Engaged Residents Speak Out at 11-28 Village Board Meeting
- Wednesday, 29 November 2023 09:41
- Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 2023 09:56
- Published: Wednesday, 29 November 2023 09:41
- Joanne Wallenstein
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There was lively public comment on the role of the Village Manager and the proposed building moratorium at the Scarsdale Village Board meeting on November 28, 2023.
Role of the Village Manager
The meeting opened with a public hearing on changes to Chapter 57 of the Village Code regarding the role of the Village Manager. In effect the change moves some of the code that was in an appendix into the actual Village Code. The new code clarifies the role of the Village Manager vis a vis the Village Board and establishes the Village Manager as chief administrative officer of the Village of Scarsdale and executive assistant of the Mayor and the Board of Trustees in connection with the conduct of the affairs of the Village. It says that the Village Manager’s authority is subject to the approval, direction and control of the Board of Trustees and lists his roles and responsibilities.
This change evolved after Village Manager Rob Cole was dismissed in September 2023 over a disagreement about his role in Village Government.
Former resident Robert Berg had lots to say on the issue. He said, “I’m in the Mamaroneck strip now renting but I've been a 22-year resident of Scarsdale until a little bit earlier this year. This proposed local law is an odd one right now. Since 1949, 74 years ago, the village has had a professional village manager and professional staff who've run the village on a day-to-day basis and they always reported to the Village Manager and served at the pleasure of the village board. These structures have been enshrined in the Village's code for decades. And it's set forth in the annual employment agreement provided to the Village Manager each year. And this structure has worked for decades and for dozens of Mayors and Village Boards.”
Berg continued, “And then somehow all of a sudden halfway through Mayor Arest’s term he awoke earlier this year with a nagging concern that he didn't quite understand the role of the Village Manager. So now we are proposing to change the law to really do nothing substantively. The resolution exists in the appendix and nothing is really wrong. There's no difference. So I don't know why we're tinkering with this. It strikes me as really an effort to sort of sweep under the rug the firing of Robert Cole earlier this fall which has never been explained to the public. It was reportedly some misunderstanding as to his role, which is not really conceivable since his employment agreement clearly stated his role, which is the same as reported in the appendix.”
So I don't understand why we're going through this exercise for something that has worked beautifully, except for this recent incident, for 75 years. It's unnecessary to do this. You shouldn't go around changing laws for cosmetic reasons or otherwise, and the public has a right to know what happened here. You have never explained what happened and why Robert Cole is no longer with us. He was fired by the Village. So something happened and the Village as a bond issuer has a public duty to bondholders to disclose material events and what happened there and so this was a serious issue. I have a concern that the public is not being properly informed as to the circumstances. Did he do something wrong or not? And this proposed law doesn't really accomplish what it's supposed to do. I mean, there's no reason for this law. And I urge the Village Board to come clean and explain the circumstances of his firing. And does he have a claim against the Village for wrongful termination? What's going on here?”
Additional comments were made on a proposed 6 month building moratorium that will be discussed at a public hearing on December 12, 2023.
Former Village Trustee Jonathan Lewis of 56 Words Lane said, “I want to congratulate the Board of Trustees and the village attorney for the excellent draft resolution on the proposed moratorium. Our community is at a tipping point. Unchecked development is overwhelming our infrastructure, destroying our environment and diminishing the precious heritage of our community. We need this moratorium to save our village and and it's good for property owners, property values and property taxes. Studies show that strong preservation codes combined with forward thinking environmental policies improve property values, yet, not surprisingly, negative rumors are being spread in the community about this excellent draft moratorium resolution. Let's beware when the rumors spread are by those who have a monetary interest in home sales. Subdivisions may inflate commissions. They also leave the taxpayers who live here with a permanent cost burden, more garbage to collect, more sewage, more runoff overwhelming our sewers, more flooding as our environments natural ability to absorb water is weakened by even more lot coverage. I encourage you as a board to educate the community about this excellent, well considered draft resolution. If you pass it, you will have six months to thoughtfully design policies and code to preserve our community well into the next century. That will be an extraordinary legacy for all of you.”
Myra Saul of 5 Lincoln Road said, “I appear here tonight in my personal capacity. I wish to thank personally the mayor and the trustees for listening to residents and for acting by proposing a six-month moratorium on new real estate development in the Village. This moratorium will give the trustees and the public the time to appropriately determine how our building guidelines can better reflect the needs of our community, especially in light of our shared infrastructure. Let's take this opportunity to look at each facet of the system holistically, not as a series of discrete decisions. I support this moratorium. It is undeniable that climate change is impacting our weather. We now seem to have a once in a century storm every six months. Our infrastructure was not made to sustain these assaults. A personal anecdote. I moved to Scarsdale 33 years ago and was told that I shouldn't have any problems with water in my basement because my house sits on a slight rise. I really didn't have any appreciation for that remark until the two so called unprecedented storms this year. I've experienced flooding and now expect it when we have an ordinary rainfall. There is no such thing as a free lunch. We all live in this community. Not every homeowner can have a pool. Not every homeowner can live in a mansion. We need to live together in harmony and in harmony with our environment and our infrastructure.
John Schwarz from Norma Place said, I'd like to applaud the board's willingness to consider this moratorium and have a look at the regulations going forward. As things have changed in the community as cited by several people who have made comments to you. There is one example in our neighborhood that glaring that I think maybe should be an example for this effort. It's nearly around the corner from us. A fence is up for demolition of this house. It's on roughly a third of an acre, a 2800 square foot house. It's proposed to be replaced by a 6800 square foot house. On this third of an acre being advertised as the potential for a pool as well but I'm not sure there would be room for that. The asking price for this house is not quite three and a half times what the company that proposes to build it paid to buy this house to demolish it. There is no house in the neighborhood that is close to the size. And it is an example of how things are changing in the village. And projects like this should be carefully watched.”
“The second comment relates to a proposed gift to the village to the fire department. From Fenway Golf Club. I'm sincerely hoping that this is an altruistic gift on the part of the donor who has repeatedly had issues with noise in the area, in the past and in the present as recently as three days ago. So I'm hoping that this is a generous, honest donation with the intent of having nothing to do with the noise issues surrounding the donor and the neighborhood. “
Bob Harrison had some questions about the proposed moratorium. He said, “How does this affect tear downs period? Or does it affect the entire community where residents want to make improvements to their homes? And I hope it doesn't include what residents should be allowed in their home that's not a teardown. It's an improvement to their home. Will there be a restriction in this moratorium on any homeowner to make improvements to their home that has nothing to do with a teardown? So I hope there's nothing in this moratorium that would affect every resident in Scarsdale who wants to do improvements to their homes and get a building permit to do it has nothing to do with the tear down.”
Mayor Arest replied saying, “If you're just trying to improve your house, whether it be on the exterior or the interior, the moratorium should not impact you unless you are trying to expand on your house.“
Board Meeting Minutes
Bob Harrison pointed out that the written minutes for the previous Board of Trustees meeting shows no details of the public comments from the members of the community who spoke at the last meeting. He said, “As has been done historically public comments of residents should be included in the public minutes as these comments often offer excellent ideas and suggestions and recommendations for the current future board and future village boards. So I hope that this process has been going on for years to include the public statement by residents to come to this might be totally included in the future.”
Mayor Arest replied that this was an oversight and that the minutes would be reissued to include public comments.
Trustee Ken Mazer discussed two upcoming events targeted for our seniors.
On Monday December 4 at 11 o'clock at the Girl Scout house there will be a get together to talk about fashion and style led by a experienced fashion consultant.
On Wednesday, December 6 at 11 o'clock there will be a crafts hour for seniors to use their hands to make a holiday gift for a friend or a loved one, also at the Girl Scout House. RSVP to Msilver@scarsdale.com to participate.
Trustees approved resolutions to permit Westchester Reform Temple to place a menorah in Boniface Circle from December 1 through 15 2023 as well as a resolution to permit Chabad to place a menorah in Chase Park from December 4-18, 2023 and a menorah lighting ceremony on December 10, 2023.
The Village Board approved a resolution to permit the police to tow cars parked in the street during times of road resurfacing, storm/drain cleaning and water system maintenance after attempting to contact the owners to move their cars. If the owner cannot be contacted in a timely manner the police will have the right to impound illegally parked cars.
The board approved a resolution to hold a public hearing on December 12 on a change to the senior citizen real property tax exemption that was discussed at a work session prior to the meeting. The code changes the definition of “eligible income” to be the resident’s adjusted gross income on their Federal tax return. The change is intended to make income requirements for eligibility more consistent.
Meals on Wheels
Trustees approved a resolution to provide meals to housebound residents at a cost not to exceed $12,000.
They accepted at $5,000 gift from Fenway Golf Club to the fire department to be used for the purchase of equipment to assist in the safety of the firefighters or the general public along with another gift for $1,000 for the fire department from Dr. and Mrs. Mittleman.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor Arest reminded the community that there will be a work session on stormwater regulations on December 5 at 6 pm and a public hearing on the proposed building moratorium at the Village Board meeting on Tuesday December 12 at 8 pm.