The Greenburgh Town Board, whose chaotic meetings are almost never attended anymore by members of the public, some of whom have been told to keep quiet for hours only to have the town board abruptly adjourn without letting them speak at all, which actually happened just a few months ago, has imposed new “Twitter” rules for a public hearing tomorrow night on a proposal to build 272 apartments in an industrial zone on Lawrence Street off Saw Mill River Road in the unincorporated section of Ardsley.
The property is zoned for multifamily housing, but the Town’s zoning law gives the Town Board the right to grant “site plan approval” which involves conducting a SEQR (state environmental quality review) assessment.
Under the new rules, residents attending the so-called “scoping hearing” – intended to solicit ideas from the public on what the Town’s consultant examining the project should study for purposes of conducting that state-required assessment – will be limited to one minute apiece during which time they can either express support or opposition to the project, or if they speak quickly enough, they can suggest a topic for the town’s consultant to study.
The Town Board adopted the new rules today after Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, who has had a checkered history when it comes to land use projects in the Town, said he expected a large crowd and wanted to give everyone who attends a chance to speak.
Mr. Feiner said residents will be able to speak for an additional five minutes, and for a five minute period after that if they want, but only after all residents in the room who want to speak are given their one minute to speak.
And anyone thinking of attending the Town Board meeting for other business might as well forget it. They will not be called upon to speak at all until everyone else who comes out tomorrow night on the Ardsley project gets a chance to speak first, even multiple times if they choose.
Civic leaders have been warning Ardsley residents opposed to the project to be on the lookout tomorrow night and thereafter for pandering by Mr. Feiner and his colleagues who have made no secret of their own opposition to the project which could adversely impact a core segment of their supporters in the villages and in the Ardsley School District where Mr. Feiner lives.
Such pandering – by demanding such unreasonable things as a study of all intersections in southern Westchester or insisting that the developer study ways to end flooding of the Saw Mill River – may lead to litigation that might delay the project, which some residents may think is a good idea, but which could also end badly for the Town and taxpayers in unincorporated Greenburgh who must foot the bill for any damages resulting from town officials mismanaging land use matters.
Taxpayers in unincorporated Greenburgh are already paying for a $6.5 million settlement in the Fortress Bible matter, where Mr. Feiner was found guilty of violating the constitutional rights of a church that wanted to build a sanctuary and school on Dobbs Ferry Road. Mr. Feiner was opposed to the project and was found to have asked staff and consultants to create phony excuses to deny site plan approval.
Fortress Bible, however, was not the only town screw-up. A state appeals court recently refused to allow town officials to correct its zoning map – so as to prevent an 87-bedroom apartment building from being constructed on land in Edgemont zoned exclusively for single family homes – because town officials were found to have acted in “bad faith.”
And before that case, Mr. Feiner was found guilty a few year ago of wrongfully giving away millions of dollars in town revenues to the Valhalla School District to keep them from complaining about temporary housing for unwed mothers with pre-K children in their district.
Aside from developers with big checkbooks who won’t hesitate to take the Town to court, the only check the Town has against Mr. Feiner’s mistakes when it comes to land use matters are the Town’s civic associations.
But here, town officials are doing everything they can to squelch civic associations in order to minimize the effect of any role they may play.
Most recently, town officials want to start charging civic associations hundreds of dollars in fees if they try to enforce the Town’s zoning law by, for example, challenging an interpretation of the code by the building inspector that favors developers.
A proposal to levy such charges prospectively – and retroactively, dating back to December 23, 2008 – was on the agenda tomorrow night. However, the Town Board today decided to hold over that proposal until their next meeting on January 27, claiming “questions” had been raised about it. Town officials, including Mr. Feiner, have been refusing for months even to discuss the matter with civic leaders.
They are apparently annoyed that Greenburgh’s two leading civic groups, the Edgemont Community Council and the Council of Greenburgh Civic Associations have both challenged the legality of an 80-bed assisted living project bordering the Edgemont and Ardsley School Districts which town officials have indicated they support.
If residents attending tomorrow night’s “scoping” session want protection, they should be encouraging the Town Board to lay off the Town’s civic associations because, when it comes to land use decisions, where the Town’s record in recent years has been atrocious, they are likely to be only protection homeowners are likely to have when faced with wealthy developers eager to exploit not only what they see as weaknesses in the Town’s zoning law, but based on one bad court ruling after another, well-known weaknesses among Greenburgh’s elected officials.