Rumblings over the decision to oust Tarrytown’s longtime Planning Board chairman continue to reverberate in the village, a month after the contentious meeting at which the votes were cast.
The village trustees’ 4-3 vote on April 5 confirming Ron Tedesco to replace Dr. Stanley Friedlander, acting chairperson for over 48 years, left Friedlander and his supporters miffed.
Tarrytown residents and business owners were vocal at April’s meeting about their support for Friedlander and asked for transparency on why the decision was made to replace a highly qualified volunteer.
“He is famous throughout Westchester, probably the preeminent planning board chairperson in Westchester,” said Mark Fry, founder of the Main Street Association. “I’m in awe of his ability to understand complex interrelated zoning and planning considerations.”
Tarrytown’s committee chair positions are typically nominated annually in December by the mayor. The Board of Trustees then votes to confirm. With jurisdiction over subdivision and development projects, the planning committee is highly influential.
Several attendees suggested the decision to choose a new chair was due to Friedlander’s 11-page minority report on the 29 Depot Plaza project that was released to trustees in December. At the time, the Planning Board passed plans and a zone change for the development in a contentious 3-2 vote — a decision Friedlander vehemently opposed due to the project density among other reasons.
But Mayor Tom Butler maintains the delay in naming a chair until now was to give space between tension caused by the minority report and his decision to change up board leadership for the first time in decades. He told River Journal that the conversation to nominate a new chair began in September.
“I was disappointed with the way it played out,” said Trustee Karen Brown, who voted to confirm Tedesco. “No one wanted anything to look punitive because it wasn’t. At the time it felt like it would have been really hard to disconnect the two.”
Butler approached Friedlander about stepping down as chair in December and again in January. Friedlander declined.
“They didn’t give me a reason,” he told River Journal, “and if there is no reason, then there is no reason to step down.”
Trustees cited two main reasons for the change in leadership: Discord during planning board meetings and a need for rotating chairs on all committees. While there is no concrete plan to change village code to create term limits for committee chairs or ask other chairs to step down, several trustees said it’s been discussed.
“I don’t know if the word is term limits or rotation, but it’s in conversation,” Butler said.
“As a baby boomer, we’re passing the baton off to the millennials. Because times are changing. The way people think has changed, the process of planning a development has changed,” he said. “We need to bring new ideas to the table.”
Friedlander, who described the actions of the board as “disrespectful” and “upsetting,” believes the timing of the decision was suspicious. “There were no term limits imposed upon any other board members. It was clearly, conspicuously aimed at me. And the only reason I can think of is an attempt to stifle dissent, stifle minority reports and differing opinions, because it has caused them some political concern now.”
Deputy Mayor Becky McGovern voted against the confirmation, but said it wasn’t a vote against Tedesco, who has served on the board for decades. “Ron Tedesco is a gem, a joy to Tarrytown, and has far exceeded work-wise and talent-wise,” she said. “There is no reason for him not to be in a leadership position on our planning board. It was a difficult decision, but I just didn’t think it was done the right way.”
Friedlander plans to stay on the board and support Tedesco despite feeling slighted by the trustees’ decision. “I don’t believe in quitting a position I made a major contribution in my life to — it’s important. But I have thought about running for trustee.”