Mayor's Newsletters

Mayor's Newsletter - May 2016
On: 05-05-2016

Dear Residents, Here is a quick update on things going on in the village, with a special report on...

Recreation Dept.

Current Proposals and Projects
Rivertowns Square Proposal
The SEQRA review of this mixed use development proposal at the old Akzo Nobel property is moving into final stage. In September, the board of trustees voted unanimously to declare the Final Environmental Impact Statement (‘FEIS’) to be 'complete'. The next step is for the board to present a Findings Statement. This statement will reflect the position of the majority of the board as to whether or not the proposal mitigates the environmental issues raised under SEQRA. In essence, the Finding Statement reflects how the majority of the board views the project, either positively or negatively. The review process commenced January 25, 2011 at which time the board declared itself Lead Agency under SEQRA. There has since been an extensive and thorough environmental review conducted over the past 23 months; it has involved numerous public hearings and workshops; professional consultants have been involved from the outset, providing advice and recommendations to the board in the areas of traffic, storm water management, landscape, socio economic impacts, engineering, and planning. The time and cost of these professional consultants and all studies and reports requested by the village have been paid by the developer, which has been a significant expense. The board has been guided in the legal progress by the Attorney for the Village, with extensive experience and expertise in land use practice and law. The ad hoc Citizen's Budget Committee also presented a comprehensive economic review on the proposal, including projected (estimated) costs. The village has conducted the SEQRA review according to standards under the law; it has been open, transparent, with extensive communication on a timely basis. Importantly, the public, the residents, and all interested parties have been informed and involved along the way, at every step. The board is factoring all the information and input received and collected, positive, negative, for or against. It is now approaching the time when the board must reach a consensus in its Findings Statement to determine the project's direction. It is possible we will not all agree, nevertheless it is our job to work and come to a majority consensus. It is anticipated the Findings Statement will be presented for a vote in the January time frame. Of course, the public will be kept fully informed.
Waterfront Park Project
The shoreline stabilization work is nearing completion. The engineering issues encountered (which had been previously reported) were resolved and the seawall structure along Willow Point is taking shape. There is a little more work to be done, but soon the seawall will be tied back and squared, and the land area on the point will then be re-graded. Then we can look forward to resumption of the project in the spring when the upland improvement stage will begin.
Walgreens Project
It is certainly obvious for those that travel the gateway this project is moving ahead. The columns and beams forming the inner structure are getting into place. Quick word on the building frame as a few residents have asked questions regarding the height: to start, it is important to know that the developer initially proposed a 1-story structure; however, that design did not conform to the village’s Vision Plan, the new Zoning Code, or the Downtown Business Design Guidelines. These rules and guidelines call for a 'streetscape' design for the gateway business district, encouraging multi-story building design at proximity to the street (and discouraging strip mall look). The Planning and A&HR Boards – the statutory boards for the review of planning and building guidelines - worked hard with the applicant to assure that the design rules and guidelines were adhered to. The building's design also went through extensive changes by the A&HRB to achieve articulated frontage, traditional dark brick, fabric awnings, and a substantial re-landscaping plan to improve the parking lot area, among other enhancement features. At the end of the day, the village’s statutory review boards made the applicant invest additional time and money to construct a building that conforms to the needs, zoning laws, and business design guidelines of the village. Change is not always easy for many of us, and new structures can sometimes look daunting when the initial support beams are going up. This is especially true from the perspective that the area was pretty wide open following the demolition of the old 1-story building; as the external portion begins to come to life, this new conforming building will greatly enhance the look of the gatewaybusiness district, improving prospects for all the downtown merchants, and bringing a new business that will make a positive financial contribution to the village's long-term tax base. The developer has advised the village the business is targeting a spring 2013 opening.
Stop & Shop Project
New landscaping features have been added during this fall season which has further improved the look of this important property and business in the gateway district. Stop & Shop has advised the village it will also undertake more landscape improvements along the Walgrove Avenue border as well. These enhancements are expected to be done in the spring of 2013 as it has gotten a bit late in the season to start now. Stop & Shop is to be commended again for their improvement project, which has been an important part of the ongoing initiative to enhance the look of the gateway area, which we can all be more proud of.
The Property formerly known as ‘Rudy’s’
A unique property with spectacular river views, the owner has presented a proposal for 14 residential condominium units. The applicant is currently preparing a required storm water management plan for review by the village’s building department and engineer. The project will then go before the Planning Board for review; in addition to increasing the tax base overall, this redevelopment project also has the potential to generate significant one-time recreational fees to the village. As per village code, this proposal will ultimately require BOT approval.
New Proposals and Initiatives
Little White Church Cemetery Project
This recently announced project is moving forward. As many of you undoubtedly notice, the initial clearance phase of the project has begun; the dead and dying trees are being removed, the evasive undergrowth throughout the property and the unsightly hedgerow are also being cleared. This is all to make way for a new and beautiful open space, with the addition of a memorial monument. Soon a new fence designed with round spear point finials will be installed along the edge of the property running along Ashford Avenue; on sight meetings are planned to review layouts proposed for the memorial monument designating Dobbs Ferry’s important historical role in the American Revolution. Volunteers have also stepped forward to offer help in the work to refurbish and replace headstones. The village’s goal is to transform this neglected property into a beautiful little historical park; an open place of solitude that residents can enjoy, and a destination for visitors to experience the history of Dobbs Ferry. The costs of this project are being funded solely from the village’s segregated recreation account – which means this project will be completed at no cost to tax payers. It is exciting that this property will look a whole lot different in the spring then it does today.
Masters School Athletic and Cultural Center Building Project
The Masters School has a significant new building project on the Dobbs Ferry campus for a new Athletic & Cultural Center; this is proposed to be built roughly on the footprint of the existing (old) Strayer Hall Gym. The facility will include a new gym, indoor pool, and squash courts; it will also house new venues for the school’s arts and cultural programs, including theatre and dance. The proposal has been recommended for approval by the village’s Planning Board, which looked closely at relevant design, aesthetic, and code issues; and of course issues and/or mitigation associated with traffic and parking. Because this is an educational zoned property, the board of trustees will have ultimate site plan approval. In consideration, the village will look forward to working with the school’s administration in similar fashion to last year’s new track and field project. The Masters School really stepped-up in providing the community access to the new state-of-the-art recreational facility; similarly, the village will seek to work closely with the school for ways in which this new project can provide direct benefits to all the residents of Dobbs Ferry.
Priorities Moving Ahead into the New Year
Budget and Fiscal Planning
One of the most important priorities going forward will be the budget and fiscal planning process. Coming in 3 years ago, a specific goal of this administration was to improve the village’s budgetary process, including long-term capital planning, consolidation of departments to seek greater efficiencies and shared service opportunities, and better communication of the fiscal planning process to residents. The efforts have paid off, as Dobbs Ferry has been able to consistently deliver the lowest tax rate increases comparative to the region, and below the NY State Property Tax Cap scheme. The adoption of a long-term capital budget plan will help the village better plan to meet its equipment and capital needs into the future; the efforts of the ad hoc Citizens Budget Committee has also been extremely helpful in the process. Fiscal issues are going to be even more challenging going forward; new laws effecting health care coverage will put far greater financial stress on village expenses; as well, unfunded mandates to continue supporting the guaranteed pension plans of public union workers continues to be a huge burden on tax payers; the projected figures (short-fall) going forward are staggering for almost every city, municipality, and village in the region – and they are completely unsustainable. Unfortunately, mandate relief has yet to be a priority at the state level in Albany – where it needs to happen. This is something every tax payer should be asking (demanding!) of their representatives at higher office levels. But regardless of what Albany does (or does not do), your local village government and staff will continue to treat the budgetary process with the highest priority, to seek ways to deliver high-quality services as efficiently as possible, and to reduce the tax burden on residents.

Gould Park Youth Center 
The concept for a new youth center in Gould Park is progressing; a formal survey of the property has been completed, and from this a more detailed conceptual layout design has emerged. The plan would place the building structure in the southeast corner of the park, along Ashford Avenue and Washington. The plan would also call for an enhancement of the upper park grounds, including a more private pool area; the building facilities currently in poor condition would be upgraded.
This administration has made it a priority to seek new and improved facilities for all the residents; in particular to serve the youth of our community. As anyone with children can attest, Dobbs Ferry is in need of a place where the children of the community can go to participate in positive and fun activities; there would be no better location to provide this venue than a Youth Center at Gould Park – the largest and safest open space in the middle of the village. The ad hoc Facilities Committee is working to press ahead with this vision – developing a viable plan in design, and reaching out into the community to garner potential financial support. There are a few significant development proposals currently before the village which collectively have the potential to generate significant one-time recreation fees towards this type of project; and which could be leveraged with public and private funds to achieve the necessary financial resources to make this vision a reality. If you would like to learn more about the initiative for the new Youth Center, or if you have ideas in the area of funding, we would be happy to hear from you.
Senior’s Embassy Center Upgrade
In conjunction with the new Youth Center, another important priority is upgrading the Embassy Center, in particular to better serve the needs of the senior citizens of our communities. In conjunction with a new Youth Center, the Embassy space would then be available as a dedicated resource to the village’s senior program – which could be done at an efficient cost. There is no group more deserving of a proper place in our community then our seniors. They have given much to our community, country, and lives, and they deserve such a place to improve their quality of life. Thanks to the village’s dedicated Senior Advocates – along with the support of the Recreation Department - Dobbs Ferry has developed THE premier Senior Citizens program in all of Westchester County; and as our demographics trend older, it is only prudent that we plan for a more modern facility to meet the needs of our current and future senior citizens.

Continued Expansion of Outreach Initiative to Tax-exempt Institutions

The initiative to reach out to the village's larger tax exempt institutions has been a success, and we want to build on this success going forward. The vision was to work directly with the top levels of each institution's administration to seek projects and/or action which would increase their direct contributions to the community, in lieu of property tax; and which combined would also achieve a goal of the institution ('win-win'). The results so far include the new Mercy College and Masters School athletic facilities, which have made a huge upgrade to the village's active recreational resources. Mercy College hosted the regional Destination Imagination competition bringing thousands of visitors to the Dobbs Ferry campus (and into our community and downtown). Going forward, we will be discussing ideas with the college's business department on ideas for direct investment in the village's downtown business community; there are continuing discussions with another tax exempt for potential  to create new tennis courts for the use and benefit of residents in the community. With help from the ad hoc Facilities Committee, it will be a major priority to build on this initiative; because the results have been real (and significant), and there is even more potential for both sides (village and institutions) to mutually benefit going forward.
Looking Back over 2012
This was another productive year for Dobbs Ferry.
- Volunteerism at an all-time high … we are lucky to have so many resident volunteering their time to give back to the community, and we thank everyone who gave their time, and those who will stay involved going forward – you all make a huge difference.
- Communication with the School District has been strong … we have communicated well and worked on projects and priorities together (Gould Field upgrade, Aqueduct project); we will continue to maintain this relationship because it makes a positive difference in getting things done to benefit the whole community.
- Initiative to reach-out to tax exempt institutions pays big dividends … in particular the new Mercy College (athletic field) and The Master’s School (track & field) facilities presented huge upgrades in resources which will benefit all residents, in particular the youth. These projects were a direct result of the village’s outreach program to encourage tax exempt institutions to find ways to give back to the community in lieu of property taxes; combined, these projects represent (literally) tens-of- millions of dollars of investment which the village would never be able to do on its own. The village is grateful to Mercy College and The Masters School for working with the village in this way. We are also thankful for the work being done by the village's ad hoc Facilities Committee. There is more of this to come, including potential from other institutions to be pursued going forward.
- Private sector funding on the rise … many private sector entities stepped up this past year to make significant $ contributions to village programs and resource development. Some of the biggest donors this year included AYSO (waterfront field maintenance), Walgreens, and Half Moon Restaurant (seniors program); there were others that contributed on an anonymous basis, and others in many small ways too. The important point is the village has been proactive in reaching out to encourage public / private partnerships, which has led to more things getting done, at less expense to tax payers. This will be a continuing effort.
- Projects getting done, or moving forward, or being presented … Stop & Shop, Walgreens leading to a positive transformation of the ‘gateway’ business district; waterfront stabilization and upland improvement, new and upgraded athletic fields and facilities, review of Rivertowns Square development proposal under SEQRA, re-paving of downtown business streets, Cedar & Main, Little White Church Cemetery restoration, and more; a lot has been achieved, projects are moving forward, or before the village for review. Dobbs Ferry has been a village of action and progress, which is a good thing.
- Village agrees on new contract with Teamsters… the village was extremely pleased to agree with the Teamsters Union (DPW, Highway, and Parks workers) on a new contract. It was not easy, but at the end an agreement was achieved which was fair to both sides; most importantly one that is sustainable. The contract included increases in base pay in return for greater increases in health care contributions from all current workers; in addition, the contract requires new workers to contribute a greater share in health care premium into retirement. This was a first, and it will be an important financial benefit to the village in the long-run. The new Teamster contract also served as the basis for terms with the village’s non-Union work force, which has and will continue to be the practice of the village for purposes of fairness and consistency. Unfortunately, the village has failed to agree on a new contract with the PBA representatives for the Police Department. The village has made clear the terms agreed with the Teamsters and non-Union workers should serve equally as the basis for agreeing to terms with the Police – for reasons of fairness and in consideration of the reality of the financial environment faced. We will continue to work with the PBA representatives to achieve an acceptable result which is in everyone’s best long-term interests.
- Ferry Festa bigger than ever … this year’s annual Ferry Festa attracted a record number of vendors and visitors. Thanks to the work of volunteers this event has become a showcase and true destination event for Dobbs Ferry. The village should and will work to leverage this success to find more ways to help promote the downtown business district.
- Village website upgrade … the Village Administrator and Clerk worked hard this year to make additional improvements to the village’s website. From where things stood 3 years ago, there has been a significant improvement in the use of available tools to communicate better with residents; importantly this work has been done at little-to-no costs to tax payers. These efforts will continue as the village seeks to use available technology to enhance communication, and to market itself.
- Hurricane Sandy (and aftermath) … There have been extreme weather issues to deal with over the past 3 years, none worse than Hurricane Sandy. Luckily, no one in Dobbs Ferry was hurt, although we were all saddened that several homes did have to be condemned due to severe tree damage. While these will eventually be re-built, it is still tough. The village will be helping to arrange post assessment meetings with Con Edison officials for several of the neighborhoods that were hit hard; and some that seem to be more vulnerable to protracted power outages than other areas. The purpose of these meetings will be for residents to better understand clean-up and restoration protocol and procedures; and to assess if there might be any structural deficiencies and/or strategies which can help mitigate storm related problems going forward.
- Energy Task Force initiatives paying off … over the course of the past few years the village has set a high bar for pursuing and completing projects that conserve energy, improve the environment, and save tax payers money; new retro-fit energy systems, installation of solar panels, and carbon reduction standards have all helped to achieve significant sustainable goals; the use of external funding has allowed the village to pursue even bigger projects, which in turn bring greater scale and success. This year the Task Force demonstrated the new automated energy usage tracking system which showed how much energy the village is saving from its historical usage; the savings figures were even better than initially projected. The village will continue to pursue sustainable opportunities under the current agreed evaluation parameters, proving “what is good for the environment can also be good for business”.
- Business is improving on Main & Cedar Streets ... Dobbs Ferry's reputation as a restaurant town is growing stronger, and more storefronts are filling in; we are also aware there are additional new businesses opening shortly on Cedar Street. This is a good sign.  It has been a priority to support and promote the business environment throughout the village, which has driven many of the decisions, projects, and initiatives undertaken, including: the push to complete the Stop & Shop project and approval of Walgreens as a critical need to transform the 'gateway' business district; completion of the village's other 'gateway' projects (Livingstone/Broadway and Aqueduct/Cedar/Main Plaza projects) to better 'present' Dobbs Ferry to visitors traveling through; and 'destination' projects like the Waterfront and the Little White Church Cemetery restoration works in progress which will attract more people to our village; the successful outreach initiatives (and investments) bringing tax exempt institutions more into our community, and the formation of the Dobbs Ferry Local Development Corporation accumulating a significant fund balance (at no cost to tax payers) for appropriate downtown business investments. These are all examples of actions that will have a potentially direct positive impact on the business community. An important component of each decision and/or proposal to be made and/or reviewed includes the potential impact to the business community. For this holiday season and all other seasons please support Dobbs Ferry's business merchants as much as possible. Only we are to blame if they move away.

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 At the end of the day, what makes the difference in Dobbs Ferry are people; working together in a unified way to make things better … and no group of people do a better job than those who work for the village helping residents each and every day:
The Staff at Village Hall, always there with a smile to help residents with their issues; from the Village Administrator, Deputy Administrator and Clerk; Building Department, Courts, Treasury, and Payroll. They do a great job …
The Chief and Officers of the Dobbs Ferry Police Department; they work hard to keep us safe and secure …
The Superintendent and all Staff of the Department of Public Works, Highway, andParks; they do an incredible job keeping the village streets and parks clean, and clear in times of extreme weather, and every other day of the year. The Village wants to especially recognize Superintendent Jim Dunn. Jim will be retiring this month after serving as Superintendent of Public Works from 1990; he was also the Building and Plumbing Inspector from 1987 – 1990. For these past 25 years Jim has done an outstanding job in his work for the village. Dobbs Ferry’s DPW operations are second to none. We are so proud of the job our workers do clearing the snow, keeping the streets clear, and making things run as well as they do in Dobbs Ferry. Jim has been a very big part of this success, and the village wishes him 'all the best' as he heads into a new phase of his life …
The Head of Library and Staff, doing a tremendous job running operations and presenting great educational programs for residents of all ages …
The Head and Staff of Recreation Department, working to provide healthy recreation activities for all members of the community, young and old …
The Senior Advocates, who give so much of their time and life to help improve the quality of life for our Senior Citizens …
The Chief and all the volunteer members of the Dobbs Ferry Fire Department; as well as the members of the all-volunteer Dobbs Ferry Ambulance Corps; for their commitment to serve the community, helping to keep us safe ’24-7’.…
The Traffic and Parking Officers who never have an easy job but provide an important function for the village …

Thank You to all of the members of the village staff for all you do … making Dobbs Ferry a better place to live.

 Well, that’s it for this year-end report. As usual, we do want to hear from you; so please let us know if you have any issues, or concerns, or ideas, or would like to get involved. We will listen, and we will get back to you.

Happy Holidays to Everyone

Mayor Hartley Connett
December 2012