The Town of Greenburgh apparently does not want town residents to watch the six hours of public hearings two weeks ago when several hundred Edgemont residents protested a proposed comprehensive plan that called for changes in zoning to permit the construction of hundreds of multifamily housing units on top of retail stores in certain designated “nodes” along Central Avenue and the Hartsdale Train Station.
Videos of the hearings, which are available on the Town website, are not being broadcast on the Town’s two cable access channels from Cablevision and Verizon, respectively, and written requests to Town Clerk Judith Beville, who is responsible for cable programming, have gone unanswered.
Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, who was also copied on the written requests for an explanation, has likewise not answered the inquiries.
The Town’s Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, which met last Friday, said it would address the criticism its report received — and said residents should expect to see a new draft — its third — sometime this fall.
In the meantime, Edgemont residents are beginning to worry that town officials may be quietly approving major changes for Central Avenue even without a comprehensive plan.
Two outspoken supporters of the plan’s proposal for hundreds of new apartments along Central and at the Hartsdale train station are Fran McLaughlin and Walter Simon, the chair and vice chair of the Town’s Planning Board, respectively.
Within the past year, they approved plans for an oversized four-story office building at the corner of Ardsley Road and Central which is in one of the “nodes,” and which, if the changes in zoning they recommended in the plan were adopted, would allow the building’s upper floors to be converted to residential use. They also approved plans for an oversized retail and office building at the corner of Henry Street and Central, in the second of the two “nodes” along Central, which likewise could see its upper floors converted to residential use if the current comp plan recommendations were approved.
In the absence of a comprehensive plan, town officials, including residents who sit on the Town’s planning and zoning boards, are free to accommodate a developer’s request for changes to existing zoning, as long as the change is not inconsistent with the parameters of the Town’s comprehensive plan.
Because the Town does not have such a plan in effect — indeed, it hasn’t had a comprehensive plan in effect in years — there is nothing to prevent town leaders from approving the construction of oversized buildings in the “nodes” that could someday be converted to residential use — particularly if the developer argues that he or she can’t lease the space unless it is converted to residential use.
The fear that town leaders may effectively implement the proposals called for in the comprehensive plan, even if the town board never adopts the plan currently being proposed, is based on the reasons the proposals were put forward in the first place last year — and then, even after Edgemont residents protested, never changed.
Last year, when the concept of creating “nodes” in Edgemont along Central and at the Hartsdale Train Station was first proposed, it was pointed out that the plan seemed to be addressing a longstanding economic problem facing the Town — which is that property values in unincorporated Greenburgh were diminishing at a faster rate than in Edgemont, which meant that unless the Town did something drastic soon to improve ratables in unincorporated Greenburgh, the Town would either have to cut services or raise taxes well above the tax cap.
Specifically, the total assessed value of property in unincorporated Greenburgh in 1991 was $374,611,731 — but in 2013, that number had plummeted to $294,226,907 — a 21.5% decline. But in Edgemont over that same period of time, the assessed value appears to have dropped from around $73 million in 1991 to around $69 million in 2013, which is about a 5.5% drop. Simply stated, the assessed value of property outside of Edgemont declined four times as much as it did in Edgemont between 1991 and 2013.
The answer for a majority of members of the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee was simple: propose a plan that was calculated to jumpstart development in Edgemont, where developers would be able to get the biggest bang for their buck — and the easiest and fastest way to do that would be to change the zoning in Edgemont to permit development of hundreds of multifamily housing units on top of retail. Of course, the steering committee wouldn’t want to be accused of singling out Edgemont, so it proposed this year and last year the development of a total of 11 “nodes” — all the while knowing that the only place where the development was likely to occur was in Edgemont.
Indeed, when asked about this phenomenon last year, Francis Sheehan, the chairman of the steering committee, admitted that this was the committee’s intent, saying to ECC’s then president, Monica Sganga, “Have you got a better idea?”
The Town’s answer, besides proposing massive development in Edgemont through the proposed comprehensive plan, is to hide these embarrassing statistics. The last time the Town published data online showing the diminution in assessed values in unincorporated Greenburgh between 1991 and the present was in 2013. In the budgets adopted by the Town Board, and published online in 2014 and 2015, that data was omitted. Instead, where the Town used to list on its website the diminution of assessed value for both the town as a whole (including the villages) and for the unincorporated area only, the Town now lists only the diminution in value for the town as a whole. The figures there are not quite so bad.
The town comptroller still keeps a complete set of the data though and includes it in hard copies of the town’s budgets, should residents file a freedom of information request to ask for it — it’s just not available online anymore.
But whether or not the Town chooses to conceal them, the numbers tell an important story and go a long way toward explaining why the steering committee so aggressively supported development of multifamily housing in Edgemont both this year and last and why, no matter what town board members may say about their unwillingness to approve such a plan for Edgemont, the pressure on town officials to approve it anyway, even indirectly through the planning and zoning boards, will be huge and won’t be going away anytime soon.