Town Board Work Session
March 24, 2015
1. Compass Westchester
In a 3-2 vote, with Councilmen Bernard and Patel voting no, the board approved a resolution granting a special permit for a convalescent home to Compass Westchester, paving the way for the company to open a sober living residence at 482 Underhill Ave.
The resolution is the exact same resolution that failed to get three votes when it was voted on at the January 20, 2015 meeting. The vote took place at about 11:30pm (and after two closed executive session discussions) and there was no indication on the agenda that there would be a vote on the Compass Westchester application.
Neither Councilmen Bernard or Diana explained why they voted as they did.
Prior to voting, I explained why I was voting in favor of the resolution:
Given the options before the board, I voted for what I believed would put the strongest possible conditions on the SLR. Given the constraints of the law on what types of conditions the town can put on special permits, these conditions do the best possible job of protecting the neighbors and the town. The resolution and the conditions are not perfect. But, as I explained before, the town has no legal basis for denying the permit. And, the strongest possible conditions are in the January 20th resolution. Other options could have resulted in either no conditions or fewer and weaker conditions –- and protracted and costly litigation that I did not believe the town could win.
It also needs to be remembered that without the convalescent home special permit, Compass Westchester could have opened its SLR as a “family” without any conditions. In fact, the company has been working for weeks to ready the facility for such a spring opening.
In two related matters:
1. I plan to ask Supervisor Grace to put the proposed SLR related amendments to the zoning code on the agenda for the first work session in April. It’s my hope that the reconstituted board will be open to discussing the amendments.
2. The board unanimously passed a resolution supporting the passage of Senate Bill # S-03989 that would create a task force to study the need for possible state regulation of SLRs.
2. Depot Square/Highway Garage Relocation
In a 3-2 vote, with myself and Councilman Patel voting no, the board approved moving ahead with the Supervisor’s plan to relocate the highway garage and Parks Department building in Downing Park to Greenwood Street and, after demolishing the current highway garage, sell the property to a developer who would erect a mixed used commercial building. (Click here for a description of the project and for conceptual rendings of the commercial building.)
Based on a report prepared by the Planning Department, the new highway garage/parks building would cost $4.0 million. That cost would be offset by selling the current highway garage site (after the building was demolished) for $1.5 million. According to Supervisor Grace, the balance of $2.5 million would be obtained from grants.
In preparation for the vote, town staff had already completed the Environmental Impact Assessment Form and conceptual site plans had been prepared for the relocated highway garage/Parks Department building and the new commercial building. Town staff would prepare the detailed site plans for both buildings and seek all the approvals (the “soft costs” involved in the development approval process) from the Planning Board and outside agencies. Once the site plan was approved, the town would turn around and sell the land to a developer who would construct the building according to the approved plan.
It was Supervisor Grace’s contention that while the plan wasn’t a panacea for the Heights area, it was a start and that once the new commercial building was built, it would make Yorktown a destination. He said that his plan had been well received by the public.
After the 3-2 vote, the next steps will be moving forward with the SEQRA process and reaching out to the DEC and DEP to get their feedback on the conceptual site plans.
Supervisor Grace also said he would be looking into the availability of some “repurposed” steel buildings that might be available in Peekskill in lieu of the town erecting brand new butler-type buildings.
Highway Superintendent Paganelli supported project. He said that when he was a member of the Town Board, he favored the project only if it didn’t cost the taxpayers any money. However, he said, while the project as currently proposed leaves the financing of $2.5 million up in the air, he felt that over the long term, once the property was developed and put back on the tax rolls, it would generate revenue that would, over time, possibly 18 years, recoup the cost of the project.
In response to Supervisor Grace reasons in favor of the project, I agreed with him that the relocation of the two garages would create cost saving efficiencies. I also agreed that in a perfect world the highway garage should be moved out of the downtown area and the property returned to the tax rolls; I just questioned whether now was the time to proceed with such a project. I questioned the supervisor’s assumption that the new building would revitalize Yorktown’s downtown and become the new heart of downtown Yorktown when the commercial building would be across the street from an auto body shop and down the street from parked garbage trucks and UPS and bus depots. Citing existing commercial vacancies in Yorktown and surrounding communities, I questioned whether now was the time to plan for another commercial building. I also questioned some of the cost assumptions and the procedure that would be used to sell the highway garage site and whether there would be competitive bidding.
After the 3-2 vote, town staff will proceed to contact the DEC and DEP for input on the project.
3. Courtesy of the Floor
After a back and forth discussion over possible changes in the rules governing Courtesy of the Floor, the discussion ended with what appeared to be no clear direction as to how Courtesy would operate at the next regular meeting.
Supervisor Grace stated his position that he didn’t like a time limit because he didn’t want to cut people off and he felt that people wishing to speak on issues not on the agenda should wait until public hearings and other town business was completed. He appeared somewhat flexible on this, however, indicating that if there were no public hearings on the agenda, residents might be able to speak on any topic at the first Courtesy. He also felt he should interpret people when they were stating incorrect information. In general, he felt that most Courtesy comments constituted grandstanding and that if there were no TV cameras, fewer people would speak at Courtesy. He also said that attacks on people should not be allowed and that residents had to be more civil in their comments.
The supervisor also took exception to my Facebook posting that was critical of his plan to limit most comments to the second Courtesy.
Councilman Bernard said he supported returning to the 3-minute rule with no back-and-forth dialogue between the speaker and members of the board. He suggested to the supervisor that speakers shouldn’t be intererupted even if what they were saying was factually incorrect.
Councilman Diana said he preferred limiting the first Courtesy to issues on the agenda and having other comments made at the second Courtesy at the end of the evening.
My position was that whatever the rule was, it should be consistent whether or not there were public hearings on the agenda. I pointed out that some public hearings last for only 3-5 minutes while others could go on for over an hour and that most residents wouldn’t be able to tell in advance how long the scheduled hearings would take. I also said it was unfair to have residents wait until the end of the meeting to speak, especially as there was no way of knowing when the meeting might end.
I also read portions of an email that had been sent to the board outlining a series of suggested rules, most of which dealt with consistency, respect and civility. The board agreed with all the points.
While I suggested that the board adopt some rules prior to its April 7th meeting and read them aloud, Supervisor Grace left the issue hanging as to exactly what the rules might be, preferring instead to “play it by ear.”
5. Yorktown Senior Living
The development team presented a revised site plan that incorporated the board’s earlier concerns about access into and from the site. The new plan calls for two access points on Route 6 for cars traveling west. Cars proceeding east would not be able to make a left turn either into the site or leaving the site and would have to either make a U-turn on Route 6 or travel down East Main Street to Strawberry Road and then turn right onto Route 6 at the light. Access to Strawberry Road would be limited to an emergency exit. And, although the developer said that allowing access on Strawberry would solve some of the left turn issues, there was no sentiment on the board to go along with this idea.
The consensus on the board from Supervisor Grace, Councilman Bernard and myself, as well as from Planning Director Tegeder, was that the traffic plan did not work because of the eastbound Route 6 problem. The only solution, Mr. Tegeder suggested was a new traffic light on Route 6, but the applicant didn’t seem to see that as a possibility. The applicant will meet with the DOT to see what, if any, modifications to Route 6, would be permitted.
Following up on an earlier suggestion of the supervisor, the applicant reported that the group home located on Strawberry Road was not interested in allowing a road to be built through its property.
Dan Ciarcia, the applicant’s engineer, suggested a possible option that would allow traffic from the site to exit to an extension of Lakeland Street where cars could proceed to the light on Route 6. The applicant will review the land use maps to see if this option might work.
6. Solaris Parking
Representing the gym, Chris Sciarra advised the board the facility is suffering financially because of the lack of parking. While he was not going to ask the town to remove its No Parking signs (that were enacted to allow highway trucks safer passage along the street), he did ask the board to consider allowing diagonal parking. This suggestion was rejected on the grounds that it would not be safe to back up into the street. A second possibility was allowing diagonal parking on the facility’s property, although this may not provide a sufficient number of additional spaces. A third option that Mr. Sciarra will review with Mr. Paganelli is widening a portion of the town road. Mr. Paganelli will come back to the board with a cost estimate.
7. Affordable Care Act Compliance
(See October 28, 2014.) I expressed concern that the resolution authorizing a $16,000 contract with a consulting firm to assist the town with complying with reporting requirements under the ACA did not meet the town’s Procurement Policy that required at least three written quotes. Comptroller Caporale said that she had not seen an earlier email I had sent that raised asking for the two other quotes. She will get additional quotes and the board will reconsider the resolution.
In a related issue, Supervisor Grace explained that the current health benefit program for town employees is considered a “Cadillac plan” under the ACA and that as such, going forward, the town will be subject to a tax of 40% tax on any benefits that exceed $10,200 for an individual. The health benefit plan is part of the town’s collective bargaining agreements with its two unions. In response to my question of whether this issue has been discussed with NYSHIP, the town’s health care provider, Ms. Caporale said no.
8. Energy Agreements
Constellation New Energy. The board approved a two year contract for a fixed rate electricity supply delivered via NYSEG (some town facilities are covered by Con Edison and get their power through the state power authority) and natural gas. In response to my question whether the town had competitively bid for the contract, Comptroller Caporale explained that the town was joining a consortium of municipalities and that the contract had been bidded by the Association of Towns. The town expects to save money as a result of the contract.
Blue & Silver Energy. The board tabled a vote on this contract which would have authorized the company to audit our previous energy bills and split any savings it found due to errors on a 50/50 basis. The resolution was tabled so that the comptroller could clarify a question I had about the contract, specifically whether the contract also included splitting the anticipated savings going forward.
In a related issue, the supervisor explained that in the near future, a proposal would be brought to the board that would allow homeowners to sign up for competitive electric rates through a consortium.
9. Unsafe structure
Building Inspector Winter brought the board up to date on the status of a home on Stony Street that was littered, inside and out, with plastic bags filled with human excrement and other garbage. The department has sealed off the house, declared it unsafe for human occupancy and will begin the legal paperwork necessary to remove the offensive material, first by resolution at the April 7th meeting, and if necessary, by invoking the terms of the town’s Unsafe Structure law. The resident has been moved to the Hudson Valley Hospital.
10. Foreclosure Update
Town Attorney Koster said that warning letters to property owners owing taxes up though 2013 would be mailed out by the end of the month.
Supervisor Grace reported that the Westchester Y is still interested in taking over the Sultana Pool but that the organization is currently finally strapped. He anticipated that the organization would be sending him a financial spreadsheet. If the Y confirms its interest, the town could foreclose on the property and then pass title on to the organization. As part of the plan, the supervisor would approach the area homeowners’ association and offer homeowners reduced memberships in the pool as a way of making the pool financially feasible for the Y.
The supervisor reported that he was expecting the owner of one home in arears back to 2008 to give him a copy of her realtor agreement to sell the house and the tax receiver said that a title search employee had been checking the tax records for a second long delinquent homeowner although she didn’t know exactly what that records search meant.
11. Other issues
Water Department backhoe. The board authorized the purchase of a new backhow. The current , 25 year old backhoe, will be passed down to the Parks Department. The money is currently in the budget.
Salt purchase. The board agreed that at its next meeting, it would approve the transfer of approximately $365,000 from the General Fund fund balance to the highway budget to enable the department to purchase enough salt before the end of 2015 to fill the salt bins. The purchase will be made based on the new contract rates that run from September through August. In 2016, the department will backfill as needed. The goal is to always have a sufficient supply of salt on hand and not be subject to supply shortages, late deliveries and excess charges.
Special Town Board meeting. The board will meet with the Planning Board on April 6, the Planning Board’s regular meeting, to discuss performance bonds and the recreational component of the Lake Osceola Square project.
In a closed session prior to the meeting, the board discussed personnel and litigation issues.
NOTE: The next board meeting, April 7th, will be at the John C. Hart Library.