process," he said. "We're not even at the 10-yard line. A lot can happen in 90 yards.” The project must now gain the planning board’s approval. The zoning amendment allows senior living facilities to be built in existing residential zones, with the planning board's approval. This move paves the way for any developer, but in this case, Brightview Senior Living, to build a four-story, Home Depot-sized senior living facility on the Lake Street Quarry site in West Harrison. The 7.3-acre project site is surrounded by a rural neighborhood of single-family homes. Once again residents in the neighborhood say the development would be too big and out of character for the area, comes too close to nearby homes and would cause traffic congestion on an already-busy street. And again, government is pursuing its agenda and ignoring the well-being of the existing taxpayers who have invested in the community from outsiders seeking to ravage it.

In Buchanan, the opposition to affordable housing for seniors was strong last fall. So much so that one of Westchester’s leading builders simply walked away, unwilling to invest any more time or money in pursuing his project. But now, seven months later, things have changed. The Buchanan Village Board, by a single vote, last week agreed to a zoning change that allows the 42-unit project, including 35 affordable units, to proceed for planning board review. Therein is part of the problem. When a developer wants a project to go through, they have resources and time that residents do not and can keep the onslaught going as long as they choose.

Finally, it must be mentioned that if the project is approved, it would help Westchester County meet its federal fair-housing goal. This is another part of the zoning change problem. Without reliving the entire Anti-Discrimination lawsuit against the County, the federal government and its housing monitor continue to insist that local zoning be changed to allow a whole host of zoning possibilities that frankly, zoning laws are designed protect communities from. If you need an example of imprecise zoning, simply look at the 9A corridor from I-287 northbound toward Mt Pleasant. Nothing matches, looks cohesive or has a flow of style that invites you to want to participate and even locate there. Zoning adjustments, such as changing a set back from 10 feet to 7 feet to allow a walkway or a deck to be built are certainly acceptable. Radical changes like the ones we’re being forced to accept because of political agendas, developer’s deep pockets, and a willfully ignorant electorate must stop – especially in Greenburgh. Only then will we get A Better Greenburgh.

Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Town Wrong Again, Snubs Nose At Process and Residents

It's no secret that when Mr Feiner wants a project to go through, he will do everything possible to stack the deck for that project's developer. Such is the case with the Formation-Shelbourne's oversized assisted living facility project that would replace the Sprainbrook Nursery. It's the first proposal for an assisted living facility that clearly does not meet the Town Board's newly adopted (2-yr old) assisted living zoning code. It was adopted specifically to allow the Brightview facility to be built at Rt 119 and Benedict Avenue - another project Mr Feiner favored. In fact, after adopting the code change that Thomas Madden, then the Planning Commissioner, along with Mr Sheehan and others, insisted another assisted living facility could not be built anywhere in Unincorporated Greenburgh because there is no space that could accommodate it!

This debacle, highlighting the public's outcry that the Town Board follow the process and allow the project to proceed, or not, of its own volition, has routinely been ignored by a deaf Town Board. But since Mr Feiner wants this project to go through even though it violates the zoning, he insisted on pushing it through against protests of the taxpayers. He's again violated the process he so often refers to, claiming that the residents should have confidence in the process. Actions such as these reinforce the residents’ lack of confidence in any processes Mr Feiner and his Board may discuss. The only confidence they seem to get is the confidence game he and his Board are running against taxpayers! 

At this meeting, he had his Town Board vote to accept the negative declaration on the State Environmental Quality Review Assessment (SEQR) before it was required to be performed. The "neg dec SEQR" report means the project will not have a negative environmental impact on the project. Perhaps this would be the outcome anyway. But testing and reports are needed to make that determination. Mr Feiner and his Board have performed none and by not following the real process, are cheating everyone except the developer. Emboldened by the public's inability to stop them has created this nightmare scenario.

During the same Town Board meeting was a scheduled hearing for the 7-8 year old Comprehensive Plan that has yet to be adopted. The Town Board cancelled it. Why was the hearing cancelled? The Comprehensive Plan is the one official obstacle that might restrict Mr Feiner and his spot-zoning ways if adopted. However, changes to it seem to have watered down its effectiveness. It should provide a map for the Town's zoning which would slow and possibly stop Mr Feiner's wanton wholesaling of every piece of undeveloped land in Unincorporated Greenburgh. It's no wonder he decided to postpone the hearing. Every delay, change or review slows its adoption and keeps him in the driver's seat. He's spent the last two years throwing more considerations for them to review knowing it slows them down.

To add dramatic flair to the proceedings, Councilman Ken Jones had said at an earlier meeting that he had unanswered questions and wished to have a delay in the vote. This night, he said his concerns had been answered and he would support the project. No surprise there. ABG believes these theatrics were Mr Jones' turn to appear to be the “concerned Board member”. We believe that Mr Feiner instructs the Board members who can challenge and even vote "no" on any given issue. It was his turn. Ironically, Mr Jones' questions were less environmental and more traffic oriented. It was perceived and ultimately believed by many to be nothing more than a ploy for appearance sake.

Many residents have been concerned about increased traffic, accidents, emergency vehicle responses, flooding, lack of blending into the neighborhood and more. Others, including friends of the Sprainbrook Nursery owners have championed the sale. While we appreciate they're trying to help their friends, this is about adhering to the zoning code changes Mr Feiner and his Town Board adopted against many residents objections with valid concerns. He and his Board ignored that input and it was passed. Now, Foundation Shelbourne is asking for variances for some of those same concerns. They should not be allowed and the zoning code Mr Feiner and his Board passed should stand. Only then will we get A Better Greenburgh.

NY Legislature Passes 3-Year Phase In after Reassessment

We never believed that having a change in NYS law to accommodate a three-year phase-in for those people whose assessments during the revaluation were increased would ever happen. Apparently we underestimated the control Mr Feiner has over Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Tom Abinanti and now Sandy Galef. This must still be signed by Governor Cuomo to be enacted, so we’ll see how this finishes. 

While this story is unsubstantiated, Mr Feiner just took advantage of the Town’s self-controlled GBList and sent this email below out to residents. While most of the issue can be attributed to previous Supervisors as well, Mr Feiner ignore revaluation for the past 24-years of his term, adding to the impact the “reval” had throughout the Town. Here’s what he said:

“The New York State Senate and Assembly has approved legislation enabling the town of Greenburgh to phase in tax hikes over a three year period for those impacted by the reassessment. By the third year all property owners will pay 100% of their taxes.  The approved legislation now goes to the Governor.

Greenburgh is reassessing properties for the first time in 60 years. Although most residents of the town will experience no tax hikes as a result of the reassessment  - some have received bad news--significant tax hikes. In recent weeks I have met with property owners who have seen their taxes increases by 50%, 100%, 200% --even more. Neighborhoods most impacted were Irvington, Hastings & Edgemont. The phase in legislation only applies to tax hikes, not tax decreases. The legislation will help us have a smooth reassessment transition. Neighborhoods impacted negatively by the reassessment will be able to avoid panic selling. And, those residents who are being impacted by the reassessment will have little more time to plan what they want to do with their properties.  

I would like to thank State Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins and Assemblyman Tom Abinanti for working very hard on this initiative. A special thank you to Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, chair of the Real Property Committee in the Assembly for her assistance. All the Town Board members - Francis Sheehan, Diana Juettner, Kevin Morgan and Ken Jones - did whatever they could to lobby for the legislation.  This is a big victory and was difficult to achieve. Some bloggers posted on blogs that the chances of the legislation being approved by state lawmakers was remote.

The revenue that the school district will raise will not be affected by this legislation.  The tax levy will be the same; it will then be allocated as always based on the entire assessed valuation for the school district and the tax rate.  This bill will be revenue neutral for the school.

The legislation does not require the school district to take any action.    The assessor will finalize the assessment roll for the district, determine the tax rate and send out the tax bills as usual.   There will be no impact in this regard on the schools as well.

In 2009 and 2010, before the town decided to reassess, Assessor Edye McCarthy and I spoke before dozens of groups (village, school, civic groups) and discussed the reassessment process.  I indicated to groups that I met with that I would push for a phase in process if we implemented the reassessment. Earliert (sic) this year some residents sent me the video of my remarks - to remind me!  I am pleased that we will be able to keep the promises made to the community. 

If you are not satisfied with the assessment on your property please be advised that the last day to file a grievance at Town Hall (to appear before the Board of Assessment & Review) is next week: June 21. Town Hall will be open till 9 pm on the 21st.  Call 989 1520 (assessor's office for more info).”

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Monday, June 6, 2016

D-Day - Normandy 1944

It was 72 years ago today. We must never forget!

"On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops."