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.


  1. You are too easy on Francis "ramp to nowhere" Sheehanigans. Give Mr Feiner some credit- he is many things but at least he still has a creative edge to him. The Comp Plan committee was well meaning but composed of encyclopedia types who produced a compendium of the status quo. Allegedly the outside advisor building them was fired mid process - no transparency there. Mr Sheehan was the defender in chief of the undemocratic nodes and charrettes which were developer friendly. You need to get help for your Feiner Derangement Syndrome. The unmitigated failure of the Comp Plan (which recklessly ignored the impact on the school districts) is spelled SHEEHAN. But let's give him some credit - by being on the town board and even out doing Feiner at times in his mendacity, he figured out a way to get paid for googling on his MacBook. Hugh Schwartz is right - time to scrap this Sheehan Madden mess and start over again.