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  • Mamaroneck Observer

Putting Pieces Together: She Tried to Tell Them

By Kathy Savolt -

 

The spectacle of the overflow crowd and overall confusion at the meeting on Monday January 30th was certainly predictable.  Anyone with any experience in planning knows that the first rule for any large transformative project, especially in government, is to build support among stakeholders.*

 

As we reported last week, the Hunter Lot project did not have any structure to it and there was no attempt to build overall community support.  See article HERE.  Even before the Hunter Lot project was discussed in public by the Board of Trustees (BOT), one Trustee, Nora Lucas, tried her best to convince her colleagues what they needed to do.

 

At the April 24, 2023 meeting, the BOT voted 5-0 to change the zoning of the Hunter lot from R-1 to C-2 to allow for what then Mayor Tom Murphy described as a two-tiered lot, owned and operated by the Village with a residential building on top of the lot.  The building would have market rate and below market rate housing.  The discussion that evening was contentious as the BOT had held a public hearing on the zoning change on March 27th and closed the hearing the same night.  Several members of the public, mostly residents, were at the April 24th meeting and allowed to speak even though the official hearing was closed.  During these discussions, Lucas said that the BOT was using the pre-pandemic 2019 Moratorium Study as a basis for their conclusion that the infrastructure of the Village could handle this project.  See Study HERE (scroll down to NV5 Moratorium Study and Appendices)

 

It was at this meeting that Lucas initially raised the issue of building community support; a concept that may not have been clearly understood by her colleagues.  Also at this meeting, Murphy explained that this zoning change was the first step and that a Request for Proposals (RFP) would be “put out.”  There was no further discussion of project steps or further direction to staff at this meeting.

 

At the next opportunity – May 8th - Lucas added an item to form an Affordable Housing Task Force to the work session agenda with the following explanation:

 

“Establishment of an Affordable Housing Task Force to explore and recommend strategies that will increase the availability of housing options in the Village of Mamaroneck as well as educate us and the community about both the need for affordable housing in our community, what the term affordable housing really means and encompasses, and why village residents should care about affordable housing.”

 

That work session was adjourned before this item could be discussed but at the May 22nd work session, Lucas was able to present her idea.  In a meeting chaired by Trustee Lou Young due to then Mayor Murphy’s absence, Lucas explained her suggestion and linked it to Governor Hochul’s agenda to create more affordable housing in New York State.  Lucas described what Dobbs Ferry was doing to get ahead of the governor’s next plan and suggested Mamaroneck do the same and develop a housing plan.  Her idea was received positively by the other members of the BOT who agreed to move forward with a resolution establishing an ad hoc Task Force.

 

Everything changed at the June 12th work session when Murphy chaired the meeting.  The draft resolution was on the agenda for the regular meeting and was also on the work session agenda which is not normal procedure.  From the beginning of the discussion, when Young told Murphy the BOT had “discussed it (the idea of a Task Force) briefly,” it was obvious something had changed.  Trustee Yizar-Reid advocated using the Mamaroneck Coalition for Affordable Housing (MCAH) in lieu of a new Task Force and Lucas tried to explain community buy in and stated Village residents have experience with affordable housing and we should tap into that.  (The Washingtonville Housing Alliance is a founder of MCAH which includes many people outside the Village.) 

 

Murphy, Yizar-Reid, and Rawlings continued to pepper Lucas with questions.  Trustee Young supported getting additional advice but didn’t want it to delay anything.  He appeared to understand the need to educate the community – “as long as it doesn’t slow anything down,” without specifying what was in jeopardy of being slowed down.  There appeared to be agreement that the Village needed a plan.  There was no discussion about issuing an RFP.

 

At the regular meeting later that evening, Murphy began the discussion by saying the timing for a Task Force was premature and the BOT should develop a housing plan or an outline for one.  Lucas argued that it was not practical for the BOT due to the Open Meetings Law and Murphy countered that the professional staff could develop an outline.  Lucas offered to work with the Planning Director, Greg Culter.  The issue was held for the next work session when it was on the agenda but not discussed.

 

The July 10th work session introduced the RFP and Lucas’ proposal for a Task Force was also on the agenda. Lucas tried again with a revised resolution and faced questions and push back.  Murphy again discussed MCAH and Lucas tried and tried to get her fellow board members to understand the need for community support.  There was agreement the Village needed a plan, but the majority thought paid staff should develop it.  Culter again mentioned the 2019 Moratorium Study that might need to be updated.  Any connection to the upcoming project seemed to be lost.

 

When asked during the preparation of this article whether she knew that the staff had been working on an RFP while she was urging building community support, Lucas replied, “no.”

 

With the benefit of hindsight, it appears that Lucas was not on the same page as the rest of the BOT who may or may not have had information that she did not.  She urged the development of an overall plan for affordable housing and getting community support while the rest of the BOT was on track to move forward with the Hunter Lot project.

 

Which brings us back to the cancelled meeting of January 29th when everyone, including the BOT, realized they need a plan.

 

*Stakeholders are defined as anyone with “a stake” in the project.  With this project, Lucas explains that stakeholders would be residents, business owners, Village staff, members of the BOT – the entire community. (7/10 meeting at 46:15)

 

Watch the meetings here:

Starts at 24:29 (indexed, Item 1C)

Starts at 40:13. (indexed, Item 1A)



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