Supervisor and planners ask local stakeholders to invest in updating and building up properties
BY KATHY KAHN
After two years of “charrettes” (open community meetings) with businesses and residents, Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack and Simoes invited them back for a meeting to let them know the results of the months of planning, discussion and desires residents expressed for the hamlet. “Before” and “After” photos and renderings were available so residents and building owners could see what can out of the sessions.
The Town adopted a new comprehensive plan in 2009 and is seeking to make its villages and hamlets more attractive, especially now that Shops at Nanuet has proved to be a pivotal draw for the Route 59 corridor, just as the former Nanuet Mall once was.
Simoes stressed the hamlet’s train station was the key to creating a vibrant downtown community, since it is the only one in Rockland that has an MTA stop on its route. “It’s a direct connection to New York City, and that’s especially important to focus on, since we now know there will be no mass transit component on the new bridge.”
Creating Nanuet’s hamlet curb appeal candy will require the creation of new zoning to allow businesses to build rental apartments above their one-story buildings. The codes will be changed to allow at least two stories above the first floor to create housing for young professionals and seniors. Signage codes will also permit store owners to spruce up their stores, and the new zoning would allow for more parking behind buildings to free up parking on the street. Several changes to existing codes will make that happen will be in place in early 2014.
“People felt strongly about giving the center some cohesion by developing consistent architectural design standards,” said Simoes. “Residents told us they want to create a ‘downtown’ atmosphere—perhaps a boutique theatre, farmer’s market, and new public pocket parks with playground equipment for children. New plantings will also enhance the look and appeal they are seeking to create.”
Some members of the audience who owned buildings in the area complained that “taxes are already too high…who is going to help us build above our stores to create apartments—and what will happen to our taxes as a result of that?” Simoes encouraged them to reach out to the Rockland Industrial Development Agency and its Economic Development Corporation for support.
“Congers, Nyack and others have taken advantage of grant monies out there to help them spruce up their downtowns,” Simoes told the group.” Nyack got a Benjamin Moore grant. The result is newly painted buildings that are bright and inviting. Residents who want to see this happen know it won’t happen overnight, but they need to be part of the solution by working together to accomplish a common goal.”
NYS Route 59 was also a topic of discussion. Simoes stressed the need to make it easier for residents to shop by connecting existing lots and consolidating exits, making the need to get back on to Route 59 unnecessary and also relieving traffic congestion on the busy road. It would also help the hamlet’s “walkability” factor, since those changes would redirect traffic away from the area. As of now, no more changes will be made to Route 59 unless the NYS Department of Transportation deems it necessary.
Risa Hoag, president of the Greater Nanuet Chamber of Commerce, saw the Shops at Nanuet as the “signal to get Nanuet’s Main Street spruced up…..with all the outreach done by Simon Property Group to promote the new outdoor mall, Nanuet was getting all this free promotion—why not take advantage of it by making Main Street as nice to visit?”
Clarkstown officials sat down with Hoag. “They asked me if I’d be interested in reviving the Chamber of Commerce again. We had one 20 years ago. We hosted a town meeting, inviting people to the library, and we had an incredible turnout for the first few exploratory meetings. We were really bolstered by that, and in the end, decided to make the Chamber ‘community inclusive,’ bringing the arts, environment, health culture, students and residents into the business mix, trying to be a bit broader than most Chambers are.
“One of its first official acts was to meet with Clarkstown once a month to see how we can help, what can be fixed….and we do need both businesses and residents to be on board for this.” Building owners can take advantage of the help the IDA and EDC can give them. Storekeepers “can only do so much,” said Hoag. “They may not have control of the building, but they have control over the way their shops look. We’re looking for a designer to give their time gratis to help the shopkeepers spruce up their stores to give them curb appeal. When you make your window attractive, you make an immediate impact. Shoppers will come in to see what else you have to offer.”
Hoag added the mindset of “Who is going to help me?” has to change. “Whether you’re a landlord or a shop owner, if you want profits or more revenue, you are not going to find them if you are expecting a handout. The renewed interest in Nanuet the Shops at Nanuet has created are so beneficial and we can act on them…if the hamlet wants its Main Street to be a stop to shop or relax for visitors and its residents, it needs to make it happen…and they can, if they put their mind to it. It’s easy to complain, but it’s more agreeable to make something good happen in the long run.”
The Greater Nanuet Chamber of Commerce was resurrected in 2012 and already has 88 members and growing. Hoag says the Chamber plans to have a session to answer marketing questions and hopes people will get involved. The chamber’s website is www.nanuetchamber.com. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.