A group of Yorktown residents, who are concerned about development in town and want to give residents a voice in deciding what gets built, have launched a new organization, Yorktown Smart Growth.
"Most families are very busy and do not have time to devote to such sometimes complicated issues, but it doesn't mean they don't care or do not have an opinion," said Jennie Sunshine, referring to the 'average' resident. "Yorktown Smart Growth can be sort of, the liaison between the public and future development in our town."
The organization would publicize any planning application that could impact the overall quality of life in Yorktown and it would also provide a forum for public debate, one of the members Jonathan Nettelfield said.
"The 20th century model of development with its reliance on cheap energy and plenty of land, with the resulting sprawl, is being shown to have its costs which can be seen in traffic density, the decay of the downtown -- count the number of empty stores in Yorktown Heights -- and unrelenting strip malls, many of which are also decaying," Nettelfield said.
The group's goal is to promote the kind of growth that will benefit the long-term quality of life in Yorktown, members said.
Nettelfield said all taxpayers are paying the price of decades of what he calls poor planning decisions since in the past planners have been allowed to concentrate on residential development.
"Such unbalanced development produces additional children for the school system without the business base to help pay those taxes for the added school population," Nettelfield said. "Yorktown's taxes, two-thirds of which are for the school system, are so high compared to surrounding towns because Yorktown does not have the commercial base of our surrounding towns. So no, we don't have enough business development."
He said the group is influenced by the "new urbanism" movement, which promotes walkable neighborhoods that contain a range of housing and job types.
Members said the organization is not anti-development, just opposed to certain projects like the on Route 202 (near the Taconic Parkway) citing traffic congestion and putting competitive pressure on the area business owners in town as some of the reasons for their concerns.
"To this end we believe that the recently adopted Comprehensive Plan, on which the town invested tens of thousands of dollars and nearly a decade to produce, provides a valid road map for the future of Yorktown and should be followed as far as possible," Nettelfield said.
Nettelfield said members of the organization are against bringing big box stores into town.
"There's absolutely nothing wrong with Costco as a business, but everything wrong with putting one where it is proposed," he said. "Again it is so sad to see a long-term planning vision for Yorktown tripped at the very first hurdle because of an apparent short-term gain. Putting a category-killer, big box store that sells just about everything for less will snuff out any chance for the kind of mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly, urban hamlet to even get started, let alone thrive. Then there are all the other reasons like traffic, environmental impact, the big box swindle.
Yorktown Chamber of Commerce president Joe Visconti said he believes Costco "makes perfect sense" for Yorktown because of the proposed road condition improvements, creation of 140 permanent jobs and hundreds of new construction jobs, as well as the creation and connection to the sewer district. In addition he said the project would generate $750,000 of new tax revenue and give back to the community one percent of the gross sales.
Another development the organization is opposed to is Croton Overlook, a proposed age-restricted luxury housing. However, Nettelfield said the group of concerned residents supports the "building of clustered housing, age restricted or otherwise, but where people can walk to services, not out in the wilderness which will simply generate more traffic."
Some of the organization's goals are to achieve better planning decisions, offer ways for the public to become involved in the planning process of new projects, provide information on public hearings and make it accessible to the residents.
Sunshine said she hopes they would be able to attract business to Yorktown as well and to make the town "more diverse and complete." Some ideas, for example, are a medium-priced quality hotel, or a drive through Chipotle or different unique restaurants, she said.
"The possibilities are exciting and endless," Sunshine said.
Yorktown Smart Growth offers commentary on three major projects currently being planned for Yorktown: Croton Overlook, Crompond Crossing and the proposed Costco store. For more information, check out their website.