The Examiner

Mount Pleasant Hamlet Zoning, Comp Plan Hearing Draws Mixed Reaction

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There was mixed sentiment voiced among a relatively limited number of speakers last Tuesday on Mount Pleasant’s proposed Comprehensive Plan update and Hamlet Business District Zoning Code that focuses on improving the town’s business districts.

For the first time in nearly nine months, the Town Board resumed the public hearing on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) connected with the update and the potential zoning revisions for the Commercial Neighborhood Retail (CNR) district in downtown Thornwood, Hawthorne and Valhalla.

A maximum height of three stories would be allowed in most of the CNR zone where two-and-half stories are now permitted. Apartments would be permissible on the second and third floors above ground-floor retail.

During last week’s hearing, Mount Pleasant Board of Education President Michael Horan stressed that school officials want to work closely with the town on issues surrounding the proposed rezoning because of the potential negative implications of substantial enrollment increase caused by increased development.

While the school district is not taking a position on the Comprehensive Plan or the hamlet rezoning at this time, key analyses are missing from the DGEIS, particularly the possible cost to the schools, Horan said. Current per-pupil cost in Mount Pleasant is just over $37,000 a year.

“The Mount Pleasant Board of Education does have serious concerns about the lack of analysis on projected tax generation for the school district as it relates to potential increased student enrollment,” he said. “The Board of Education is seriously concerned that the Environmental Impact Statement doesn’t provide conservative analysis of the fiscal impacts of the form-based code on Mount Pleasant schools.”

Projected district enrollment for next year is 1,883 students, down slightly from the 1,906 pupils in the district in 2017-18.
However, Hawthorne Elementary School is now at 110 percent of capacity, Horan said.

“We currently do not have the space for any more students at Hawthorne without adding on to the building,” said Horan. “Any substantial increase in student population could lead to increased class sizes and an increase in taxes.”

The district will publicly review its recently completed density and capacity study of its facilities at an upcoming meeting.
Among the other speakers, opponents of the proposal raised concerns about the character of the town and what they intimated was a lack of transparency exercised by the Town Board. Those who supported the concept said positive change was needed.

Valhalla resident Ken Noonan said the town failed to inform the public about a few changes that were made to the proposal, most notably a density bonus that is being considered along Broadway behind the Hawthorne train station that could allow four-story buildings. Officials also were secretive in changing the name of the hamlet study from a form-based code to the Hamlet Business District Zoning Code.

“So in order to see these changes that occurred, I had to take the original form-based code and put it next to the newly-named code and go page by page to find these changes,” Noonan said. “Now is that what your idea is about transparency, that the public has to go through an exercise like this to see if there’s been a change in this?”

Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi said officials agreed to change the name of the plan because there have been those in the community that have been mischaracterizing the proposal, particularly after the Town of New Castle ran into stiff opposition for its proposed code.
He also took offense tp those questioning the town’s transparency.

“Transparency is part of seven to eight months that we’ve been talking about this and the two years prior to that,” Fulgenzi said.
Meanwhile, Hawthorne resident James Russell, perhaps the most frequent critic of the zoning proposal, called on officials to suspend the hearing until late September and hold informational sessions to better educate the public while remedying some of the deficiencies in the DGEIS.

Russell questioned why a full build-out analysis hasn’t been done and why questions about potential increases in school taxes and traffic, loss of open space and green space and impact on infrastructure, emergency services, the environment and health of residents haven’t been addressed.

“I think we really need to fully identify and analyze these,” Russell said. “The existing document when it comes to schools just says ‘Oh well, we don’t think people with many children will be moving to these areas.’ That’s not an analysis of adverse impacts in a neighborhood. You need a full statistical analysis; hire a specialist to do that so we can move forward.”

In support of the rezoning was local developer Anthony Crecco. Crecco said he’s hopeful the proposal will be approved because most of the town’s commercial corridors are drab. The last update was in 1970 when the document Comprehensive Plan was known as the Master Plan.

Mixed uses would also provide some diversity in housing, he said.

“This place needs a change,” Crecco said. “I see signs (that say) Keep Mount Pleasant and don’t put the form-based code (in). In other words, from Thornwood to Hawthorne, keep it looking the way it looks now? I mean, I don’t get that.”

Conservation Advisory Council Chair Steven Kavee said the proposed Comprehensive Plan update should provide clearer standards that will guide development and protect the environment.

“These natural factors can offer economic value and ecological systems that provide and support infrastructure, they provide stormwater management, they provide clean air,” Kavee said. “They provide clean water, recreational opportunities and the protection of open space, the protection of natural resources is what this Master Plan should be used to guide development and preserve and protect these open spaces.”

The board adjourned the hearing until the next meeting on Tuesday, July 12.

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