The Northern Westchester Examiner

Ossining Trustee Calls for Moratorium on New Development in Village

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Ossining Village Trustee Omar Herrera is calling for a moratorium on new development within the village.

Herrera’s proposal last week came less than a month before he squares off against Mayor Victoria Gearity in a September 13 Democratic primary.

“The Village of Ossining has been largely unable to deal with the growth created by recent projects, and the real effects to our capacity as a municipality and school system, yet we seem to be moving forward at a reckless pace to approve new projects,” Herrera said. “Should we continue on this course, we risk spoiling not only one of the largest undeveloped landscapes on the Eastern shore of the Hudson River, but we also risk adding further stress to our already overburdened school system. Furthermore, we still haven’t taken the time to listen to valid concerns that have been raised by village residents, businesses, parents and school senior administration.”

Herrera, who plans on submitting a memorandum on his proposal to the Board of Trustees for discussion at an upcoming work session, is suggesting a joint meeting between the Board of Trustees, Town of Ossining Town Board and the Ossining Board of Education.

“The only way that we can come together as one community and have the conversations that we need to have is to have a discussion on considering a temporary freeze on the process of approving new developments,” Herrera said. “When and if we move forward with developments in the near future, it will be as one united community, and that is something we are sorely lacking right now.”

Village of Ossining Deputy Mayor John Codman, who is backing Herrera’s candidacy, said his fellow trustee’s proposal has merit.

“Given the recent public input by village appointed boards and committees and the diverse opinions that resulted, it is clear that our current comprehensive plan requires a review and evaluation before we commit to future development,” Codman said. “A moratorium is one of the many tools available for thoughtful and critical analysis to form a clearer picture for the Village of Ossining’s economic and cultural future.”

However, Gearity, who is seeking a third two-year term as mayor, reacted strongly to Herrera’s statements, maintaining he was trying to “pander to a particular group of voters.”

“But regardless of campaign rhetoric, as elected officials, we must exhibit the maturity needed to act responsibly on behalf of the people we serve,” Gearity stated. “’Moratorium’ is a dramatic term that elicits strong reactions. To prospective developers, it can send a clear message that they should look to invest elsewhere. To residents concerned about school funding, it may be perceived as a welcome solution to overcrowded classrooms. A municipality’s ability to temporarily suspend a property owner’s right to build or obtain development approvals is understandably limited. In reality, it is one strategy that may be beneficial as part of a well-conceived approach to planning and zoning updates.”

“Ironically, in recent years, the Town of Ossining did implement a moratorium. Yet since that ended, Town developments have moved forward that have drawn significant concern from local residents particularly regarding the additional burden on our school district. Most folks aren’t aware of whether a given development is happening in the Village, or across an invisible border in the Unincorporated Town of Ossining,” she continued. “My opponent’s claim that we “seem to be moving forward at a reckless pace to approve new projects” is either intended to perpetuate misinformation, or demonstrates a lack of knowledge about the Village planning approval process. There are a number of proposals in various stages of the planning process, and most of them have been in the pipeline for years. In fact, if you ask most commercial or residential investors about their experience, they are likely to site frustration over delays and bureaucracy. A number of these delays are unavoidable and essential parts of the process to protect the community.”

Gearity said she was surprised the most by Herrera’s “thinly veiled reference” to a potential zoning text amendment for a proposed development known as Snowden Woods.

“If my opponent were merely a resident, this would be a perfectly fine, if somewhat inaccurate, opinion to express. However, as a member of the Village Board, he will be called upon to determine whether or not to approve a zoning text amendment that will directly impact this plot of land. My opponent taking a public position on a SEQRA matter that the Village Board will be required to vote on is, at best, political gamesmanship, and, at worst, undermining the integrity of the legal process,” she remarked. “Unlike large developments that we have seen proposed in nearby communities where officials have decided to skip over the environmental review process, in Ossining we go by the book to ensure we are making well informed decisions. On a parallel path, I have advocated for the Village Environmental Advisory Council to undertake an Open Space Inventory which will provide the trustees and me with a clearer picture of the role that this area of land plays in our village-wide landscape.”

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