October 3, 2013 On Thursday, October 3, 2013, the Town of North Castle sent an e-mail notice: "School Street will be closed from Glendale Avenue to Cox Avenue from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm Thursday Oct. 3 to facilitate tree removal."
Con Edison's crews are working their way through the "Armonk Loop" to cut down almost 1,000 trees. Their goal is to prevent future power failures by removing trees that could fall on power lines during storms like those we had last year. The proposed "Armonk Loop" extends several miles, from School Street north to Route 22, east to Bedford-Banksville Road,and to the end of Long Pond Road at the intersection of Windmill Road.
Last year, North Castle was hit especially hard during Super Storm Sandy. Trees were down all over town. Over 90 percent of the homes in our area were without power, some for up to 14 days.
School Street resident Neal Baumann said he is concerned with the tree removal because residents were not informed of the project. Tree-cutting in the the Town's right of way does not require a homeowner's permission.
But Con Edison is asking private home owners for permission to tag their trees that are a danger to the power lines. Con Edison will cut and remove these trees at no cost to the property owner. The project is funded by Con Edison and was budgeted a year ago according to a source who asked not to be identified.
It is cheaper for Con Ed to cut the trees in advance in order to prevent them from falling on power lines then it is to bring in crews from out of state, including National Guardsman, to clean up after damage caused by severe storms.
But many residents were not informed of Con Ed's tree removal project until a representative of the subcontracted tree removal company knocked on their door. Trees on private property cannot be removed unless a homeowner signs a release allowing it. At the citizen's comment period of the September 25 Town Board meeting, Baumann, said that Con Edison had tagged trees on School Street to be removed. "I was not aware of this," Baumann said, "and I'm all for clearing the wires, but this seems excessive and will give a dramatically different look to School Street."
Armonk is known for its picturesque streets lined with trees, that are especially beautiful this time of year during the fall foliage.
"If a yes was given to work together with the utility company," said Evelyn Bauer during the comment period of the September 25 Town Board meeting, "should it not be proposed first to the townspeople to consider if it will change the character of the streets?"
Supervisor Howard Arden said he met with Con Edison two to three weeks ago to discuss the tree-cutting project. Town Administrator Joan Goldberg said Con Edison has a detailed plan to harden the wires, replace the poles and clear-cut the trees that can affect the power lines.
Town Attorney Roland Baroni says Con Ed has easements where the lines are in the right-of-way on state and local roads, but needs permission from private property owners to cut other tress. If residents are concerned, the Town Board can lobby for the residents. "Con Ed does not have complete legal jurisdiction," added Baroni. Baroni has advised and the Town Board has agreed that a meeting with Con Edison needs to be set up to learn the extent of what the utility is proposing.
North Castle is the first town to receive such tree-cutting, says Supervisor Howard Arden. Power will soon be much more reliable. Arden says Con Edison's project includes installing 163 new polls, and installing smart switches and shorter runs that will be smaller sections. "We are the first community to receive this. It may be inconvenient, but it will have great benefits. We are the town in the most need."
On September 27, Supervisor Arden followed up with a town-wide email that said, "Con Ed is embarking on a $5 million dollar project to install new power lines that back up our primary lines along with Smart Switch technology to prevent power outages. I am happy to report that North Castle is the first town to receive this innovative circuitry."
Furthermore, "The plan includes: 1. Protecting the primary lines from falling trees and similar damage; 2. Adding 'second' lines so that in the event the first primary line is disabled, Con Ed can tap off the redundant line to provide power; 3. Increasing cable sizes as well as pole sizes that can withstand wind gusts up to 110 mph."
September 11, 2013 Supervisor Howard Arden is considering a plan to connect wireless transmitter towers on town-owned buildings in order to provide wifi, or wireless internet service, for all of downtown Armonk. The plan calls for connecting existing transmitters in a triangular loop of Armonk at the Library, Town Hall and the Recreation Center. Arden also said that there might be a placement in Armonk Square.
The cost and location of the equipment depend on the signal strength and the potential need to boost different locations to strengthen the signals. At the Town Board's Work Session on September 4, 2013, Arden said that the initial cost for equipment and installation in the downtown area is estimated at $20,000 to $23,000. He said that he has approached some businesses willing to provide part of the funding, and that additional funds could potentially come from the Town's recreation funds. Further information is needed to get an accurate monthly projected cost. The monthly cost might be around $200 depending on the amount of bandwidth used. The bandwidth for wifi usage depends on the number of users online at one time. The usage will vary as more people are online downtown during the weekends, power outages, and at community events.
Town Administrator Joan Goldberg said that at a previous meeting she asked an IT consultant what would happen if the local businesses stop paying for their own connections. The concern is that if local businesses stop paying for their local internet connections and run their businesses off the town's wifi, more bandwidth would be used and this would drive up the cost. Goldberg said she will talk with other towns that have wifi in place and see how it works with their local businesses.
"We have a great downtown developing and wifi would encourage people to spend time outside on benches and in picnic areas," Arden noted. "It shows our town being on the forefront of technology." The Town of North Castle is currently an Optimum customer and Arden said he has investigated using Optimum as the wireless server, but users have to be Optimum customers to pick up the Optimum hotspot signals.
Councilman Diane Di Donoto Roth commented “The lifestyle we want to create is someone can go into the park, have lunch, and work while in the park. We want to create a friendly atmosphere for businesses, children and residents. It's another addition to our amenities that we offer above other towns that makes us more desirable."
Plans for secondary wifi towers located at Business Park and Lombardi Park are under consideration.
Town Board Considers Many Capital Improvements
February 15, 2013 Supervisor Howard Arden is excited about the financial position the town is in. "We are the envy of other towns," says Arden. In the past, Arden says the town was not run efficiently. "We spent everything we had. I am running the town more like a business, by getting requests for proposals (RFPs) for all professional services."
The Town's different accounting books must be reconciled soon, Town Administrator Joan Goldberg says it will be within 30 days of the Town Board's work session held on February 6, 2013. After the reconciliation, an audit will take place to determine how much money there is in the town's accounts. This will determine the amount available for capital improvements.
The Town Comptroller, Faith Berland, is working to reestablish a triple A bond rating. Arden says the rating is not so much for a better interest rate on bonds at this time, because interest rates are low, but is an important indication of the town's financial position. Arden is comfortable with the percentage of the funds that have been allocated to the General Fund this year. Any surplus in the budget will go towards capital improvements.
At the February 6 Town Board's work session, Goldberg said they are inspecting all of the roofs of the town's buildings. The inspection will be done by a roof specialist who will assess the conditions and make recommendations for alterations and or replacement in various locations. Goldberg said a rough estimate of the cost of the inspection will be $30,000. She is hoping to incorporate the subsequent roof work into a multi-year capital plan. The assessment will include an analysis of the integrity and condition of all of the town's structures, as well as the condition of the roofs. This will be part of a review of all capital improvements, Goldberg said at the Town Board's work session on February 6, 2013. The inspection will include a review of the Town Annex, the library, the Hergenhan Recreation Center, the Lombardi Park buildings, the North White Plains Community Center and the Water Garage.
Goldberg said the highway department needs two Mack trucks with snowplows, at an approximate cost of $400,000. This purchase should not be approved right away, said Goldberg, nor should any of the other projects discussed at the work session. Instead, the projects are works in progress that will come before the Town Board for separate approvals. The total estimate for the capital projects presented was nearly $1,000,000.
Councilman John Cronin is the liaison for the town's Recreation Advisory Board. Cronin said we have over $300,000 in reserves for park improvements. There are also some recreation fees coming in from development projects, including the 136-bed assistant living facility in Business Park that will contribute over $130,000. Cronin says, "Families move to the town for the schools, parks and what the town looks like, but often this has been ignored. Now we have the opportunity to get things done." Cronin would like to see a variety of recreation projects move forward. He is working with the County Executive's Office to restore and relocate the Miller House to another location in North Castle. "The county moves slowly, but there are plans to relocate the building to a 17-acre park between Clove Road and Fountain Park in North White Plains. The location is fantastic. It will be a great park," Cronin says. "Better then it being used as a dump [for town's organic refuse] for over ten years or more."
The plan calls for part of the Clove Road Community Park Building to become a welcoming center for school children and visitors to the Miller House, which will be maintained as a historical site with a rich history as Washington's headquarters during the Battle of White Plains. The Recreation Advisory Board is also considering how to reconfigure the Community Park building for use by the town's approximately 100 summer camp kids. The town uses trailers for its summer camp program at a cost of about $12,000 per year.
Administrator Goldberg also says the town is considering purchasing and installing "a generator to provide uninterrupted power for a second warming/charging center during power outages" at the Community Park. The estimated cost is $25,000, with the possibility to qualify for grant funding.
Cronin said the Eagle Scouts are planning to work on putting a fishing dock in Winkler Farm Park on Bedford-Banksville Road. Cronin said the town has allocated about $30,000 to Winkler Farm Park improvements. The plans call for a playground that will be paid for by recreation fees. The tennis courts also need work and the parking lot needs to be resurfaced.
At the work session, Town Attorney Roland Baroni said that recreation fees can be used for capital improvements and upgrades in the town's parks. Recreation fees cannot be used for repair and replacements, added Baroni.
Work will also be done in the corner lot at Bedford Road and Maple Avenue in downtown Armonk. The area is now closed to the public because of the many trees that are down from Super Storm Sandy. At the February 13 Town Board Meeting, the Town Board approved hiring a company to clean up the area and remove the damaged trees, the cost of which will be fully refunded by funds from FEMA. Discussions have been on going about the use of the property for a dog park. Councilman Diane Roth is working with a possible donor for the costs of building a dog park in the area, said Cronin. He added that the Recreation Board is 100 percent behind this. But two issues need to be worked out: the property needs to be cleared, and the fire horn needs to be relocated.
Arden said the corner lot is such a mess that you really can't see everything that has to be done until the lot is cleaned up. He recommends that the tree stumps be cut and ground down to an inch or two below ground level, otherwise people will be tripping over the stumps.
At the February 13 Town Board meeting, the Town Board approved spending $8,000 on an analysis of a schematic design for turf at Ball Field #1 in Armonk Community Park, where the Armonk Outdoor Art Show is held.
The Director of Planning, Adam Kaufman, says there is a serious problem on School Street, a high priority for the Highway Department because the School Street Bridge ends up being closed when it floods. "We know it will be an expensive fix," said Kaufman. "The first step is to conduct a study to find out exactly what we need to do." The study alone is estimated to cost $30,000, which Goldberg says is a ballpark figure.
Another improvement recommended at the work session by Kaufman is to resurface the sidewalk along Maple Avenue from Main Street to the new entrance on Maple Avenue to Armonk Square. Kaufman says that Armonk Square will build a new sidewalk along their entire side of Main Street, as well as at the frontage on Maple Avenue, and the sidewalk will match the sidewalk on the other side of Main Street. But the connection from Main Street to the Maple Avenue entrance is not part of the Armonk Square frontage. The prior plan for Armonk Square was that five buildings would have a continuous sidewalk, but the sidewalk completion was eliminated when the Planning Board approved Armonk Square's plan for a new supermarket. The estimated cost to build the connecting sidewalk is somewhere between $50,000 to $70,000. The town would like to coordinate the sidewalk extension while Armonk Square is working on their sections of the sidewalk.
Kaufman says a plan has been developed for the Old Route 22 street scape to have lampposts and sidewalks extending from Whippoorwill Hills to Route 22. The town has been implementing the plan parcel by parcel as projects come in front of the Planning Board. This will be included before the New York Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) wetland permit application concerning the frontage at the old Armonk bowling alley. The DEP is planning to build a parking lot there. This will be discussed further at a meeting that Arden said will take place soon and this will become an example of what can be done on the street scape along Old Route 22. But Kaufman says there are parts of Old Route 22 that do not have any commercial tenants, and the Town Board has to decide how to implement the improvements for these areas.
Councilman Roth said she would like to see a standard style for curbing and sidewalks throughout the downtown, which now has a mix of sidewalks and curbing made of asphalt, concrete and Belgian blocks.
Goldberg said the Highway Department needs two more trucks with snowplows. They have estimated the cost to be $400,000. But Baroni said that other towns that he has worked with have been successful in paying a $2,500 membership fee to join the General Service Administration in New York State that gives access to vehicle auctions. The Superintendent in Somers has bought eight or nine heavy duty vehicles says Baroni. The program sells perfect equipment that may be painted with camouflage and you have to outfit them with plows. But they sell for an unbelievable amount of money: only $3,000 or $4,000. You go down to Pennsylvania and literally drive the trucks back, they are in perfect condition added Baroni.
Administrator Goldberg says there are a variety of software updates needed throughout the town's departments. The Police Department is considering updating software packages at an estimated cost of $40,000. The tax receiver has asked for funds for new software enabling the department to take credit cards online that will automatically upload to the existing tax software. Goldberg says $9,500 is in the 2013 budget to purchase the software and the first year's maintenance, and that it will be a great time saver. Additional upgrades for software were discussed for an initial $4,500, and a yearly $1,000 for maintenance, that will allow all departments (up to a 15-user module) to request purchase orders electronically rather than submitting paper purchase orders that have to be hand delivered. The town has also discussed upgrading the town's internet server in order to have every location, including the Hergenhan Recreation Center, come from one server. But Supervisor Arden would like to investigate whether there are further savings to be found here.
The capital improvements discussed at the February 6 work session did not include the $2.1 million that the town has borrowed and allocated for road improvements. Councilman Mike Schiliro says the plan calls for yearly road repairs. Goldberg says an analysis of the town's road repair is taking place and Arden says he is looking forward to the results.
The town's brush pick-up is an ongoing issue. Councilman Roth has asked, as a liaison to the Recycling Committee, what is the best way for the town to pick up brush: Should the highway department continue to grind the brush on the streets as they have been doing, or should the brush be picked up and brought to a central location to be chipped? Should Suburban Carting be considered to pick up the brush? A public hearing has been scheduled for February 27 to consider regulations concerning the preparing of brush and yard waste in appropriately sized bundles as requested by the Highway Department. Kaufman says the specifications of the new legislation include: one pile per lot, at the maximum size of 4' high X 12' wide X 30' long; fill bags shall weigh no more than 40 pounds and should not contain household debris. The legislation will also say that the brush pick-up shall be at curbside by the Monday of pick-up week but no earlier that than one week prior to the scheduled pick-up as listed in the North Castle Brush Pick Up Schedule. The regular brush pick-up seasons are from March 1 to May 31 and from September 1 through November 30, or otherwise by appointment by calling the Highway Department.
In the past, the Recreation Department has said that young campers' bus transportation to a swimming pool shall not exceed two miles. But the department is considering expanding the distance to seven miles to allow for fairer and more competitive bids. The town is required to take the lowest responsible bid, said Town Attorney Roland Baroni, and bus trips are paid for by the mile. Councilman Cronin said that there are four or five potential clubs that fall within the two mile radius. Councilman Roth was concerned about the kids spending too much time on the bus. Further analysis of bids and distances will be made to determine the best way for young campers to enjoy the use of nearby pools.
Supervisor Howard Arden Discusses Best Business Practices for North Castle in 2013
January 8, 2013 Supervisor Howard Arden's first year in office has been focused on cutting costs for North Castle taxpayers. He discussed his agenda for the second half of his two-year term, while sharing his feeling that North Castle is a great town.
Arden plans to take action based on best business practices performed every day. In doing so, he wants the other town board members more involved with initiating new projects. He said the North Castle Town Board plans to assign its members topics to review either by subject, such as financial or real estate, or by territory, such as Banksville's commercial area. Currently, some towns divide the responsibilities among the governing board by topic, while others divide it by territory; still, some are similar to North Castle's current operational procedures, in that they react to the issues as they arise.
Arden said that not even one of his decisions in the past year has been politically motivated. Still, he is willing to throw his hat into the political arena to generate additional income from a hotel tax to fund the town's infrastructure improvements. Arden explained that the hotel tax legislation will have a better opportunity of support in Albany, given that both our state senator and assemblyman are Democrats; as a Republican, Arden will work both sides for support of the proposal. To implement a hotel tax, New York State requires towns to submit legislation sponsored by their state senator and county assemblyman representatives. Arden will seek support from our newly elected State Senator George Latimer and Assemblyman of the 89th District David Buckwald . While traveling around the country, Arden said he has learned that every town adds on a hotel tax. He is proposing a $3 per day tax that, for now, will affect the only hotel in town, La Quinta. He also feels that since we are so close to the airport, we might see another hotel in town in the future.
Arden will focus on two big issues this year: the hotel tax and a solution following the aftermath of super storm Sandy. He wants to devise a plan to bury the town's electrical power lines. The options to address the power outages due to downed trees, he said, is whether to clear-cut the trees, (which he says won't happen), or to bury the power lines. The initial reaction to the plan to bury the lines, Arden said, is that the project is too big, too expensive and will not bear fruit, since it is a long term project of more than 10 years. But he cited the success of underground power lines in Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, and pointed out that several newer neighborhoods in Armonk, such as Wrights Mill, Sands Mill and Leisure Farm, have underground electrical wires.
Arden has not met with Con Edison about the plan yet, but he has spoken with Congresswoman Nita Lowey and neighboring towns, including Bedford Village, who has called for a study on the topic. "It is a large project and is not going to happen overnight," said Arden. The project is in its early stages and a commission has to be formed for a review. The best plan is to work with surrounding towns, since all the power lines are connected. Arden suggested that the cost be covered by a three-percent tax increase from electrical bills of Con Ed's 5,000 North Castle customers. This measure, he said, will cover 85% of the cost, and the utility company should cover the remaining 15% over a 15-year period. Given the weather-related outages, Con Ed's maintenance cost for the current electrical power lines must be astronomical. Arden said the first stage would be to bury the trunk lines so at least 30% to 40% of the town wouldn’t lose power in the future; the secondary or tertiary lines should be buried after the first stage.
Arden said there is room for reorganization in our town government and that improvements will be considered department by department. The rolling process of replacing aged-out technology of the town's 50 computers necessitated the purchase of 30 new computers. Arden stressed that the police department is the largest cost center for North Castle. There is a new structure in the department: Police Chief D'Angelo has retired, and one of the three lieutenants will be appointed chief of police, leaving only two lieutenants. There may be additional savings, but Arden is not certain, and emphasized that they need to negotiate the department' s expired contract. The Town Administrator, Joan Goldberg, manages the departments. Arden said he would like to see a cutback in the police department's overtime costs.
The Town Board has bid all town-contractual professional services: legal, engineer, wetlands, labor relations and prosecutor. Arden said the 2013 budget numbers demonstrate that he was correct regarding the savings of about $100,000; all the expenses decreased, with the exception of the costs of labor relations.
As far as Banksville’s commercial zoning is concerned, Arden said there is some unfinished business. The existing uses have been grandfathered in, but he would like to limit the commercial uses that border residential properties. The commercial plan in the town's comprehensive plan, said Arden, is obsolete; the use of the town's commercial property has changed, especially in the reduction of office space. The rezoning must be carried out and then amendments can be made to the comprehensive plan, Arden added.
Some other ongoing issues in town that need immediate attention are Mariani Garden's change of use within the nursery business zoning (this application is in question as they must review New York State's liquor law that restricts the sale of liquor within 200 feet from an entryway of a church). Other important matters include Windmill's water usage, the Brynwood Country Club development, Westchester County affordable housing and the relocation of the historical Miller House.
According to Arden, Windmill homeowners have several issues to deal with, concerning the Water District No 2: Does the infrastructure need to be redone? How does that happen? What is the ongoing maintenance? Do they want the redeveloped Brynwood Club to buy in as a continued water user of the district?
Arden said the town has discussed buying the Armonk United Methodist Church's educational wing (which it sold to the church in 1964) to fulfill the town’s obligations for Westchester County's affordable housing. The educational wing has two floors of six to eight classrooms of approximately 5,000 square feet. The discussion involves subdividing simultaneous ownership of the building with the town, who would sell it to Westchester County for affordable housing. The Hudson Valley Fellowship, who is leasing the church section of the building now, is interested in purchasing the church. The town has had the property appraised at $1.2 million and is waiting to hear back from the owners, who are members of the Methodist Conference in New York City, said Arden. He added that the building is landmarked, which restricts the outside reconstruction and parking area.
Locally, 2013 is an election year, and we would expect to see politicians vying for the public's support. Arden is optimistic about the town's economy in 2013.The town will see additional tax revenues from Armonk Square, Engel Bermans' assisted living project in Armonk’s Business Park and the CVS Pharmacy.
Arden believes the plan for the CVS Pharmacy is the best it can be. But they are waiting until the Article 78 lawsuit is resolved to rebuild the A&P Supermarket. He is hopeful that the lawsuit, filed by Concerned Citizens of Armonk, (which has cost the town $10,000 so far in legal fees), should be thrown out.