Town Board Work Session
May 26, 2015
Tax certiorari and personnel
1. Ethics Board/amendments to Ethics Law
(Note: Although listed on the agenda for 7:45pm, due to a communications mishap, the two members of the Ethics Board thought the meeting was to start at 6:45 and had appointments for later that evening. To accommodate them, the agenda item was moved up and discussed at approximately 7:00 pm. The supervisor initially wanted the discussion held in closed session but after I advised the other board members that discussions relating to local laws were an open session item, the supervisor agreed to hold the discussion in the open. )
Ethics Board members Richard Rubenstein and Albert J. Durante, later joined by Laurie Noonan, believe that the existing Ethics Law passed in 2011 is “arcane” and “deplorable” and needs to be updated to reflect current standards. They recommend that the town hire Steven g. Leventhal, the attorney who provided ethics training to town employees a few years ago, to review the existing law and make recommended changes. The attorney would bill at $225/hour and charge up to $5,000. It was their belief that having an outside attorney look at the law would take politics out of the process of amending the law.
The committee members cited two areas of concern: they believe that the Ethics Board should have more power (Currently, the board can only make recommendations to the Town Board and the Town Board can choose to ignore the recommendations and/or not make them public), and the third year term of office for board members should be a fixed term and not subject “to the pleasure of the Town Board.”
Supervisor Grace said he had no problems hiring the attorney but was concerned that any suggested amendments relate to towns and not other levels of government. He reminded the board about what he called the inuendos leveled against him last year that likened him to Sheldon Silver.
While agreeing with the members of the Ethics Board that sections of the existing law needed amending, I argued that using the three years of experience the Ethics Board has had, a subcommittee consisting of members of the Ethics Board, the Town Board and the Town Attorney could draw up the needed amendments that related specifically to Yorktown’s experience. I didn’t think the town had to spend $5,000 for a lawyer to draw up recommendations that a majority of the Town Board might never consider. I reminded the board that in 2010 when an outside lawyer drafted a new Ethics Law, a majority of the board rejected many of her suggestions. In the end, I said, while the lawyer was not political, it would be the Town Board that would have to act on his recommendations, and that made the issue political.
Councilman Patel said that if a town employee had nothing to hide, they had nothing to worry about any revised law. And Councilman Bernard labeled the discussion, and especially my comments, as “campaigning.”
The board is expected to vote on a resolution to hire the outside attorney at next week’s meeting.
2. Stormwater report
Bruce Barber, the town’s environmental consultant, summarized the town’s 12th annual Stormwater Report. A requirement of the NYSDEC, the report documents the town’s compliance with its stormwater permit that is designed to improve the quality of stormwater that makes its way into the Croton Reservoir. The board accepted the report and authorized the supervisor the sign it. Copies of the report are available on the town’s web site, www.yorktownny.org.
As an aside, Mr. Barber updated the board on the progress of the East of Hudson coalition, of which Yorktown is a member, to meet its 5 year phosphorous reduction target. One of the ongoing issues that will need to be resolved within the next year is how the ongoing maintenance costs associated with the stormwater retrofit projects will be allocated among the coalition members.
Mr. Barber said he was also exploring a possible grant program that could be used to address the Mohegan Lake problem; because the lake is not in the Croton Watershed, it is not eligible for funding from the East of Hudson coalition.
3. Ivy Road/Ivy Knolls
A group of residents from the Ivy Road neighborhood appeared before the board with a series of issues: speeding on Ivy Rd (used as a cut through between East Main Street in Shrub Oak and Stoney Street), the condition of the park, especially the shrunken pond, and drug trafficking. The residents, led by Kenneth Brown, asked for speed bumps, stop signs, a light at East Main Street at Lakeland Lumber, restoration of the dam and repairs to the culvert that should be feeding water into the pond, and more police enforcement to deal with the drug trafficking.
In response, Councilman Bernard said that the Public Safety Committee would look into the traffic issues and see if speeds bumps were a possible solution, although Supervisor Grace advised the residents that speed bumps were not the panacea they thought they were. Councilman Bernard also advised the group that stop signs don’t control speeding. Supervisor Grace also cautioned that before proceeding with one “fix,” the town had to think about whether curing one problem created another at a second location.
It was also suggested that if the park was “opened up” by removing some of the trees along the entrance, along with removing invasive species, it would be a deterrent to drug dealers. Councilman Diana, who lives in the area, said he would arrange a meeting with residents and the police chief. Bruce Barber, the town’s environmental consultant, said he would contact BOCES to see if students from its arbor studies program could help remove the invasives.
4. Junior Lake Wetlands Permit (Spectra pipeline project)
As previously discussed, Spectra will undertake a forest restoration project at Junior Lake Memorial Park as part of its off-site mitigation requirement. Before implementing the plan, Spectra needs to obtain a wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as from the town. While the project meets the criteria for the town permit to be handled on the administrative level by the town engineer, Supervisor Grace suggested that the Town Board hold a hearing on the permit request to clear up what he said was confusion about the project. While I had no problem with holding the hearing, I said that the Junior Lake project had been discussed at several previous meetings and I didn’t think there was any confusion, or opposition to it. I said the public clearly understood the difference between the work Spectra would be doing at Junior Lake, and the disturbance to parkland at Sylvan Glen and Granite Knolls.
The board voted to advertise the public hearing for June 16. As part of the project, the Town will also have to approve a restrictive covenant for the property preventing future development from taking place on the site. If the text of the agreement is ready by June 16, it will be approved at the same time.
5. Northern Westchester Restorative Care
The applicant wants to amend its special permit to add 27 additional parking spaces and redesign the existing enclosure for storage containers and garbage dumpsters in order to provide more screening. The site currently has 106 spaces. The board amended the permit in 2012 to allow for the construction of a 2,900 sq. ft. addition to its existing building. At the time, it was said that no additional parking spaces were needed. According to David Barbuti, the applicant’s architect, the additional parking is needed for employees. However, when I asked him what had changed at the facility to increase the need for additional parking, he wasn’t sure and said he would ask his client.
The application was referred out. In addition to Town Board approval for the amended special permit, the applicant will need Planning Board approval for an amended site plan.
6. Chestnut Petroleum/ Mobil Gas Station
The station is requesting an amended sign permit to legalize changes that have already been made in how the existing sign is lit; LED lighting has replaced the original backlit lighting. Calling the new sign an improvement, Supervisor Grace said that as a matter of procedure, minor changes such as the lighting should be handled on an administrative matter and not require a public hearing and Town Board action. He asked the building inspector to work with the town attorney to make amendments to the gas station special permit section of the zoning code that makes the Town Board the approval authority for gas station signs. A public hearing on the application will be held on June 16.
7. Atlantic Bridge/Spectra pipeline
Bruce Barber, the town’s environmental consultant, presented the board with a revised set of scoping comments for the Atlantic Bridge project. Supervisor Grace noted that FERC will be required to provide an individualized plan for every homeowner directly affected by the construction. Apart from the scoping comments, the supervisor’s main concern was whether and how the town could avail itself of the excess soil that would result from the underground drilling Spectra is proposing for under the Taconic Parkway and Legacy Fields. He felt that the fill could be used at several town park sites. In response, Mr. Barber said that the town should start prioritizing where the fill was needed and Diana Quast, chairman of the Recreation Commission, noted that the soil would have to be tested if it was going to be used for athletic fields.
As a follow up to the comments I made at the May 11th FERC hearing requesting FERC to require an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) instead of a briefer EA (Environmental Assessment), I suggested to the board that Mr. Barber add a section to the board’s comment letter requesting FERC to do a more comprehensive EIS in light of the significant impacts the project would have on Yorktown. In response, Supervisor Grace said he didn’t think an EIS was needed. He pointed out that the AIM project, for which both a DEIS and FEIS were required, was far more significant because it involved crossing the Hudson River and Indian Point. I responded that as a board, we should be concerned about Yorktown and that it was clear that the Atlantic Bridge project, that would impact thousands of residents, was far more significant than AIM that went through parkland. The board agreed to have Mr. Barber add the statement about the need for an EIS even though Councilman Bernard said that FERC will do what it wants to do, to which I responded, “But it does no harm to ask. At least if we ask, there’s a chance they’ll listen.”
The board anticipates voting to approve the final version of the comments at its June 2nd meeting.
8. Sober Living Residences/Zoning amendments
Councilman Bernard and I shared a revised draft of language that would establish a new special permit for sober living residences (SLRs). The draft was prepared in consultation with the building inspector. Tuesday afternoon, Town Attorney Koster shared a marked up copy of the text with board members.
Supervisor Grace started the discussion by saying that he agreed with all of Ms. Koster’s comments and was prepared to walk out of the meeting; he changed his mind, however, and stayed and participated in the discussion.
Both Ms. Koster and Supervisor Grace contended that it would be illegal to have a special use permit specifically for a SLR because it would be singling out a specific group. They argued that the term “convalescent home” was adequate and again that a new special permit was not needed because the board could impose whatever conditions it wanted to a permit for a convalescent home. The supervisor again said that an SLR could not open as a family.
Councilman Bernard made a point of saying that he was not against the concept of a sober house but that the use needed to be regulated; a SLR use is different from a family use, he said. I repeated my position that the term “convalescent home” was outdated and inadequate and also that additional guidelines for reviewing applications were needed.
The discussion, which became contentious at times with Supervisor Grace telling me “that you don’t listen,” ended without any review of the individual provisions in the draft text.
9. Miscellaneous resolutions
Yorktown Fire District. The board voted to waive approximately $14,000 in building fees associated with the construction of the second story at the Locksley Road Fire Station
Street Plantings: The board voted to spend $9,809 for plantings in the hanging baskets and planters along Commerce Street. Additional funds will come from the Garden Club. Taking a lesson from last year’s unsuccessful hanging basket effort, this year, the town will install a gel in the bottom of the baskets in an effort to retain moisture. The Parks Department has also committed to watering the hanging baskets three times a week if needed.
Affordable Care Act compliance. (See Town Board, March 17, 2015.)
The board voted to spend up to $16,000 to hire CPI-HR, a consulting firm, that will assist the town with compliance issues related to the affordable Care Act. The comptroller said that no other company provided the service without also wanting to handle the town’s payroll.
On a related issue, I asked the comptroller the status of any discussions taking place with the town’s health care provider, NYSHIP, regarding changes to what is considered a “Cadillac” plan and which will be subject to a penalty beginning 2016. The comptroller said she has had no information about this from NYSHIP and Supervisor Grace said that the town’s labor counsel is aware of the issue and how, going forward, it will affect collecting bargaining agreements with the town’s two unions.