Term Limits and New Zoning in Clarkstown?

BY MARIA BROWNSELL

An unusually large amount of people packed into the town hall auditorium for the Town of Clarkstown’s Town Board Meeting on August 5. The buzz around the room was about Supervisor Alex Gromack and Councilwoman Shirley Lasker’s sudden epiphanies on the matter of term limits and also a proposed senior housing project at Schimpf’s Farm in New City.

A resolution was to set a public hearing to discuss a law concerning Term Limits for elected officials. Many residents commended the board for putting this on the agenda. “Politics was never supposed to be a career,” said legislature candidate Lon Hofstein, reflecting the opinions of many in the audience. “Term limits would bring in fresh, innovative ideas, diversity in the offices, improving the quality of government.”

Councilman George Hoehmann said he would like all elected town officials to be governed by this law. He would also like to make it that future town boards couldn’t easily appeal it if adopted. The board unanimously seconded the resolution to have a public hearing on this topic.

The hearing is scheduled for September 9, 2014.

The hearing represents a dramatic turnaround from 2011 when Gromack and Lasker vociferously opposed placing a referendum on the ballot to implement term limits. Then then-Clarkstown Taxpayers group had led a ballot drive that received an overwhelming response, but Gromack responded by refusing a public hearing and hiring a judge to offer the opinion that such a referendum was not legal within a town. Gromack said this week that though a referendum is not legal on such a matter, it is within the jurisdiction of the town board to implement term limits.

“After much thought I am now convinced that creating term limits for every member of our Town Board is the right thing to do for Clarkstown,” said Supervisor Gromack. “The success of any democratic government depends upon citizen involvement. In my opinion, the highest level of citizen involvement is running for elected office. Term limits will encourage that level of citizen involvement.”

“With this initiative to impose term limits on the supervisor and Town Council members, Clarkstown once again demonstrates its commitment to give more residents an opportunity to become involved in and to participate in our town’s government,” said Councilwoman Shirley Lasker.

A public hearing also took place at Tuesday’s meeting regarding a proposed local law entitled, “A local Law Amending Chapter 290 (Zoning) of the Town Code of the Town of Clarkstown with respect to maximum building height for senior housing and adult active residence (AAR) zoning districts.” This law would decrease the maximum height of those types of housing from 45 feet high to 35 feet high, with the maximum number of floors remaining at three.

Joe Simoes of the Planning Board explained that 35 feet would conform to the maximum height of housing already in those residential areas. He said doing this would have no potential adverse affects on the environments and any potential impacts would be evaluated on a site by site basis by the planning board. The law also changes the eligibility to say what zones AAR is allowed in.

Simoes mentioned that Schimpf’s farm has applied to develop a senior housing complex but have not yet been to the planning board. This new law would limit the height they would be allowed to build to, if they are approved to build at all. Supervisor Gromack announced numerous times that the Public Hearing would be about the changing of the height of the complexes and not about Schimpf’s farm. There will be a planning board meeting about that and all residents that are adjacent to the property will receive notice of it in the mail.

Many residents expressed their concern about the prospect of senior housing at Schimpf’s farm. They were concerned about the traffic that would be created on the already busy one lane road. Many were also concerned about everyone not being notified about the meeting.

“People call our homes for votes, why not call for this?” shouted a woman from the audience, who said she lived near the property. Gromack continued to say that all this will be discussed at the Planning Board meeting and everyone near the property will be notified. Anyone who does not live nearby who wants to be notified can add their name to the list on the town’s website.

“Why after all this time, do we need to change the height? Why all of a sudden?” asked another resident, Mary. “Why is it better for me? Now since Schimpf’s farm is on the table, this new law comes into play. What happens here this evening directly affects what will happen at Schimpf’s farm.”

Gromack agreed that it does directly affect the property but stands firm that this was being discussed prior to this situation and is a town-wide decision, not only because of Schimpf’s farm.

Pat McFadden was concerned about the emergency services that would be required with all the elderly people introduced to the area. With the current traffic, he said the response time would be poor for these people in their time of need. Councilwoman Shirley Lasker said there will be a basic traffic study done while school is in session to see what it would be like.

Another public hearing took place as a continuation from May 6 and June 10 about changing zoning with respect to commercial office and commercial office support. This was to amend the zoning in commercial parks to make more campus-like settings. There would be allowance for related and non-related retail inside the buildings.

Simoes said that a special permit would need to be obtained. 5,000 square feet would be the maximum allowance for related retail and 3,000 square feet for unrelated retail. They added that the retail would be there only for employees and visitors to the site, not the outside public.

There would also be an incentive for the town that the spaces that took advantage of this would have to retain more runoff water from storms. He believes that this will not affect hamlet center businesses. “I understand what you are trying to do, but I still have issues,” said Stephen Levine of Congers. “It will affect our hamlet centers. I don’t think someone will be at the door checking if you belong in buildings.”

Simoes disagreed that this would hurt businesses in the hamlets. He said it would also decrease traffic on the roads since many people would no longer leave during their lunch breaks. The hearing was closed and the law adopted.