By PHIL NOBILE
After months of bickering between the members of the Village of Mamaroneck Board of Trustees and the volunteer Harbor Coastal Zone Management Commission, a majority vote on the board put to rest an issue of authority and procedure between the two.
The move gives the board broader power than ever before and possibly now opens the village up to development, which critics say is not in the village’s best interests.
In a 3-1 vote, Democratic Trustee Ilissa Miller was absent, the trustees adopted an amendment to the village code reducing the harbor coastal commission’s role to advisory when it comes to determining potential development’s consistency with village code and the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.
The decision was met with concerns of overreach and misunderstanding.
“There seems to be a far stronger and more substantial reaching from the Board of Trustees in the current language of this amendment,” Clark Neuringer, a current harbor coastal commission member, said. “It means the trustees are interested in eliminating a very long-running and successful checks and balances system in the village.”
The amendment adoption comes as the latest update in the ongoing saga to update the village’s LWRP, the
encompassing waterfront document that guides and regulates development and preservation of the waterfronts. The document is currently undergoing review by the trustees before a December 2014 state deadline.
The trustees’ decision to adopt the amendment reducing harbor coastal to advisory centers on a January opinion from the New York Department of State, which rendered the commission’s authority unconstitutional.
The harbor coastal commission is responsible for determining whether or not proposed development projects are consistent with the LWRP. Before the amendment to the village code passed, the commission could halt a proposed project if it determined inconsistency.
Harbor coastal’s power was in question before the amendment changed the code, though, as some critics, like former Democratic Trustee John Hofstetter, said even if the harbor coastal commission rendered a determination of inconsistency on a project, the Board of Trustees could override that determination if it was prepared to back-up its decision to the state, which is a partner in the LWRP.
With respect to changing the village code, William Sharp, a principal attorney for the Department of State, said the code “impermissibly delegates legislative authority to the Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission,” adding the village should amend the debated portion of the code “to address the problems associated with the consistency review.”
The opinion from Sharp and the state agency, requested by Village Manager Richard Slingerland, said it wasn’t the commission’s fault they were operating unconstitutionally, adding the commission’s advice on policies over the decades “has proven valuable.”
Trustee Leon Potok, a Democrat, was the lone vote against adopting the authority change. He cited overreach by the Board of Trustees and broader power as potential issues going forward.
“I’m interested in fixing the problem, not reaching beyond it,” Potok said. “My concern is, by making [the law] broader than it used to be, we create potential problems for [the board]. I’d rather have people who are trained with making consistency determinations to make those determinations and not open the door for a board that does not have experiences.”
Potok said a change needed to be made regarding the constitutionality issues recognized by the Department of State, but the adopted amendment goes further than what was asked because it allows the board to bypass the harbor coastal commission’s determinations and recommendations altogether.
“If we want to put up a 20-foot fence at Harbor Island Park that obstructs the view of the park and is deemed not to be consistent to the LWRP [by the harbor coastal commission], the Board of Trustees can decide to not accept the recommendation,” Potok said.
Members of the community—ranging from former harbor coastal commission members to active ones—agreed with Potok, adding their concerns with a process that has been in use since the 1980s and original implementation of the LWRP changing by the adopted amendment.
“I can’t understand why the board wants to take this responsibility on themselves and also emasculate the HCZM at the same time and put them in a position of being advisory rather than having authority,” Carl Alterman, a former harbor coastal commission chairman, said. “This board can’t develop the knowledge the HCZMC develops over time with their special training to make the kind of decisions as necessary to the benefit of the village, and as a village resident and someone who’s served this village, I’m really embarrassed by what has happened.”
Mayor Norman Rosenblum, a Republican, refuted the former chairman’s comments.
“I’m not embarrassed at all,” the mayor said. “I think what we did was the due diligence and mandate of this village, particularly as elected officials with advice of council.”
Trustee Andres Bermudez Hallstrom, a Democrat, echoed the mayor’s comments and attempted to clarify misconceptions about the amendment.
“There seems to be a misconception that the board will be doing consistency determinations for all their actions; the law that we passed allows the board to, but first it mandates that we send it to the HCZMC for an advisory opinion,” Bermudez Hallstrom said. “There’s nothing saying that the board has to reconsider the advisory opinion. There’s nothing to make me think that we will ever override the HCZMC.”
If no situation were to arise in which the trustees would need to override the coastal commission, Neuringer questioned why the code amendment was necessary.
“If [Bermudez-Hallstrom] is a sitting trustee and cannot imagine a situation where he’d override a decision by the HCZMC, then why change the law in the first place? He’s making the exact point that it’s not needed,” Neuringer said.
Cindy Goldstein, the current chairwoman of the Harbor Coastal Zone Management Commission, declined to comment on the amendment.