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The Mt. Pleasant Town Board is expected to approve its first updated Comprehensive Plan in more than a half-century next week and introduce the new Hamlet Zoning Code to help reinvigorate its commercial centers.
Officials decided to hold off on a vote last Tuesday on the Comprehensive Plan, titled Envision Mount Pleasant, and the new code along with two additional resolutions to adopt the findings statement and to amend the town’s zoning map to allow time to edit language in the document.
Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi said board members also wanted to clarify an affordable housing reference in the plan, stressing that one of its goals is to offer more housing choices that are more affordable. The town does not have an affordable housing ordinance on the books that qualifies under Westchester County’s definition.
Fulgenzi said he expects the four resolutions to be voted on at the board’s next meeting on Nov. 7.
Council members are moving ahead despite some criticisms from residents, particularly on social media, that adoption of the new Comprehensive Plan, which was last updated in 1970, and the Hamlet Zoning Code could ruin the town’s character. The changes focus on 287 parcels in the Commercial Neighborhood Retail (CNR) District in Thornwood, Hawthorne and Valhalla.
“We all live in town. I’m born and raised here, and in 50 years I’ve seen no improvement in town, downtown Hawthorne and Thornwood,” Fulgenzi said. “I believe if everyone would take a walk down Commerce (Street) and Elwood (Avenue) and come back and tell me they think everything looks great, then I’ll give you the name of my eye doctor because it’s sad the condition these areas are in.”
In a presentation by Town Attorney Darius Chafizadeh before the board’s announcement that it was postponing a vote until next week, part of the goal of the Comprehensive Plan is to introduce design standards to improve aesthetics and expedite the approval process for applicants.
It would also allow for apartments upstairs provided there is ground-floor retail. However, the maximum three-story height of the buildings would not change, except potentially on Broadway behind the Hawthorne train station. In that area, applicants could request a fourth story but must obtain a special permit, Fulgenzi said.
“Why change the Hamlet Zoning Code that we’ve been talking about for Valhalla hamlet, Hawthorne and Thornwood? Because we’re getting a hodgepodge of properties there,” Chafizadeh said. “The old properties built in the ‘50s and ‘60s are getting old-looking and they need to be revitalized.”
The Hamlet Zoning Code is nearly identical to what the town originally introduced as a form-based code. But in the spring the board switched its name because some residents could confuse it with the outcry last year in New Castle against that town’s Form Based Code.
The most outspoken opponent of the Hamlet Zoning Code and updated plan has been Hawthorne resident Jim Russell. Russell has consistently criticized officials for being secretive about their intentions and taking shortcuts to complete the process.
He said the town failed to adequately involve the Mount Pleasant School District and that the town’s population could explode given the number of parcels that will be eligible for redevelopment. There was also no full build-out analysis completed for the 287 parcels, which cover about 135 acres, Russell said.
“That’s why most towns will do a full build-out analysis, to see what can happen over the next five, 10, 15 years,” Russell said. “We’re not just concerned about what this board intends, but this will govern (the town) for years to come and we have to be careful.”
But a few other speakers applauded the board for trying to help the town. Hardscrabble Road resident Steve Willard said he attended the envisioning meetings that drew several hundred residents at the Town Pool in summer 2018, where many of the issues were discussed.
“Now, here we are more than four years later and there’s only a handful of people in here. Why is that?” Willard asked. “Because they’re satisfied with the process. I want to thank you for the process, by the way. I think you did a great job.”
Councilwoman Laurie Rogers Smalley criticized some of the misinformation that’s been circulated online. She said that over time the code will hopefully provide some diversified housing stock to attract new people and retain existing residents.
“It’s time for Mount Pleasant to look at ourselves and really see who we are,” Smalley said. “We’re an aging town. It’s time to move forward, make improvements and not look back.”
“The old code is 52 years old. It’s obsolete, it’s difficult to understand,” added Councilman Tom Sialiano. “This would clarify it, simplify it and will be easier for the applicant to know what they can and cannot do.”
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/