By Eileen Gallagher
A back to back town board work session and meeting with a potentially sleepy agenda took an unexpected twist as the town board convened for the first time since the February break. Dialogue quickly escalated as conversation about the town “triangle” sign and plowing of sidewalks shifted into heated debate over several controversial topics.
No other spectators were present during the work session portion of the meeting. Only viewers logged onto Livestream could have noticed the tension as Elise Mottel and Jason Chapin confronted Rob Greenstein, Lisa Katz, and Adam Brodsky about their exclusion from the selection process of the remaining two members of the Steering Committee and Brodsky’s appointment to the Business Development Advisory Committee, while Greenstein countered with talk of overhauling the outdated ethics code and the makeup of the ethics board. Ironically, the first discussion of the evening, choosing the color of the hamlet sign for the triangle at the foot of the Route 120 bridge, wrapped up with Brodsky stating that though there may be different colored signs (Millwood’s sign is blue and white, while Chappaqua’s will be hunter green), “We are all one town.”
When the Master Plan Steering Committee came up for debate, Chapin prefaced the discussion with a background to the matter. The Master Plan was last updated in 1989, with several efforts to revise it since then. However, according to Chapin, the revisions really began in earnest in the spring of 2012 with the hiring of Sabrina Charney Hull. That fall, the town board formally approved her updated Master Plan, and announced a steering committee the following year.
Chapin continued to explain that there had been no discussion with either him or Mottel about changes to the master plan regarding the replacement of the two members of the committee who had stepped down. “Sabrina was leading the effort to recruit new members,” Greenstein offered.
“Were there conversations or meetings held? What was the process? Were there e-mails?” Mottel asked. She went on to say that the first indication she had about the new members to the committee was from an article in New Castle Now. She conveyed her surprise that, as a sitting board member, she hadn’t heard this firsthand in a meeting of the full board.
Additionally, both Chapin and Mottel recommended that Brodsky recuse himself from the Business Development Committee due to his relationship with his in-laws, who own property downtown. “Adam has a tremendous amount of skill sets to offer,” Chapin continued, while expressing his concern that there would be “a conflict of interest given his family’s connection to the downtown.” Mottel concurred, trying to assure Brodsky that no one was questioning his skills or his role on the board, and that she appreciated his reaching out to the community.
Brodsky responded, “We all own properties, we should all recuse ourselves if that was the case.” He reaffirmed his position that his interests are aligned with the town in the redevelopment of the downtown, and he has only the best interest of the community at heart.
Brodsky continued, “People were glad that I reached out to the community, that is what the town government should do, which has not been done in the past.” He concluded with, “You should call me rather than accuse me based on stories in New Castle Now.”
“It would be appropriate to run [this issue] by the board of ethics,” suggested Chapin.
Greenstein responded with the statement that the board of ethics is going to be changed, that the current board is not effectively staffed, having been “set up as more form over substance” and unchanged for decades. He announced that, with the help of the town attorney, he is in the process of exploring what other communities have, and that Ed Phillips is compiling a list of recommended changes, including adding two more members for a total of five. According to Phillips, New York State establishes a floor for town codes, with minimum requirements. Other than that, it is up to the municipality to decide if any additional standards will be included. As part of a public hearing process, they will start from scratch and work in the substantive content from the memo they have drawn up, rather than working piecemeal from the old code. Additionally, Greenstein would like more transparency, stating that most people don’t even know who is on the committee. The town board was in agreement, with Chapin adding that he would like to go for a higher standard rather than the bare minimum.
The meeting that followed touched on the items discussed during the work session, with the addition of public comments (a handful of residents arrived for this portion of the evening). Dominating the comments was the vision of the town going forward, as part of the Master Plan process. Accordingly, Greenstein mentioned that the public outreach process will begin next month, now that the Pace Land Use Law Center has been retained. When asked what the board’s vision of the town is, Katz responded, “We were elected to represent the residents of New Castle. We could state what our vision is, but that would not have any purpose. We want to know what the community vision is.” The following appears on the town’s Facebook page:
As we embark on updating our Town Development Plan (i.e. Master Plan), we should start by asking ourselves, “What is our vision?”
The overall purpose of the Master Plan is to provide a “roadmap” for development in the Town of New Castle over the next twenty years. New Castle is a wonderful community with a proud history. We have exemplary schools, caring neighbors, safe neighborhoods and a beautiful natural environment. We also have the very real challenge of improving our commercial tax base while preserving community values. Addressing this challenge will require some new thinking and actions.
Our goal is to ensure that the Town of New Castle is even better in ten, fifteen, twenty-five years than it is today.
We must ask ourselves where are we today? Where do we want to go as a community? Where do we want to be in twenty years?
There is a strong community spirit to be tapped. We have a strong community of shared ideas and opinions to engage. Together we will identify and reach our vision.
The Town Board has approved the contract with Pace Land Use Law Center. Tiffany Zezula, Managing Director of the Pace Land Use Law Center, will oversee and facilitate our public outreach for the Master plan process. This process will begin shortly.