In Sleepy Hollow…Good Planning or “Take the Money and Run”

River Journal (RJ) wrote an article in the 2016 Memorial Day Issue entitled “Off the Rails…Sleepy Hollow’s Local Development Corporation (SHLDC). The article can be read at RiverJournalOnline.com by clicking Villages and going to Sleepy Hollow.

In the article RJ questioned a February 23, 2016 Press Release from the SHLDC citing that they “had licensed approximately 2 acres of track siding to Metro-North Railroad, effective immediately.

The Press Release went on to say that, “The agreement, with a potential value of more than $1.8M, was approved at separate meetings with the MTA Metro-North Railroad Board and the SHLDC Board in recent weeks.” The SHLDC has as its Chairman, David Schroedel, a former Village Trustee and campaign manager for Mayor Ken Wray’s re-election.

Fast forward to mid-July and on three occasions RJ asked questions through emails and phone calls to the Village regarding the SHLDC’s activities. None of the emails or phone calls were answered or acknowledged. Ordinarily RJ would have preferred to write a story about the significance of the SHLDC’s actions concerning the proposed sale of property to Metro North.

The paper settled on this Opinion Editorial.

The first email sent to the Village, on July 19, asked the following questions.

1. How much has the Village of Sleepy Hollow paid for SHLDC-related activities in the following areas?

a. Engineering Fees

b. Attorney Fees

c. Village Planner Fees

d. Village Attorney Fees

e. Additional Village Employee Fees.

2. Is there an agreement for the SHLDC to pay back to the Village any expenses incurred regarding the 28-acre parcel?

3. Does Sleepy Hollow have a Master Plan for future development and if so does the Village consider an active rail yard  (with MTA leasing or purchasing 1.35 acres) sound future planning?

4. With regard to the fill needed at the LDC site, is the Village considering the fill available from the new NYC water treatment plant in Valhalla?

5. If so, what costs are associated with bringing that fill to Sleepy Hollow?

6. When does the Village expect to rule on the MTA lease or sale of the property and rail sidings at the LDC property?

Where in local law does the SHLDC, a non-profit private entity, have the power to license any property, and where were the necessary steps taken through the Village approval process? From what RJ has been able to painstakingly glean from a fast-tracked and opaque approval process, the SHLDC had the support of the Mayor and Board of Trustees.

Why should residents care about leasing or selling existing rail sidings and spurs to Metro North Railroad?

Why indeed, when the Village’s mantra is that “they [Metro North] always did use them anyway.” Well, in the age of retiring industry from our waterfronts and creating mixed use areas for residential and retail, the fact that the SHLDC has been given the green light to keep industry on the waterfront flies in the face of all good planning. Is it following good master planning principles to agree to have a rail yard adjacent to a recreation facility and a multi-million dollar mixed use development?

Residents have to deal regularly with continuous trains passing by and now they will be subject to abandoned “junk” trains left idle for an indefinite time. Equipment, storage of material, noise and views are all factors that the Planning Board never considered.

Why didn’t the Planning Board ask for an appraisal of the property to help them determine if the subdivision/sale is “worth” the negative impacts that the Village will have to deal with forever?

Why didn’t the Planning Board ask about vehicular access to the rails from Continental Street? It is natural for the MTA to want access to the rails with trucks. Also, how will the MTA access the rails from the East Parcel and was an easement required or created?

These questions direct us back to Sleepy Hollow’s Planning Board itself and, in particular, the Resolution that came before them on July 21, entitled “Preliminary Subdivision Plan Approval” for Metro North at 60 Continental Street.

Before talking about the manner in which the Planning Board meeting was conducted or not conducted, RJ can without hesitation say that in 18 years of attending Trustee Board meetings, Zoning Board meetings, Architectural Review Board meetings and countless other Planning Board meetings in the villages this publication serves, RJ has never experienced a meeting quite like the one in Sleepy Hollow on July 21.

For starters, there was no podium with a microphone for residents to address the Planning Board. In fact, the Planning Board sat so far in the front of the room and the residents so far in the back of the room that much of what was said between Board members might as well have been private conversations.

Then quicker than you can say “bullet train” the Board voted to approve the Resolution and no one spoke except an individual from Metro North. Standing alongside him was Mayor Ken Wray, and that, in River Journal’s 18 years of attending Planning Board meetings, was a first. One can only assume that Mr. Wray’s presence was to impress upon the Board the importance of adopting the Resolution. There was no  discussion among Board members, no request to see if anyone wanted to be heard – and RJ definitely wanted to be heard. The deal was done.

After all is said and written on both sides of the tracks, the question remains: Did Sleepy Hollow’s Planning Board execute good planning – planning not for the immediate financial gain in front of the Village but good planning for the future? Allowing for an active rail yard in the midst of playing fields, residential housing and a mixed use area on the waterfront, raises questions that will seemingly be buried by the fill needed to raise the site to new flood plain regulations.

Speaking of fill, the New York City Water Treatment facility being built off of Grasslands Road has excavated a small mountain of fill. On the south side of Grasslands Road the County of Westchester is building a water distribution plant, and that site as well has clean fill. It has been reported that the fill is available, however, transporting it will cost money. Sleepy Hollow will soon have it.

As title above says: Good Planning or “Take the Money and Run.”

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