by Jen Laird White, Mayor of Nyack
I want to start my note to all of you by announcing the appointment of a new Treasurer, John Pintos, a wonderful addition to Village Hall who began work in December. John has deep experience in the financial realm and also lots of knowledge about the computer financial operating systems that the village has owned for some time but has never fully understood. He is committed to modernizing the way we do business and we welcome him and his depth of knowledge.
It has been a busy few months for the village. Congratulations to Doug Foster and Marie Lorenzini on their re-election as Trustees of the village. I am delighted to have also won re-election to my final term as Nyack’s Mayor, not entirely surprising since, for the first time since running for mayor, I had no challenger, but joyous, nonetheless. Thank you, so much, for the honor and the privilege.
Nyack Window Project
The village was delighted to parent a wonderful creative project called the Nyack Window Project, which transformed empty storefronts into well-known artists visions of holiday windows. The projects were fantastic, interesting and thought provoking and we thank all of the artists (Joanne Howard, Tony Oursler, Kristina Burns, Michael Zansky, Susanna Frosch, Rodger Stevens, Johanna Goodman, Joanne Howard and Bill Batson and the Nyack Center Kids), the sponsors, Weld Realty, Nancy Blaker Weber, DCAK Architects, TIME Hotels, Alianza Furniture, Christopher Street Financial and all the landlords who were amazingly willing to participate, helped us iron out the bugs and threw caution to the wind for something new and interesting. We received a lot of great press about the project and store owners reported folks coming to the village just to see the windows.
Nyack’s Free Fifteen Parking
We have quietly rolled out a few new parking initiatives in the last few weeks in our constant quest to make parking easier, more friendly and clearer. The most exciting is called the Free Fifteen, a computer upgrade to our muni-meters that allows those parking in the village to simply press the green button on the meter without putting any money in and receive a ticket that allows for fifteen minutes to run simple errands (one of the biggest complaints we get in the parking office is from those who receive a ticket while running into Koblins or the pizza places for a quick errand and DO NOT put money in the meter…they often say “But I just ran in for fifteen minutes”…this is our solution…FREE FIFTEEN)
If, however, you plan to stay longer, you MUST put money in the meter. In addition to the Free 15, we have increased the length of stay in the lots from four hours to seven hours and we have increased the cost for prime parking, on the streets, by twenty five cents. We are also about to purchase new signage for the village lots and update the signage on all muni-meters.
In this years budget, we plan to reduce our parking revenue numbers by an additional $100,000. bringing our total parking revenue reduction to $300,000 in three years. By changing some of the policies we will be lowering our dependence on parking revenue while still maintaining the key elements of the parking study that encourages short term parking in our business district to help our local merchants.
Now that we know how to make this work, next year, it will be even better!
Three large projects for planning Nyack’s future are underway. They’re all very exciting, and I urge you to get involved. First, Plan Nyack: A Blueprint for the Future is the update to our Comprehensive Master Plan under a $206,000 grant from the NY State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). It will update our existing Master Plan with a particular focus on sustainability and the potential impacts of climate change. We have an excellent existing master plan but it was written in 2002, updated and ratified in 2006, and is due for an update. Creating the plan is a community process that involves gathering input through workshops and a survey that will be conducted this winter, looking at the existing plan and updating each chapter in regards to things like transit, downtown, development and the waterfront. Community members come together to discuss what they would like to see in Nyack, what might be possible and to learn from each other and the project consultants. The draft plan is available for review throughout the process, an open hearing will be held in spring and the plan will be finalized late this year. See the schedule for these public meetings on the village website.
The second project is a 1.48 million dollar TAP grant (Transportation Alternatives) that will design and implement changes on Broadway, Cedar Hill and parts of Franklin geared toward creating walk-ability, bike-ability and a consistent feel throughout the village. Public meetings are also an important component of the TAP grant process and your attendance is not just welcomed but really important!
And last, Nyack received a $75,000 grant last month for an update of the LWRP or the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, from the Governors CFA Program that will allow the village to look at its waterfront planning and, again, its future with a goal toward making the waterfront resilient but also vibrant and active. That process is in the planning stage but we will let you know as soon as public meetings are scheduled.
Once all of these grant funded projects are completed and Nyack has a clear blueprint for where we want to be in decades to come, the planning and implementation and the seeking of funds for all of these dreams can start to become a reality.
Water Front Text Amendment/TZ Vista
As I am sure most of you are aware, in June of last year, a developer established an option agreement to purchase the last substantial undeveloped piece of waterfront property in Nyack. This developer currently owns the adjacent undeveloped property and has plans to build high end housing on the properties. The site was previously an Orange and Rockland gas storage facility and, in fact, was the first Superfund Site in the nation. It is privately owned. Most of the remediation of the property has already happened, although the developers property still needs to be cleaned. The developer came to the Village Board with a request for something called a Text Amendment, a not uncommon request from developers, and in this case his request included change of allowable height to 65 ft among other things.
The property is currently zoned in a way that allows a developer to build buildings that are 45 feet plus an additional 3 ft parapet, provided that the developer allow a twelve foot path along the waterfront, 3/4 of the length of the property. Parking can be on the surface area that does not contain buildings. If the developer were to choose to, he could build to these specifications at any point, today or tomorrow, with little or no recourse from the village. A 45 foot building with 3 foot parapets, bringing the total height of view obstruction to 48 feet, surface parking and one narrow path along the waterfront, 3/4 of the way along the property. This development would require that he seek standard approvals from our land use boards.
During a series of public meetings held at the end of last year, it became clear that the public had many concerns about the developers request for increased height. Most seemed to feel that the height, which roughly translates to six stories, was too high for our village and that the buildings design was not appropriate for Nyack. Most people felt that the waterfront access, a twelve foot path, 3/4 of the way along the waterfront was insufficient for meaningful access, many people expressed an interest in a waterfront restaurant, a water dependent use, underground parking, paths through the property and perhaps some other commercial uses. Some people were interested in preserving the property as parkland, a lovely but impractical idea since, aside from the fact that the current developer has an option to purchase the property and owns a chunk of it already, estimates for the additional clean-up, creation of a park and long term maintenance range from $10-20 million, a much too heavy lift for village taxpayers.
The community has invested tremendous energy and money into improving our existing Memorial Park and it still is not where we imagine it to be although we will continue to work toward that goal. To add another very large piece of parkland to taxpayer responsibility is not feasible. Unsuccessful attempts were made for a decade to have what is now known as the TZ Vista property donated to the village, and the village and Nyack Park Conservancy were supported in those efforts by the Department of Environmental Conservation, Scenic Hudson and other entities interested in land conservation. Even as the village and the other groups pursued donation, it was with the clear understanding that, for financial reasons, only a portion of the property could remain parkland and that the other portion would be used to develop and fund an endowment for the newly accessed waterfront area. That is essentially where we find ourselves today, with a private property owner who is interested in developing the upland portion of the property and leave waterfront access in the form of a park for the community along the riverfront.
After several public meetings, the Village Board agreed, unanimously, that the height of 65 ft was excessive, that the design and public access were not what they might be and that, since residents had spoken so clearly about their desires and goals, that if a text amendment were going to happen, it should be driven by the Village Board and based on the input it had received during the process from the public. The developer has graciously agreed to continue to try to improve his vision, with the public input, rather than going ahead with what, according to code and community sentiments, would be an unfortunate and inadequate use of our last piece of waterfront.
We have enlisted the help of the consultants who are working on our Master Plan update to help create a draft the possible amendment but we really want input from the community. The discussion will look at design guidelines, waterfront amenities and other things that community members have discussed in the context of the TZ Vista project. The Waterfront Zone Text impacts all waterfront property from the Hook Mountain Boat Club to the edge of Memorial Park and should properly reflect what we want our waterfront to look like, feel like and how it should connect from one end to the other.
There have been some questions raised about why now, why not wait until the waterfront portion of the Comprehensive Master Plan update which will happen in March. A legitimate question and here is a legitimate answer, as much as we wish the village owned the property in question, we do not. And, as outlined previously, the developer who either owns or has the option to own the property, can proceed tomorrow with plans that the community has deemed inadequate. Because the developer is amenable to changes proposed by the community, we feel strongly that we must not delay his decision making. At any point, he could proceed with the development as outlined by our code. He is community minded enough to have agreed to try to modify his proposal in ways that will make it a desirable one for Nyack residents, not just for his bottom line. His courtesy toward Nyack deserves respect on our part.
Let your voices be heard on this matter. And help us shape our waterfront in a wonderful way that befits our great community.
We have put out a search for a new head of DPW but, thus far, our search has not yielded an appropriate candidate. Village Administrator Jim Politi and DPW Administrative Clerk will continue to run the day to day operations of Public Works and any queries or concerns related to the village should be directed to them. We are hard at work on an extensive spring paving schedule and many of the neighborhoods that we could not afford to pave this fall will be completed in the spring.
Jen Laird White is the Mayor of Nyack, NY