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Mount Pleasant will reconvene the public hearing next week on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS) for what officials hope will lead to the town’s first Comprehensive Plan update in more than a half-century.
The Town Board has scheduled the hearing to resume at its June 28 meeting at Town Hall, more than eight months after it was last adjourned. Last Tuesday, the board had its planning consultant, Patrick Cleary, present the key zoning amendments as a refresher to the public.
Now called the Mount Pleasant Hamlet Business District Zoning after the town recently removed references to a form-based code, Cleary said the potential zoning changes are designed to help property owners redevelop their properties and buildings in the town’s Commercial Neighborhood Retail (CNR) district.
Of the 14,338 parcels in town, 287 parcels would be affected. That amounts to a limited but targeted attempt to enliven the business hamlets by allowing apartments above commercial uses on the second and third floors of a building, Cleary said.
“There hasn’t been a lot of interest into these areas and that’s because there’s been no guidance, it’s because there’s been no vision, and as a result of that there’s been no investment in our three hamlets,” Cleary said. “That’s one problem that we’re dealing with today. The development that has occurred has been haphazard. That’s the problem we’re trying to solve through developing more zoning controls for these areas.”
He explained that under the planned zoning changes there will be specific design standards so developers would have to adhere to 23 zoning controls that would regulate appearance, signage, landscaping and density requirements, among other rules for the zone. Currently there are only two – the two-and-a-half-story building height limit and rear yard setback, Cleary said.
The limitations on what building owners can currently do and the nature of the retail market is forcing communities to make revisions to what they allow. As a result, investment dollars are going to communities that have made strategic zoning changes, Cleary said.
Another benefit would be for empty-nesters and younger adults who may not want or need a larger single-family house to have another option to stay in town.
“What we’re seeing today is the two biggest demographic cohorts in the community, basically boomers and millennials, the kids of the boomers, are demanding something other than that,” Cleary said. “The boomers are downsizing and there’s no place to go in this community, and the millennials and the Gen Xers are trying to get into the housing market but can’t afford single-family houses and they need a different product to get into the housing market.”
The last time the town updated its plan, previously referred to as a Master Plan, was in 1970. Cleary showed photographs of the Four Corners in Thornwood from more than 50 years ago, which looks largely the same as it does today, highlighting a problem for the town.
However, a frequent critic of the town’s Comprehensive Plan efforts, Hawthorne resident James Russell, sparred with the Town Board during the open public comments portion of the meeting last week, blasting the town for its attempts to add multifamily housing to the commercial district.
Russell accused officials of trying to confuse the public by calling the same plan, which had previously been referred to as form-based zoning, by a different name. He said other communities such as Katonah and Chappaqua opted against form-based zoning. He also pointed to the lack of a maximum buildout scenario, which New Castle included in its deliberations.
“They revitalized their downtowns without resorting to a practice in theory, an untested theory, of form-based zoning, which means that you increase the population density and hopefully these people become customers to keep the businesses in business,” Russell said.
Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi said the purpose of having Cleary come to last week’s Town Board meeting was to update the public on where the plan stood and to stress to residents that no changes will be made in any residential zone.
“Our focus was in this presentation was to make everyone aware that we are focusing on the commercial districts in the Town of Mount Pleasant,” Fulgenzi said. “We are not affecting the residential areas of the Town of Mount Pleasant.”
Russell persisted in his criticisms, later saying that “this whole plan was borne from the (town’s) IDA, basically.”
Fulgenzi chairs the Mount Pleasant Industrial Development Agency, which uses developers’ fees to help fund other projects in town.
“That’s not true. That’s a false statement,” the supervisor shot back.
“No, it’s not,” responded Russell.
“No, it is a false statement,” Fulgenzi said. “I know it. I’m chairman of the IDA. I know what’s going on,” adding that it saves the taxpayers money.
“The IDA (had) no involvement in the discussions in these meetings with the residents of the town or with Pace (Land Use) Law (Center),” he said. “The IDA was not involved with them. Neither was the Town Board members or myself. So don’t tell me we’re guiding; don’t make false accusations like you usually do.”
Russell later told The Examiner that the IDA discussed the plan at an August 2020 meeting, showing it was involved.
The Town Board also approved to refer the proposed zoning amendment to the town’s Planning Board and Westchester County for feedback.
Next Tuesday’s Town Board meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
Portions of this article related to the criticisms of the proposed zoning change has been updated since the original posting.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/