by Barrett Seaman –
Excerpts from an interview with Dobbs Ferry Mayor Robert McLoughlin. The full interview will be aired throughout February on Indy Talks, The Hudson Independent’s monthly cable show, seen on Optimum channel 75 and Fios channel 34. The full interview will also be available at: thehudsonindependent.com and The Hudson’ Independent’s Facebook.
THI: You were elected in November 2017, a little more than a year ago. Are you having fun yet?
RMc: I’m having fun. It’s a little bit different from what I had originally thought, having not been involved in politics before, so I’m a new kid on the block. But it’s been great. We have a very involved board of trustees and a lot of people in the village—former officials, mayors and trustees, a lot of volunteers–people who want to work together. So, it’s been a great experience.
THI: Thirty years ago, Dobbs Ferry was considered something less than its neighbors, but that’s changed. The New York Times wrote that that was in part due to the school system’s adoption of the International Baccalaureate program, which drew a different kind of buyer into the market. You’re in the real estate business. Have you noticed that?
RMc: Oh yes, it’s made a huge difference. A school system basically can sell a community, as we all know in real estate. Our superintendent of schools, Lisa Brady, has done an absolutely terrific job, as have the principals in Springhurst (the lower school), the middle school and the high school. I raised my kids in Dobbs schools and they were in the Baccalaureate program. It’s a wonderful program. A lot of those credits are transferable to colleges. It makes a big difference.
THI: Is tourism one of your goals?
RMc: It is. And we have a Downtown Improvement Committee, which… started only about six months ago, but they’re already doing things. We have a meeting coming up in February (about) the wires downtown, burying the wires.
THI: That’s an expensive proposition, isn’t it?
RMc: It’s a very expensive proposition—not only for the village but for the property owners as well. ….But the owners have to pay for the connection coming in, so that’s another expense that comes into play. …We also have a Budget and Finance Committee that’s going to look at the numbers to see if it’s worthwhile. Infrastructure is one of the things we have to address. Since the great recession, there hasn’t been a lot of money to maintain infrastructure—not just in Dobbs Ferry but all over. The community center had to be closed down because structurally it was not sound. The fire department needed new equipment, and for that equipment, we needed to strengthen the floor to support that equipment. We have to put up a new pool; this was the last year the Health Department would let us keep the old one open. You have the roads. You have the sewers that are breaking down more and more often. Infrastructure is also digital. You have to communicate, to get information out very quickly.
THI: You also have had a lot of development in the village. Rivertowns Square, along the Saw Mill River Parkway, is a big development with a lot of condominiums, a hotel, restaurants—a big increase in the tax base anyway. You also have a lot of apartments going up downtown On the other hand, you have a lot of property owned by non-profits; I think you said 40 percent? So that’s a real challenge.
RMc: Rivertowns Square is a huge development. It’s right along the Saw Mill River Parkway at Lawrence Street. (There are a) lot of great restaurants, shopping, a Hilton hotel, a movie theater, a supermarket (Brooklyn Market.) So, it’s a big development that’s helped us out as far as revenue (is concerned). It’s good for the village. We have a lot more people coming into Dobbs because of that development. At the same time, there is development going on within downtown, which always causes disruption. We have three main buildings: Oceana Building, which is absolutely beautiful inside. We also have 66-68 Main Street. That’s just about finished now. We also have 78 Main Street.
We have new restaurants opening up. We just had The Rare Bit open—another David DiBari restaurant. He’s in partnership with Scott Broccoli. Scott was born and raised in Dobbs Ferry, then went to the West Coast and opened up restaurants out there, and now he’s back in Dobbs Ferry on Cedar Street. We will also have, at 78 Main Street on the first floor, a Coffee Labs which is opening soon—hugely popular in Tarrytown. They’ve partnered with a craft beer company, so basically they’ve got the whole day covered, pretty much 24 hours.
THI: One of the things that comes with growth is a demand for parking, which is a big issue in all of the rivertowns. What are you doing about parking?
RMc: As you say, all of the rivertowns have that problem. Everybody wants to park in front of the restaurant. Unfortunately, there are only two or three spots in front of the restaurant; everybody else is going to have to walk a little bit. So, we have a few different things. Right behind Village Hall is a parking lot that can be used in the evening. Then we have, along the Aqueduct, additional parking. And then we’ve just completed, at the bottom of Cedar, just a half a block from Main Street, basically 100 spots there. …We also have waterfront parking when we have a big event, where we actually bus people up.
One of the things we’re looking at… is putting in place a jitney service that maybe we start out in Dobbs and then expand it to the other rivertowns. Things are changing so rapidly, technology-wise. The day that I can sit in the back seat of the car where no one’s in the front seat…is not that far away. Things like that we have to take advantage of.
THI: Another challenge that comes with growth is the increase in traffic. You see that already at Rivertowns Square with the traffic backed up on the Saw Mill River Parkway at rush hour. Is there any way to mitigate that?
RMc: They have a new owner there now: Regency. I think they own 425, 430 of these malls across the country. We’ve asked them to look at anything they can do. Rush hour is rush hour. It is a lot better now than it was when they were doing the construction. The traffic has improved. We’re going to continue to work on it.
THI: What else are you working on?
RMc: When I came into office, I had five things I wanted to do. Number one was safety, pedestrians, kids going to school. We’ve implemented quite a few things. In front of the high school on Broadway was never made a school zone, so the speed limit there was 30. That means that people go…
RMc: It’s a problem, especially when kids are coming to and from school. Then you have the parents dropping kids off and multiple cars going in different directions in the same area with kids crossing the streets. But working together with the school, with the PTSA Safe Routes, with our deputy mayor, Donna Cassell—we also had state senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, Westchester Legislator Mary Jane Shimsky and George (Latimer) get involved. And we finally got the state in one room with all of us and they actually made the change. That’s everybody pushing together.
The second thing is financial strength. Even before the (statewide) two-percent tax cap came into effect, we had put that in place in Dobbs Ferry. We’ve done it even longer than the state had mandated. …The thing about the two-percent tax cap is that when you are raising salaries by two and a half (percent) you have to find revenue somewhere else.
THI: On the subject of taxes, you had the Greenburgh reassessment, followed by the removal of all but 10 percent of the state and local tax deductions. Has that had an impact on Dobbs Ferry?
RMc: It has had an impact—on the real estate business itself. Properties of $750,000 to a million on up are sitting for a while. It’s had a big impact. I’m not sure how long that’s going to be in place. What that could present us with are grievances to have taxes reduced, which would be a reduction in revenue for us. We’re already seeing that in next year’s budget.
THI: One more question on traffic: there is a move to have a bicycle lane all the way from Ossining down through Hastings that will put a squeeze on an already limited amount of room on Broadway. What kind of an impact would that have on Dobbs Ferry?
RMc: We had a strong team…look at that. We were completely supportive and gave them the input on it. We’d like to see that implemented at some point in the future. The issue is taking spaces off Broadway, which could be problematic for the downtowns. We’re going to take a look at it in the future.
THI: I’m going to put you on the spot: you’ve got all these new restaurants opening up in Dobbs Ferry. What’s your favorite?
RMc: I grew up with three brothers. I made sure I got to the table early. I enjoy all of the restaurants in Dobbs. We have some really great restaurants—like Sam’s that has been there for years and years, Doubleday’s for a burger and a beer, watching a game, Scaramella’s up by the (Ashford Avenue) bridge, and you have the newer ones, like The Cookery, The Rare Bit. I do them all.
THI: Do you have the same aversion to multi-story parking that the other villages seem to have?
RMc: You know, we’ve looked at that behind Village Hall. But here’s the thing: the cost of that, per parking space, is very, very high. And when you do a multi-story, you take spaces away from the (space) you’re building on. And, of course, you’re blocking views. And you’re building it mainly for nighttime, and you’re still going to have to walk to the restaurant and it’s going to be dark, so you’re going to be spending a lot of money, so I’m not sure how much benefit you’re going to get out of it. We looked at it about seven or eight years ago, and even then, it was $11 or $12 million per story. It was a lot.
My next newsletter is going to address distracted driving—people talking on the phone, texting…it’s a problem. When you look at the number, how many accidents… We also have an early warning system, so that when the police make a decision to shut down the schools, maybe because of the weather…(school superintendent) Lisa Brady has a system, sort of a reverse 911, where she can notify everybody in the village—not only the public schools but the private schools, nurseries, day care centers, so that we all know almost immediately.
Infrastructure, communications: we talked about making everything transparent. Facebook, Twitter—some of the other mayors said in order to get information out, you have to be on Twitter, so we do that.