Murtagh Reconsidering Support for SFC Downtown Redevelopment Project

eHezi Archives 26 Comments

Murtagh_John Proposal to Gut City Landmarks Protection Leads Councilman to Rethink Support for Redevelopment  

Yonkers, NY — Yonkers City Councilman John Murtagh (R-5) said today that a proposal to rewrite the City’s Landmarks Preservation law has led him to reassess his support for the current proposal to redevelop downtown Yonkers. 

The so-called “SFC” project which would include the redevelopment of parcels on both the Yonkers waterfront and its downtown is presently before the City Council for approval. 

Murtagh, acknowledging that up to this point he had been strongly inclined to support the project, said that the current Mayoral proposal to limit the role of the Landmarks Board in redevelopment and to give the Planning Board an automatic veto over all Landmarks Board actions has led him to question his earlier support.   

“Up to this point I have been able to support this project confident that a process was firmly in place to protect the many historical and significant sites throughout downtown Yonkers” Murtagh said. “After reviewing the proposal that is before the Charter Commission, I no longer have that confidence.” 

Currently, if the Landmarks Board proposes a site for Landmarking, the Board then refers the issue to the City Council which has the ultimate say. Under the proposal currently before the Charter Commission a proposal from the Landmarks Board would first go to the Planning Board which could veto the proposal before it ever reached the City Council for consideration thereby completely removing the City Council from the decision making process. 

“Previously I was comfortable supporting the current development proposal with the knowledge that the Landmarks Board and the Council would have the ability to protect historic and significant structures from the wrecking ball” Murtagh said. “Under the current proposal we would lose that ability. I am simply not comfortable signing off on a project that would give the Administration and developers sole discretion to knock down every building they choose”.  Murtagh concluded: “Unlike surrounding communities such as White Plains, Yonkers is still fortunate to have many older buildings that can be an integral part of a revitalized downtown. I now have to think long and hard about supporting this project when there is a risk that downtown Yonkers will simply become another stretch of soulless big box and chain stores”.

Councilman John  Murtagh's address to the Charter Revision Commission on August 12, 2009:

 Members of the Commission, 

I need not tell you where I stand on this very misguided proposal. My record in favor of historic preservation is a long one.  

Nevertheless, I do feel a record must be made.  

The current proposal is wrong on many levels. 

In the first place it is, frankly, an insult and an affront to the good, dedicated and knowledgeable members of our Landmarks Board everyone of them a volunteer serving for no other reason than a love for and a concern for this City and its many and varied neighborhoods. 

Secondly, it is nothing but a bald attempt to usurp the power of the City Council, to place the Planning Board in the role of exercising veto power over decisions of the Landmarks Board before they ever reach the desks of those of us elected to represent the very neighborhoods impacted. 

Thirdly, I believe this proposal is an ill-conceived knee jerk response to the Council’s vote to create the Phillipse Manor Historic District. That single vote, taken with the unanimous support of the Landmarks Board is, to my knowledge, the first time that this or any Landmarks Board in Yonkers or any City Council has exercised the Landmarking power in a manner that directly impacted a significant development project…and what was the immediate reaction…in effect, if you can’t beat them, kill them.  In this case, effectively kill the Landmarks Board…and yes, it simply cannot be ignored that the Chairman of this commission is also the President of the property owner most impacted by the creation of the Phillipse Manor District.  I say that not as some ad-hominem attack but merely as a statement of fact. I might add that since the landmarking, Greyston has appeared to work in good faith to achieve a workable compromise at that sit. Nevertheless, one can’t but suspect a bit of payback in this proposal. 

Fourth, as a procedural matter, I believe some clarification is necessary.  You sit as a “Charter” revision commission.  Yet, the Landmarks ordinance and the statute which creates and enables the Landmarks Board is not in our Charter, but in our Code. You are not a “Code” revision commission. Indeed, the Code, to my knowledge, is the jurisdiction of the elected City Council and not this appointed Board. 

These are specific criticisms, but the real issue is more fundamental and much broader…and that is: What direction will we take as a City as we redevelop? Unlike many of our neighbors – White Plains and Stamford Connecticut come to mind- we still have many of our old, historic and significant buildings and neighborhoods intact. When those cities remade there downtowns years and even decades ago, they did so with a wrecking ball and a bulldozer and no appreciation for the treasures they were leveling. For reasons political and otherwise, Yonkers missed those building booms of decades past. But as a result, we now have the opportunity to do better, to appreciate our history, our heritage and the fabric of our communities and to weave something better from that fabric by combining the best of the old and the new.  We have a simple philosophical choice.  Do we celebrate our heritage and preserve our history or do we bulldoze that history, blacktop that heritage and create yet another cookie cutter city? Do we recognize the extraordinary value of what we have and make it an integral part of a revitalized Yonkers or do we simply create acres more of glass, steel and concrete indistinguishable from New Roc City, the City Center in White Plains or Summer Street in Stamford?      

Let me close tonight by quoting someone who said it all long ago and better than me. Jane Jacobs was no expert, no architect or engineer, no City Planner or developer.  She was a housewife on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village fifty years ago when Robert Moses proposed bulldozing most of the West Village including Washington Square Park to build a highway across Manhattan from New Jersey to Long Island. Jane Jacobs a simple housewife took Moses on and won.  Later, in her seminal book, the Death and Life of the American City here is what she said:  

Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them. By old buildings I mean not museum-piece old buildings, not old buildings in an excellent and expensive state of rehabilitation–although these make fine ingredients–but also a good lot of plain, ordinary old buildings…. 
If a city area has only new buildings, the enterprises that can exist there are automatically limited to those that can support the high costs of new construction. These high costs of occupying new buildings may be levied in the form of an owner’s interest and amortization payments on the capital costs of the construct
ion. However the costs are paid off, they have to be paid off. And for this reason, enterprises that support the cost of new construction must be capable of paying a relatively high overhead–high in comparison to that necessarily required by old buildings. To support such high overheads, the enterprises must be either (a) high profit or (b) well subsidized. 
If you look about, you will see that only operations that are well established, high-turnover, standardized or heavily subsidized can afford, commonly, to carry the costs of new construction. Chain stores, chain restaurants and banks go into new construction. But neighborhood bars, foreign restaurants and small shops go into older buildings. . . . Well-subsidized opera and art museums often go into new buildings. But the unformalized feeders of the arts–studios, galleries, stores for musical instruments and art supplies, backrooms where the low earning power of a seat and a table can absorb uneconomic discussions–these go into old buildings. Perhaps more significant, hundreds of ordinary enterprises, necessary to the safety and public life of streets and neighborhoods, and appreciated for their convenience and personal quality, can make out successfully in old buildings, but are inexorably slain by the high overhead of new construction. 
As for really new ideas of any kind–no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be–there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.

eHeziMurtagh Reconsidering Support for SFC Downtown Redevelopment Project

Comments 26

  1. sorry 11:28, the facts do not support your position.
    The Greyston project was approved by the Planning Board and in front of the City Council when an application was filed to Landmark the properties in that area.
    The properties were eventually landmarked and the brain surgeons on the City Council suggested that the developer work with the Landmarks Board to come up to design they could live with. Greyston eventually changed the design from preserving the front and 8ft back to the front plus 35ft back.
    So Landmarks stopped a project that had been approved by the Planning Board – no spin. Just facts.
    The City Council is just a pompous bunch of idoits who want to micromanage. Why? The same Landmarks Board voted to landmark 87 Nepperhan. The City Council decided against that landmarking.
    What was the difference, the Greyston project is in empty, non-functioning pace and 87 Nepperhan is a fully functional City building that includes the building department and PVB. If anything should have been landmarked it should have been the 87 Nepperhan building. I don’t think either of them should be but the hollow shrill from the City Council on this proposal is simply not plausible.

  2. They don’t have any power over planning idiot. No power at all. Then again you wouldn’t know anything that the administration didn’t want you to know.

  3. ever see how the landmarks board deliberates? They posture and whine and vent superior air.
    What, you spent many thousands to keep things in a historical appearance? Not enough for them, no, they want you to sit back, and watch them all preen and deliberate and scowl at you. Then you must spend many more thousands and come to another meeting for the same drama. These people want you to know they are important, and you are not. More preening, more sighs, more whines and postulations.
    These people are not elected, not proficient in things historic but they posture a lot like they are experts.
    Please limit their power over planning. They can’t plan their way out of a paper bag.

  4. to U.R.Damage
    “Thank you Goldman’m for standing up for your rights against this most corrupt of local governments. As for Dane stay down on your knees where you belong, bitch. ”
    You have no class.Crawl back under your rock,asshole.

  5. The Charter should be putting 2 year terms on the ballot. Remember it was this “chosen” board who changed term limits to 4 years which has been a disaster for the homeowners.

  6. it makes me sick, for people like amicone who spend our tax dollars like drunken sailor, thank god for term limits, too much waste in city gov’t,
    channel 78

  7. Hey dane, you are living in the wrong country. In America we can live anywhere, have businesses anywhere, we can even do business anywhere. If it were not for the likes of the Goldman’s and all of the others from outside Yonkers who have businesses here, we all would be paying higher taxes.
    Thank you Goldman’m for standing up for your rights against this most corrupt of local governments. As for Dane stay down on your knees where you belong, bitch.

  8. Murtagh reconsiders …
    … isn’t this this is the same guy who double-crossed Barbato when she was lined up (and had his support) for Majority Leader a few years back?
    Let’s get it straight, this proposal should to the people of Yonkers (not just us bloggers) and certainly not to the “grandstanding” City Council. Let us start by changing the process to stop every Councilmember from acting like a cheesy extortionist.
    Murtaugh says he is off — causing people to scurry around, to support his future endeavors. Isn’t that why Annabi is still under federal investigation.
    I have a great idea – let that bunch of City Council members vote to prevent fundraising from people that do business or have projects in front of Yonkers.
    Let’s see then who is standing with righteous indignation on that proposal doing a press conference stating they can no longer accept campaign contributions from those same people they rail against.
    They do not even need a referendum. They can do it today.
    They will not because they are hypocrites. Especially Murtaugh.

  9. DB, Who cares what he get or doesnt get elected to, SFC was bad for Yonkers in the short & long term. We need a new plan for post-Amicone and hopefully not Spano term

  10. Dear Councilman Murtagh,
    I would like to compliment you on your comments in the Yonkers Tribune “Regarding Landmarks Preservation”. Very well said, very well expressed.
    Martin Goldman
    C.H. Martin
    Getty Square Yonkers

  11. SFC has always been a bad idea. Give it all away to some outside guy and let them control the entire downtown for an open ended time frame…The Mayor made terrible deals to get them interested in downtown and didn’t have the true support he needed to make it happen.
    If you go back thru everything, every meeting, ever document and really look through the smoke & mirrors of this deal you will see that SFC was a figment of his imagination with a ton of projects that may or may not have really happened ie. Daylighting. SFC nor the City ever commited to do that it was mentioned & drawn into the nice pictures they showed us all
    I don’t know what wakes up the greater masses of people in this town but I am hoping and outright lie by our supposed leader would do so. They lied to all of the businesses to pioneer the waterfront then left them alll there to ROT.
    Amicone, Pinto, Sansone, and the rest of the bunch are collecting millions of OUR dollars in salaries and they have never earned $1.00 of it. Yonkers is now a national JOKE with this crappy vision he touted as the next best thing.
    When places like Baltimore & Hoboken see the light and go for it with a PLAN, its embarrassing to say we live in Prime RE, Yonkers and we Fucked it allll up. The good will is gone, the money is alll gone but the lies keep on comming. If you people think SFC will ever happen now, keep dreaming.
    Mayor Amicone has turned back the clock on Yonkers at least 20 years. The few steps forward we did take was a “head fake”, they implied new value to the downtown do that the old land owners would sell off their parcells and then Amicones people could control it for “whenever” they felt like doing something about OR in 20 years when that Mayor runs the same scam he just did. FAKE VALUE of crap!

  12. The mayor is a prisoner of his own wishes, lost in a dream world of his own making. All of his court jesters encouraging this delusional state of mind. In the words of the song, The Party’s over, it’s time to call it a day. “They’ve burst your pretty balloon and taken the moon away.”
    “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining out.”
    Judge Judy

  13. You go John, this is the first thing I can truly say of yours that I agree with you on…and Im republican. Do it for spite now. The Mayor is a slouch. We are paying through the nose in bad repuatation and money for his crappy vision of a blind man. This guy wouldn;t know how to get a bi-partisan ice cream shop in business let alone an entire city. His plan dies when martinelli died as CP. Mayor Phoney is not even a republican, he is a communist cheat with a bunch of YES men losers like Pinto and Sansone. He deserves to just crumble and let someone else take the credit. Too bad Id never vote for you as mayor.!!

  14. Let’s keep the crap, you are full of crap. No one is saying the the waterfront should not have been fixed up. The walkways and the park are beautiful. What I was objecting to are the ugly, cheap Collins bldgs. I think that was the wrong choice for that spot. Nothing that high should be on the west side of the tracks. It is pathetic that you cannot appreciate the Hudson River with the majestic backdrop of the Palisades. If you have ever been to Germany, and I doubt it, you would know that it compares with the Rhine. Just keep wallowing in your ignorance.

  15. The Planning Board is a lot more professional and a lot less political than the Landmarks Board.
    Yonkers Politics continues to sully the name of a city that could be great (transit, infrastructure, diversity, proximity).
    Instead, we’re getting exactly what we deserve since we keep electing these idiots (corruption, high taxes, failing schools, fiscal mismanagement).

  16. It is like your insurance company telling the doctor what you need. The city is corrupt. keep much power out of there hands as possible. The landmark board are professionals that do not owe the mayor (most of them), lets keep it that way. If amiclown gets his way the city will be even worse and him and his cronies will continually screw the taxpayers. This as stated above is just another power play.

  17. Why couldn’t there be a 3 votes on the approval of landmarking. The Landmarks Preservation Board, the Planning Board
    and the City Council. In order to be landmarked there would have to be a quorum vote. That is, two of the three entities, would have to approve.

  18. Ruined our majestic views???
    You must be kidding. Who was viewing? The views from the train station were of a vacant and shabby parking lot, crumbling piers and garbage. There was no scenic walkway as there is now. There were no new sidewalks as there is now. Your solution is to leave these “Historic” buildings” alone. What history is there in dilapidated and boarded up buildings in downtown yonkers. What history is there in no new development and stagnant tax revenues?
    Fine, lets leave our crumbling buildings inadaquate infrastructure and increasing tax bills alone.
    Looks like I will be heading out of Yonkers soon as I for one do not plan to stay in a crumbling city with no future.
    How about smart development you say.
    Is it smart to build lots of park land and low rise housing all along the warerfront NO!
    What you have is a project that is too expensive to build for profit. Low rise buildings with new sidewalks, roads, sewers and parks would cost millions per unit. Who would move in to these new buildings surrounded by blight and crime? Can;t pay for police without tax revenue so lets keep our new million dollar low rise development safe by raising taxes by 100% on existing homeowners.
    Great ideas guys. The future is to keep the ugly, unsafe, no revenue generating, crime infested existing structures in the name of Historic preservation.
    Bye Bye Yonkers

  19. I agree with John. It will look like Mable Hill. It’s bad enough we have ruined our majestic views with those ugly Collins bldgs. Let’s stop and take a deep breath before we do any more destruction.

  20. So you were going to vote on this along?
    What did the Mayor promise you in return?
    It’s Yonkers so it had to be some tit for tat.

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