by Jen Laird White, Nyack Mayor
There are four candidates running for the position of trustee in the Village of Nyack, two current Village Board members and two other people. The primary election is Tuesday, September 12 and, if you are a registered Democrat, I urge you to find the time to vote. There are no Republicans running in Nyack, so the winners of the Democratic Primary will almost certainly be elected in November. In other words, if you want to have a voice in picking your leaders for the next two years, this is your best chance!
My colleagues on the Village Board, Marie Lorenzini and Elijah Reichlin-Melnick, are smart, thoughtful students of government. They are concerned that all opinions be heard, that practical thought is applied to idealistic vision. They understand that balanced budgets and careful planning lead to low taxes and a strong community. Their commitment to Nyack is unparalleled. Both have served in many capacities in both local and town government, they work with “not for profits” and volunteer for programs that protect our waterfront, our trees, our quality of life. Elijah was born here, Marie, has lived here for more than three decades and they both have devoted much time and energy to making Nyack thrive. Marie has served on the Village Board for 12 years; Elijah has served on the Village Board since April, when I appointed him to fill the vacant position created when Doug Foster left the Board. I cannot recommend them highly enough.
The two candidates running against my colleagues seem to want to undo all of the work that has been accomplished over the last eight years. The effects of their policies would be to take Nyack back to what it looked like a decade ago, and as someone who came into office to find a $700,000 deficit, annual tax increases as high as 16%, a downtown with many empty storefronts and headlines that featured bar fights, zombie properties, and a village with many blighted and unattractive properties and streets in need of paving. This does not feel good.
The Village Board teams of the last eight years have done much good for the Village of Nyack. We have recovered from that $700,000 deficit to have a 0% percent tax increase for the last two years, we have paved 10% of our streets annually, something that had not happened in decades. We have made sure that the headlines in the village have become largely about awesome events and positive change, not bar fights and empty store fronts. Indeed, our store fronts are full, our abandoned houses have been bought and restored, our downtown is prettier than it has been in a long time and, right now, we have $4.5 million in infrastructure projects underway. Memorial Park is flourishing, the marina has been rebuilt following Hurricane Sandy and BarTaco is coming to our waterfront. We are leaders in sustainability and affordable housing practices in not just the county but in NY State. We have received more than $10 million in grant funding for various projects and we are on a roll. It’s not the time to throw away that progress.
Marie and Elijah’s opponents are highly critical of any development project happening in our village. Although they insist that they don’t oppose all development, I have yet to see one that they haven’t criticized. What they don’t acknowledge is that the residential development that is currently underway is mostly happening on privately owned properties that have been abandoned, and/or vacant eyesores. New development of these parcels will make them attractive, functioning places in Nyack, add to the tax base and increase the number of residents who can support our downtown businesses with their spending.
All proposed developments must go through a rigorous land use process that reviews their compliance with village code, studies traffic and ensures that any impacts on neighboring properties or village infrastructure is mitigated. Claims that the village has opened floodgates to uncontrolled development, either to benefit developers or line our own pockets, are completely and totally untrue. We, as a nation, are living with the consequences of electing people who do not believe that facts are important and that making things up is an acceptable component of running for office. I can not disagree more. Facts matter, always, but particularly when you serve in government.
One of the candidates running against Marie and Elijah says he wants to expand hours of paid parking downtown, so that instead of paying for parking from 11a-6p, you would have to pay between 9a-8p. This will leave village residents with no periods of free parking in the morning to run their errands and will damage the restaurants who saw a healthy increase in business once parking hours were reduced in the evening. It would make parking during the bar hours free, so that the bar patrons no longer share in the overwhelming expenses created by their late night activities. We have worked aggressively to reduce the dependence on parking for revenue and find a kinder gentler approach to ticketing. This candidate’s proposal will expand hours, expand ticket writing and make parking more unfriendly to visitors and residents alike.
The other candidate wants the Village Board to take firm control over the Nyack Housing Authority. By design, to protect the operation of our public housing from political interference, the Nyack Housing Authority is an independent entity. Though the mayor appoints the members of the housing authority, the Village Board does not have any jurisdiction over day to day management or hiring and firing practices. Understanding this kind of basic fact is important when one serves in government.
Both candidates claim fears of gentrification and rising rents. And of course, these are things that should and do concern us all. However, neither seem to understand two key facts. First, all else being equal, in basic economic terms, adding housing stock reduces rents. Second, the most recent project built in Nyack was entirely low income, a project championed by the Nyack Village Board. And the demand is clear: there were 500 applicants for 33 units. Nyack has continued to expand the opportunity for new affordable housing to be built in the village. Nyack has the largest per capita percentage of affordable and low income housing in New York State. Nyack’s commitment to economic diversity is unmatched.
It should also be noted that, for the first time in Nyack’s history, we have the opportunity to have a grant fund that will help those who can not afford to either do necessary repairs to their homes or can not afford a down payment to purchase their first home. This fund will be paid into by people who are building projects that are more than ten units. If the builder does not elect to add the affordable units required by our code, the option to pay into this fund does exist. The candidates running have painted this as a developer buyout or suggested it will be used as some kind of sleazy slush fund by village government. It is anything but: it is a way to have developers fund the purchase of new properties for those who would not otherwise be able to buy a home and for seniors and others to make necessary repairs and maintain their existing homes. And the management of the fund will be by the Rockland Housing Action Coalition, a respected local non-profit organization which created the recent low-income housing on Main Street.
It should also be noted that, to date, builders have chosen to build affordable units and the village will see, on top of the 33 low income units on Main Street, an addition of at least twenty new affordable units. It should also be noted that during the period when the requirement that new construction contain 20% affordable units, something the two candidates running are seeking, zero affordable units were built in the village. The 20% requirement was well intentioned, but it was simply not delivering what was intended.
This election is a decision between taking the positive change of the last eight years—low taxes, businesses flourishing, a nice waterfront, infrastructure repairs — and building on it or going back to where we were a decade ago. I have said to many, Google ‘Nyack 2007.’ The stories were not flattering. Sure, there are always things that can be done better and every day has a new challenge for improvement. But my colleagues know what it takes to get things done even when you are committed to reducing the painful tax burden we all bear, working within a realistic budget and with a community that has lots of different opinions about what should be happening.
Elijah Reichlin–Melnick and Marie Lorenzini have served Nyack for decades in a variety of ways. They understand the complexity of government, they understand that any good idea must be carefully thought out and they understand that this is a village of many different viewpoints and ideas and that all residents must be heard, not just those who shout the loudest.
Jen Laird White’s third term as mayor of the Village of Nyack, NY expires on Dec 31, 2017. She is not seeking reelection.
See also: Closing Arguments: Nyack Democratic Trustee Candidates, 9/10/2017