Longtime Chair of the Zoning Board promises to be non-partisan voice for public interest
BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
The Stony Point Town Board has appointed former chairman of the Stony Point Zoning Board, James McDonnell, to a one year term as town councilman. McDonnell, a Democrat, will have to run again in 2012 for another one year term. If he chooses, he may run in 2013 for a four year term.
McDonnell replaces Geoff Finn who is the town’s new supervisor. Since Finn was only halfway through his four year term, the board had the option of appointing someone for one year, or holding a special election.
Supervisor Finn said, “We had about 15 names. Everyone put names in the hat and we narrowed it down until the final two. We made the decision based on his experience. He has been on the zoning board for 25 years and the chairman for 11 years. He has always offered to help out. He knows the issues and he is retired so he has time to help the town.”
McDonnell said he feels his reputation for being non-partisan was helpful in his gaining the job. Currently the town board is split two Republicans and two Democrats. “There could have been instability with a split board,” McDonnell said. “What I’ve always tried to be in non-political. Even though I’m a registered Democrat, I have a relationship with many people in town. They think I’ll bring stability. I try to work with people and not worry about whether they are a Republican or Democrat. Most people will most times not know what party I belong to.”
He said he likes helping out. “I’m always interested. I want to find out what I can do. I want to be helpful,” he said.
McDonnell said the interview process to get on the board was fairly grueling, as he was called in several times. Asked what, as a newcomer, he’s observed the board working on for 2012, McDonnell said, “The board is working about bringing unification of politics within the town, so we can work on a set of goals in town.”
His goals are similar to Supervisor Geoff Finn’s stated goals:
– Bring in new tax ratables to the town
– Keep taxes as low as possible without hurting the town
– Take care of basic needs of the town
Finn and McDonnell both said they are hoping to see something done about the vacant eyesore where Stop & Shop used to be located on Route 9W.
The story Stony Pointers have heard about the property is that the owners are peeved with the town and have decided to leave the property there as an eyesore. Finn said he is hoping to smooth things over with the property’s owners and ideally connect that shopping center with the Shop-Rite shopping center a few hundred yards behind it.
In regards to the old Stop & Shop property, McDonnell said, “We can only try and see if we can rectify that situation.”
McDonnell is a retired school administrator for the North Valley Regional School District in Bergen County. He was the district supervisor, a position directly below the superintendent. He has lived in Stony Point for 36 years.
“I love it,” he said. “I love the people. I love the history. It has an awful lot to offer people. We’re hidden in the corner of the triangle. A community of 15,000 within a county of 300,000. We’re the small kid up in the corner, but we have a lot of square miles.”
In recent years, in addition to sitting on the zoning board, McDonnell has been in involved in the quadricentennial celebration of Henry Hudson’s initial voyage of the area and tourism initiatives promoting Rockland County and Stony Point as a destination for weekend visits.
As former zoning chair he said the town has been working to change zoning that restricted commerce and industry. “We are trying to reconstitute laws that were put in place when Stony Point was envisioned as a much smaller town. We are trying to put in zoning that would to address medium size industries and other types of ratables.
In regards to the proposed Quick Chek on 9W at the site of the former Fiesta Cancun restaurant, McDonnell said, “We always have to take into consideration what the citizens feel. It’s their town, you only represent them.”
However, he is not opposed to the idea of having a gas station across the street from a gas station. Certain industries do well when they are clumped together with their competitors. “I’ve never seen a gas station not necessary, even if they go across from each other. They seem to thrive going head to head,” he said, noting, “supposedly they will employ over 40 people.”
McDonnell said he is prepared for the occasional drama that board meetings bring. “We’ve had a couple occasions over the years [on the zoning board] where our meetings were full.”