Locals comment on the Village of Haverstraw’s new comprehensive plan Feb. 5, 2019. Tania Savayan, firstname.lastname@example.org
HAVERSTRAW – A decade after an ambitious revitalization effort fell flat, this diverse riverside village is grappling with how to reinvent itself in a way that won’t leave its largely working class residents behind.
The catchphrase this time around is Haverstraw Forward, or Haverstraw Adelante for the two-thirds of the village whose first language is Spanish.
To move forward, the village is drafting a new comprehensive plan and waterfront revitalization plan.
“It’s a document that should be a living, breathing document,” said Mayor Michael Kohut. “A guidebook, that once completed, will hopefully guide the course of development, etc., for the village in years to come.”
At a public forum last month, about 50 residents and businessowners gathered at the Haverstraw Center, where the village Department of Youth and Family Services is headquartered, to discuss the village’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to community growth.
Attendees agreed that Haverstraw has a lot to offer, but many residents expressed concern that progress will change the very fabric of the community and turn it into something that isn’t consistent with what they value most.
Kohut said that the goal is to retain the village’s personality and inclusiveness.
“Just because you redevelop, doesn’t mean you have to force people out,” he said. “They may lose their space for the moment, but it doesn’t mean we can’t bring them back in.”
While many emphasized the diversity, history, culture and natural beauty of the village, they said progress could be threatened by high taxes due to a lawsuit by a departed energy company, drug use and a lack of mental health resources, gentrification displacing the local population, climate change affecting the riverbank and the perception of high crime and lack of safety.
Kohut said the taxes — which include state, county, town and school district portions —are most likely higher than other villages due to the level of services provided and other fiscal constraints.
Residents were excited to give their input, but want to ensure that it is incorporated into the plans.
“My concern is that whatever came out of this meeting moves ahead,” said Madeline Suchotliff, a resident of Harbors at Haverstraw who attended the planning session. “We’re committed to seeing Haverstraw move forward but we’d like to see an end game.”
January’s meeting was the first public session of six that will be held throughout the year as the village drafts the new plans. Other meetings will address transportation, land use, the downtown, sustainability, climate change and the waterfront.
“The people who were here are a diverse cross-section of the village,” the mayor said. “They clearly had thought about this as the process went on, expressed their feelings on a bunch of issues I wouldn’t have thought of. I think it’s a good first step. It’s going to help us with that comprehensive plan to move us forward.”
This is the first time in more than 25 years the village is updating its comprehensive plan, but it’s not the first time the village has attempted to move forward.
Kohut said the current plan, which largely created or codified zoning, was not particularly forward thinking. He wants to ensure that the new plan considers the village’s potential and builds a sustainable future, both economically and environmentally.
“This one needs to … look towards the future as opposed to looking at the past,” he said. “We can’t be stagnant.”
Harbors at Haverstraw, luxury apartments and condominiums built by Ginsburg Development Companies, was initially conceived as a three-phase plan for the waterfront but was stopped after the first phase due to the recession.
Along with Harbors, Ginsburg had planned to develop the site of the former Empire State Chair Factory, and the Haverstraw-Ossining Ferry landing, which lies between those two parcels. The Ferry is operated by NY Waterway during morning commuter hours and ferries about 500 people daily.
After the housing crash, Ginsburg decided to stop development and the village took over ownership of the 9-acre former chair factory parcel.
The village’s preliminary plans for that parcel, shared with The Journal News/lohud last year, emphasizes recreation and amenities for the public instead of housing. The site would be accessible from Main Street, which would drive people through the downtown district.
“There’s so much potential in the Village of Haverstraw that something needs to be done to bring people and bring new things to this incredible place,” said Nick Lucas, owner of Lucas Candies, which has been on Main Street for 123 years. “We’ve been waiting a long time.”
Lucas, speaking at his store Tuesday, said he’d like to see more businesses and reasons for visitors to come to the downtown and waterfront areas.
“It’s a beautiful downtown,” he said. “People should be able to walk around and experience it. And the riverfront is absolutely gorgeous. So the more people that come down to see new businesses and experience what’s here, the better.”
The village finished a $5 million downtown streetscaping project last year, adding a traffic light at Broadway and Main Street, fixing sidewalks and roads, improving lighting and putting in trees, parking meters, benches and garbage cans.
Lucas said he was concerned about ensuring that whatever plans the village creates, it unifies the village.
“I want to make sure that all the new plans they do, they incorporate the Main Street that’s here and not make a separate entity so that we end up with a more revitalized part and a part that still needs work. I want it all to go together.”
He said that although Harbors at Haverstraw brought more people to Haverstraw, it remains separate from the rest of the village.
“They’re almost their own community over there and there’s not a lot of downtown interaction between the residents of the Harbors,” Lucas said. “The townhouses and condos are beautiful, but they’re a little separated from the actual village. I want something that brings it all together and makes one unified village.”
Unifying the village and the waterfront is one of the goals, as well as unifying the waterfront with other villages and towns along the river. The village is part of the Rockland Riverfronts Communities Council, which works on building up all the Hudson River communities in a sustainable way for the future.
“We’re already talking amongst all the river villages … how we can do things more together, how we can coordinate things, how we may have shared problems or share strengths that we can capitalize on,” Kohut said.
Haverstraw Comprehensive Advisory Committee meeting John Meore, email@example.com
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities
The Village of Haverstraw, where about 12,000 people call home, stretches over two square miles between the Hudson River and High Tor State Park. Because of its small geographical size and limited open space, any growth has to be creative.
Kohut said the village needs to consider redeveloping existing parcels or considering vertical expansion.
“Unlike a lot of communities, we’re very limited in our size,” he said. “With the exception of some of the property we own, there’s no place else to go. We’re hemmed in by the mountain and the state park system on one side and the river on the other side. We have to figure out how we can keep growing in a small footprint.”
But the things that limit the village are also some of its greatest strengths, residents said during January’s public meeting.
“I was attracted to its natural beauty and by its feeling of a community,” Alan Hewitt, a recent transplant to the village from Brooklyn, said at the planning forum in January. “I love the village make-up. This sort of working-class village. And it’s close to the city so I can get to work and I can get out of the city.”
Residents specifically listed the following as the biggest strengths of the village:
- The Haverstraw Center, a community center with programs for families and youth
- The natural beauty in the village, including the parks, river and mountain
- The diverse community
- The history and architecture
- The support for local businesses and restaurants
But despite all these positive aspects, there are parts of the village that residents said were problematic:
- High taxes and rent
- Negative public perception and image
- Need for more lighting and overnight parking
- Lack of recreation and athletic fields
- Lack of retail diversity
- No coffee shop, public gym or other meeting places
- Lack of communication within the village between officials and residents
- Lack of job opportunities so people who live in the village can also work there
Those weaknesses were also what residents described as opportunities. The suggestions ranged from creating better access to and developing the waterfront to addressing the needs of the village’s families and youth, creating more opportunities for arts and culture, diversify retail, improve recreation and create more cross-cultural interaction.
Voices of the village
- Alma Narbaez, the administrator of the Neighborhood Discount 99 cent store on Main Street said while working in the store Tuesday that change could be a good thing and she has been happy with improvements the village has made thus far. But there is still more to be done. “I would love to see places for kids. That’s the main thing around here.” She said lower taxes would also be nice, but Haverstraw’s strength lies in the power of the community. “People know each other. People get along. And a lot of people have been here for many years.”
- Jeanmaria Galietta, a drug and alcohol counselor who has been with the village for 20 years, said at the public forum she would like to see better health care facilities for residents as well as more affordable housing and recreation for the youth of the village.
- Jackie Watson, a resident for 47 years, said she was surprised how much she learned about the village when she attended the public forum with her grand-niece. Her biggest concern was affordable housing for the aging population. “What worries me the most, I wish there could be better housing for senior citizens. Being that the taxes are so high, most of the senior citizens can’t afford the houses once they reach that age, and they don’t have enough apartments.
- Ramon Ramos, who has lived in the village since he was a child, said he would like to see more local businesses so residents wouldn’t have “to go someplace else to bring other people money.” He was especially concerned about redevelopment causing prices to skyrocket and driving out the local population, especially low-income immigrants. He said, while walking along Main Street on Tuesday, village officials do not always effectively communicate with this population, who would be most affected. “The people who they want to kick out, those are the people who brought the value,” he said. “It is the culture. Without the people from here, you’re not going to have the culture of this town.”
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