by Barrett Seaman
Fourteen years after Irvington last compiled a long-term Comprehensive Plan, village officials have launched a new one. They started in mid-February with a “traveling road show” in which the leaders of five working groups worked a room of about 30 residents seated at round tables in Village Hall in an effort to explain the parameters of the project and to recruit volunteers.
Moving from table to table in 10-minute time slots, five teams consisting of a trustee and a volunteer member of one of the village regulatory bodies sought to inspire fresh thinking on issues ranging from what sort of development should be encouraged along the Broadway corridor to where to move the DPW garage, to how to attract the right kind of businesses to Main Street. One participant likened the exercise to “speed dating.”
Indeed, the intention is to move the process forward at a pretty fair clip. Where the 2003 Comprehensive Plan took 18 months to complete, Irvington hopes to complete its update in half that time, before the end of 2017.
Both Mayor Brian Smith and the project’s consultant, David Smith of the firm Planning & Development Advisors, stressed that “no decisions have been made. This is an opportunity for the community to think about where it wants to go and how to get there.”
To provide a structure for the project, there will be five working groups:
includes revitalizing the business district; re-thinking lower Main Street and its relation to the Bridge Street area; whether to re-site the Department of Public Works garage and what to put in its place; whether to permit fast food franchises, like Starbucks (heretofore banned), in the village.
includes updating multi-family housing zoning; re-visiting environmental restrictions on steep slopes, wetlands, etc.; whether to permit multi-story parking structures that have been banned since 2003.
includes protecting local landmarks; encouraging adaptive re-use of significant structures; adjusting code restrictions to strike a balance between protecting the character of the village and making rules too onerous to live with.
includes how to adjust zoning so as to encourage desirable development, especially of the large remaining blocks of land that are concentrated along both the northern and southern gateways into the village.
includes plans for using solar, geothermal and other alternative energy sources, protection against the effects of climate change.
In describing these groups, team leaders acknowledged that some issues fall into more than one category. The question of whether to allow a parking structure pertains both to the Downtown group and to the Historic Irvington group.
It is also recognized that several key issues require involvement of players beyond the purview of the village. Any plan to reconfigure traffic along Broadway, for example, would have to involve New York State, since Route 9 is a state road. Steps to protect against storm surges on the Hudson River would necessitate working with Metro North Railroad, the state and possibly the Army Corps of Engineers.
At the end of the February 15 session, participants were encouraged to sign onto one or another of the working groups and to plan for an ambitious timetable. The Village hopes to assign people to a working group in early March. Working on their own schedules from there, the groups are expected to come up with recommendations by mid-April. From then into early summer, the group leaders will sort through it all, collating and prioritizing.
In mid-September, if all goes according to plan, the village will hold a State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), required by state law, of all recommendations and wrap up the process in November.
How much of what makes it into the plan comes to fruition remains to be seen—years from now. A review of the 2003 plan shows success on a number of goals but not all. That Comprehensive Plan focused heavily on controlling land use and preserving open space, and many of the protections, like zoning to encourage cluster housing, were eventually codified. The 2003 goal of creating an Historic District has been largely met, but the tough business of determining what is a historic building “guideline” and what is a requirement will still be on the 2017 to-do list. Another unmet ambition was the creation of a footbridge across the Metro North tracks that would make it easier to get to the Senior Center and Scenic Hudson Park.