Responsible Governing in Planning the Village’s Future

It’s time to open up the Comprehensive Plan. That’s a collaborative process involving the whole community—residents, volunteer members of boards and committees, and our partners in the Schools and Town government. It means learning from experts in our community and our region. Now is the time for Ossining to work together to determine the blueprint for the next decade and beyond. Advocating for a short-sighted strategy that pits one group against another, is divisive.

During election season it may be tempting to make political statements to pander to a particular group of voters. But regardless of campaign rhetoric, as elected officials, we must exhibit the maturity needed to act responsibly on behalf of the people we serve.

“Moratorium” is a dramatic term that elicits strong reactions. To prospective developers, it can send a clear message that they should look to invest elsewhere. To residents concerned about school funding, it may be perceived as a welcome solution to overcrowded classrooms.

A municipality’s ability to temporarily suspend a property owner’s right to build or obtain development approvals is understandably limited. In reality, it is one strategy that may be beneficial as part of a well-conceived approach to planning and zoning updates.

Zoning MapIronically, in recent years, the Town of Ossining did implement a moratorium. Yet since that ended, Town developments have moved forward that have drawn significant concern from local residents particularly regarding the additional burden on our school district. Most folks aren’t aware of whether a given development is happening in the Village, or across an invisible border in the Unincorporated Town of Ossining.

My opponent’s claim that we “seem to be moving forward at a reckless pace to approve new projects” is either intended to perpetuate misinformation, or demonstrates a lack of knowledge about the Village planning approval process. There are a number of proposals in various stages of the planning process, and most of them have been in the pipeline for years. In fact, if you ask most commercial or residential investors about their experience, they are likely to site frustration over delays and bureaucracy. A number of these delays are unavoidable and essential parts of the process to protect the community.

The statement that surprised me most from my opponent was this thinly veiled reference to a potential zoning text amendment that could open the door to a proposal for a development known as Snowden Woods, “we risk spoiling not only one of the largest undeveloped natural landscapes on the Eastern shore of the Hudson River, but we also risk adding further stress to our already over-burdened school system.” There is only one large plot of land in the Village that fits this description.

If my opponent were merely a resident, this would be a perfectly fine, if somewhat inaccurate, opinion to express. However, as a member of the Village Board, he will be called upon to determine whether or not to approve a zoning text amendment that will directly impact this plot of land. My opponent taking a public position on a SEQRA matter that the Village Board will be required to vote on is, at best, political gamesmanship, and, at worst, undermining the integrity of the legal process.

Unlike large developments that we have seen proposed in nearby communities where officials have decided to skip over the environmental review process, in Ossining we go by the book to ensure we are making well informed decisions. On a parallel path, I have advocated for the Village Environmental Advisory Council to undertake an Open Space Inventory which will provide the Trustees and me with a clearer picture of the role that this area of land plays in our Village-wide landscape.

Being mayor is a job that requires dedication to learning about Village government, a commitment to honesty and accuracy, and the maturity to exhibit a level of restraint in casually expressing opinions of ongoing legal matters.

48 Hours of Reasons to Love Ossining

Last week began with some shocking incidents. But it was the people of our community that were the most remarkable. I wrote down some of my thoughts…

What a harrowing start to our week! But it wasn’t an oil spill or a wall collapse that tells the story of this community. Now that the immediate concerns have been contained, stabilized, and secured, I want to take a moment to highlight some of the positive things about the past 48 hours.

At the top of the list of things to be grateful for‑‑there were no injuries resulting from either of these incidents.

One thing that cannot be said often enough is what an amazing team of professionals and volunteers we have serving this Village. Thank you to the Ossining Police Department, Fire Department, Public Works, Engineering and Building Department. Your dedication to our community may go unnoticed on an ordinary day. Monday was no ordinary day. You are an extraordinary team that works incredibly well together to keep us safe. You kept the us all pointed in the right direction while the oil was contained, and later while the wall was assessed and stabilized. Thank you.

During the oil containment the regulatory agency, the DEC, was on-site. According to initial reports, it appears that the swift action to contain the spill prevented contamination of our storm water system. Thank you to all the Village departments who stepped in to make that happen. The Village team had support. Anyone on social media was moved by the photo of a man named Herman who saw what was happening and jumped in with rags to stem the oil. A person’s character shines through during a critical situation. Thank you Herman for your actions to help protect our community and our environment. Thank you also to Jim Drohan for sharing the inspiring image of the Herman at work absorbing oil on Main Street.

wall collapseThe unusually exciting day in Ossining drew the attention of officials beyond the Village. Thank you to Governor Cuomo and County Executive Latimer for both reaching out to ensure the wall collapse was able to be secured. It’s reassuring to know that before we even ask, these higher levels of government were ready to support a local municipality. In this case, the wall was on private property. Village officials, staff, first-responders, and engineers have been on-site to understand the conditions of the properties, and to facilitate communication between the owners of 60 Main Street and 80 Main Street. The property owners’ insurance companies and attorneys are coordinating next steps for stabilizing the wall. This afternoon’s reopening of Main Street was possible once the Village was satisfied by the stabilization plan presented by the property owner.

More good news is that no families were permanently displaced by either incident. On Monday night, in an abundance of caution, three families near the location of the wall collapse were evacuated from their homes. The Red Cross was on-site and assisted with some of the arrangements. All families will be back in their homes tonight. The new construction at 80 Main Street, the property above the wall, had received a partial certificate of occupancy, and the first tenant had moved in her boxes. Since she hadn’t yet unpacked, she’s able to adopt a wait-and-see approach to settling in.

I was not in town when all this transpired, so I’d like to offer special thanks to everyone who kept me informed of what was happening as events unfolded and stepped up in my absence. Thank you Deputy Mayor Codman for being on-site Monday night. Thank you to Chief Sylvester who not only kept me informed by phone, but also for his up-to-the-minute social media communication that helped folks get around with minimal frustration.

And final kudos to the Ossining community. You tuned in to Nixle, Facebook or Twitter to get information on alternate routes, and adjusted to temporary redirection with minimal delay. If you’d like to do one more thing to help with the aftermath of the Monday we’ll never forget, support a local business. With all the disruption, downtown businesses saw fewer customers. So, this week is a great time to go out for lunch or dinner, pick up a children’s toy or a ceramic vase, get your hair done or buy an egg sandwich, sip a coffee lemonade (my personal summer fave)—you can even buy a new kitchen sink.

Everyday serving this Village is an adventure. From great challenges comes ever greater appreciation for this community we love.

I am your mayor. Soy su alcalde.

At last week’s Village Board meeting I read the following statement. Click here to view the public statement.IMG_6484

In recent days, the immigration enforcement tactics happening at our southern border have shocked and appalled many of us, myself included. I am the mother of two young sons, and the thought of having them ripped away from my arms, perhaps never to see them again, is almost too much to bear.

We have heard statements expressing horror and shame from every living former First Lady, regardless of political party. We have heard from governors across the country, and across party lines, that are refusing to send National Guard troops to the border, and in some cases, recalling National Guard troops back to their home state. These governors want no part of the inhumane border practices, and what Congressman Elijah Cummings calls “Child Internment Camps.”

In a village like Ossining, where immigrants play such a large and vital role, these accounts are especially troubling. The Village Board has done its best to counter the federal administration’s anti-immigration sentiment. A year ago, in the wake of fears felt deeply in our community in response to new immigration enforcement practices and divisive rhetoric, we passed a resolution affirming our values as an inclusive and welcoming community. That Village resolution was translated into Spanish, and is hanging in a frame in the Ossining Public Library.

Last year the Village Board also passed a resolution encouraging state legislators to allow all New York drivers, regardless of immigration status, to be licensed. New York State would not blaze any trails—11 states plus Washington DC already have this ability. You may have seen that Peekskill recently passed a similar resolution of support. You will be hearing more about a renewed effort to get Governor Cuomo to publicly support this legislation, and for the New York State Senate to bring it to a vote. The Assembly is ready to make it happen. I am working with activists who are leading this effort, and I’m optimistic that it may become a reality in the not too distant future. I was grateful to Chief Sylvester for his thoughtful consideration of the impact this legislation this would have on his department’s work in Ossining. He provided helpful insights into how allowing New York State residents to be licensed, regardless of immigration status, would actually benefit local law enforcement.

In recent days, we have been reminded of past human atrocities, both in this country and abroad. So the question for us now is, what will our legacy be? Will we allow children to be kept in cages and torn from the arms of their parents? Will we tolerate our president referring to immigrants as an infestation? Or will we demand better of our country? Will future generations view our flag as a symbol of hope and opportunity, or one of hatred and atrocity?

I am reminded of a conversation I had a couple of years ago with an Ossining resident. We were discussing the complex challenges of code enforcement, and how that can result in the most vulnerable folks in our community being displaced from their homes. Often these are undocumented residents who have fewer housing options, and may be afraid to demand safer conditions from their landlord. In an act of willful ignorance or profound blindness of privilege, he asked me, “Are those really the people you represent?”

So let me state very clearly, I am a mayor that serves every person who lives in this Village. If you are a Village resident and you vote, yes, I am your mayor. If you are a Village resident and you are eligible to vote, but do not, I am still your mayor. And I ask you to please register and vote. If are a resident of the Village of Ossining and you are under the age of 18, I am also your mayor. If you live in the Village, and you are a documented resident who is not a US citizen, or perhaps not yet a citizen, I am your mayor. And if you live in the Village of Ossining and you are an undocumented resident, I am also your mayor. All of us who are elected to serve on the Village Board have an obligation and a responsibility to serve the needs and the interests of every person who lives of our Village.

I am grateful to work with so many leaders, volunteers, activists, and public servants who seek to support families that are contributing admirably to the success of Ossining. We are a nation of immigrants. We are a village of immigrants. We are a community that cares for our neighbors and serves a vision for America that is born out of hope and opportunity. All that said, right now, I might settle for some simple human decency.

En estos días, las tácticas de inmigración en nuestra frontera han horrorizado e impactado a muchos, incluyéndome a mí. Soy la madre de dos niños jóvenes, y el pensamiento que me los arranquen de los brazos, para tal vez nunca volver a verlos, es casi inaguantable.

Hemos escuchado declaraciones de horror y pena de todas las Primeras Damas vivientes, sin importar su partido político. Hemos escuchado de gobernadores de todo el país, y todo partido, que se rehúsan a mandar a la Guardia Nacional a la frontera, y en algunos casos, hasta han retirado a varias tropas de regreso a su estado.  Estos gobernadores no quieren formar parte de las practicas inhumanas de la frontera, prácticas que el Congresista Elijah Cummings ha llamado “Campos de Internamiento de Niños”. 

En un pueblo como Ossining, donde los inmigrantes forman una parte vital de la comunidad, las atrocidades de la frontera se sienten profundamente. Pero la Junta de la Villa ha hecho todo lo posible para contrarrestar el sentimiento anti-inmigrante de la administración federal. Hace un año, cuando había nuevos temores en nuestra comunidad causados por nuevas prácticas de inmigración y una retórica divisiva, pasamos una resolución afirmando nuestros valores como una comunidad inclusiva y acogedora. La resolución fue traducida al español, y está colgada y enmarcada en la Biblioteca Pública de Ossining.

El año pasado la Junta también paso una resolución alentando a los legisladores del estado de Nueva York a permitir que todos los conductores del estado, sin importar su estatus migratorio, tengan permiso a tener licencias. Esto no sería algo nuevo, ya hay 11 estados, así como Washington DC, que han permitido esto. Tal vez se dieron cuenta que hace poco, Peekskill paso una resolución similar. Pronto escucharan sobre nuevos esfuerzos pidiendo que el Gobernador Cuomo públicamente apoye esta legislación, y que la Asamblea del Estado de Nueva York vote en ella.  La Asamblea esta lista para que esto ocurra. Estoy trabajando con activistas liderando este esfuerzo, y soy optimista que se hará realidad en un futuro cercano. Doy gracias al Chief Sylvester por su consideración sobre el impacto que esta legislación tendría en el trabajo de su departamento en Ossining. Él nos brindó mucha ayuda sobre como permitir que residentes del estado de Nueva York tengan licencias, sin importar su estatus migratorio, beneficiaria a departamentos de policía locales.

En estos días nos hemos recordado de atrocidades humanas del pasado, en este país o globalmente. Asi que ahora nuestra pregunta es, cual será nuestro legado? ¿Permitiremos que niños sean enjaulados y arrancados de los brazos de sus padres? ¿Toleraremos que nuestro presidente se refiera a los inmigrantes como una infestación? ¿O demandaremos más de nuestro país? ¿Generaciones futuras verán nuestra bandera como un símbolo de esperanza y oportunidad, o una de odio y atrocidad?

Recuerdo una conversación que tuve hace unos años con un residente de Ossining. Estábamos discutiendo el difícil reto de la aplicación del Código de construcción y como eso puede resultar en el desplazamiento de algunos de las personas más vulnerables de nuestra comunidad. A menudo, estos pueden ser residentes indocumentados que no tienen muchas opciones de donde vivir y pueden tener temor de demandar condiciones más seguras de los dueños de sus viviendas. En un momento de ignorancia o de ceguera por su privilegio el me pregunto, ¿“Son en realidad esas las personas que usted representa?”

Permítanme decir claramente, soy un alcalde que sirve a toda persona que vive en este pueblo. Si usted es un residente de la villa de Ossining y vota, sí, soy su alcalde. Si usted es un residente de la villa y puede votar, pero no lo hace, aun así, soy su alcalde. Y le pido que por favor se registre para poder votar. Si es un residente de la Villa de Ossining y tiene menos de 18 años, también soy su alcalde. Si usted vive en la villa y es un residente documentado que no es ciudadano, yo soy su alcalde. Y si usted vive en la villa y es un residente indocumentado, también soy su alcalde. Todos los que somos elegidos para servir en la Junta de la Villa de Ossining tenemos una obligación y una responsabilidad de servir a todas las necesidades y los intereses de toda persona que vive aquí.

Estoy agradecida de trabajar con tantos líderes, voluntarios, activistas, y funcionarios públicos que buscan apoyar a familias que contribuyen admirablemente hacia el éxito de Ossining. Somos una nación de inmigrantes. Somos un pueblo de inmigrantes. Somos una comunidad que se preocupa por nuestros vecinos y cree en la visión que este país nació de la esperanza y la oportunidad. Todo esto dicho, en este momento, me conformaría con un poco de decencia humana.

A Welcoming Village

img_6486As thousands in the LGBTQ community prepare for Pride celebrations across the country, I’ll take a moment to reflect on what it means for a municipality to be welcoming and inclusive. On June 20, I proposed that the Village of Ossining become the first municipality in NYS to establish a Gender Neutral Signage Policy for restrooms. Village Corporation Counsel is drafting a resolution for us to vote on that will formalize the policy at an upcoming Village Board meeting.

For me, this is an example of when you know better, you do better. Gender neutral bathrooms came up as a topic during a recent Ossining Documentary & Discussion Series program. Panelists shared experiences of having to wait all day to find a bathroom option that welcomed them. I learned then that Ossining High School has committed to installing a gender neutral bathroom in their facility, and I realized that perhaps there is a role for Village government to play in improving the lives of transgender and gender neutral people.

We are identifying locations at Village facilities where we currently have single person bathrooms–typically these are either ADA or family bathrooms. The first signage to be updated will be in the lobby of Village Hall. As we upgrade municipal facilities going forward, when it is feasible to incorporate single person bathrooms, the gender neutral signage will be installed there as well.

This is a simple policy that sends a strong message to the LGBTQ community–all are welcome in Ossining.

Reelection Underway

Headshot #6Monday night the Ossining Democratic Committee endorsed my reelection with resounding clarity. With that first political hurdle under my belt, I’m turning my campaign focus to individual voters.

Great things are happening for Ossining. I’d like to build on our momentum. The Village has a clear set of recommendations for strengthening our economic strategy and our affordable housing policies. Key priorities were highlighted for us by the community-led Downtown Redevelopment Working Committee. The recent Village Housing Needs Assessment drew heavily on community engagement and empirical data. It recommends a policy framework where step one is an effective economic development strategy and step two is strengthening code enforcement. Ossining needs Village government to move forward decisively with implementing these priorities.

As I reflect on these first two terms as Mayor, are there moments where I wish I could get a re-do? You bet. Have I learned from my experience in office? You bet! I dedicate myself to this job full-time, and everyday I learn more about our community and how to serve it well. My teachers are Ossining residents, community leaders, municipal officials and staff, local first responders, and activists and experts throughout the region. Ossining Village and Town share services in almost every department, and the relationship between our two teams is better than ever.

The accomplishments of my tenure as Mayor that I’m most proud of are related to communications. Initiatives like Open Office Hours and Weekly Walks have dramatically increased accessibility, allowing me to connect with residents in less formal settings. Improved transparency of our public meetings began by creating our Village YouTube Channel that resulted from a simple request I made to our technology department. And the change to keep cameras rolling during Visitor Recognition ensures that when residents speak with their officials during a Legislative Session, the whole community can hear their concerns. The Monday Mayor’s Message helps residents understand the context of agenda items and updates readers on key initiatives being considered by the Board. The launch of the new Village website was a long time coming. It is already making information easier to locate, and plans are underway to expand its value for residents with online fillable forms, online payments, and friendlier access to materials up for consideration by the Board of Trustees.

Serving as your Mayor is a responsibility I take seriously, and an honor I appreciate deeply. It’s my job to represent the needs of all Ossining residents–whether you have lived here five generations or five months, whether you are a tenant or a landlord, a millennial or a retiree, a business owner or a fellow parent. The best part of being a candidate is that it can prompt conversations about our community and our priorities that might not otherwise happen. I look forward to the thoughtful and constructive parts of campaigning. If I knock on your door or show up at your favorite community event, tell me what matters most to you about Ossining and please ask me any questions you have about Village government. Together let’s build on the great things happening in Ossining.

Sincerely,

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Victoria Gearity, Mayor

The Final Straw?

Peekskill Vigil no filterThank you to Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey for the invitation to participate in tonight’s Community Vigil. Ossining residents are planning a March For Our Lives event for 12noon on March 24 at our waterfront. I hope you and your colleagues from Peekskill will be able to join us.

Below are the remarks I shared at the Peekskill waterfront this evening…

Most people are not extremists. Yet it grows increasingly difficult for us to hear each other. If we are unwilling to acknowledge that views and life experiences different from our own have merit, how can we possibly find a path to someplace better than where we are today?

For generations now the NRA has grown stronger and stronger. Meanwhile, state and federal officials have grown more and more dependent on funding from lobbyists. And the success of lobbyists depends on us being increasingly divided.

If your job is to sell more guns, then the solution to every problem is more guns. And in a moment when we talk more than we listen, and marginalize more than we validate, and divide more than we unite, we fail to even seek solutions that will address the root of any problem. Instead, we may attempt to protect ourselves by building barriers to a threat, and throw up our hands believing, for example, that America will never have fewer guns.

As our hearts ache again for the families of the latest shooting victims, are we, perhaps, witnessing a moment when the collective conscience may shift? As the White House inspires activism as never before in my lifetime, will the Florida teens be the final straw that our nation needs? Will the prevailing wisdom shift to a narrative that says what we need is less guns, and more regulation? Will the young voices breaking through today, lead us to a future where a gun license is comparable to a drivers license?

My God, I hope so. There are powerful voices in our government and media today that claim we need to arm our teachers. There are parents in my community, and all our communities, that want every school to become a fortress. Putting aside whether bullet-proof glass and guns in the classroom are the best way to spend education dollars–school buildings are not the only place where I want my children to be safe. I want my sons to be safe on the soccer field, and at the mall, and at a summer concert in a park on the waterfront.

May each of us walk away from this gathering and take action, small or big. But take action, as if all our lives depend on it.

Community Connections

Walking the waterfrontOne of the most enjoyable additions to my work as Mayor this year has been the Weekly Walks. Later this month the Board of Trustees Office will have a new decoration–a map of the Village with a bunch of streets highlighted. This will help me keep track of how close I am to my goal of walking every block of the Village.

I sure am enjoying the journey. Thanks to all the folks who have joined me. Sometimes we chat and pause more than walk; sometimes we walk briskly uphill. On every walk, I learn from my fellow walkers and the streets themselves. There has been only one week canceled from rain, though we’ve walked in sprinkles a couple of times. Occasionally I walk on my own. I welcome the solitude as much as the comradery. Thanks to all the repeat walkers and one-time adventurers. It’s a real pleasure to explore our community together.

One of the more challenging, and sometimes divisive, conversations this year has been on the roundabout. After 20 months of considering the pros and cons, and bringing the design documents to the point of being ready to go out to bid, the Board defunded the project. Here’s a letter I wrote reflecting on this topic. While the roundabout is on the shelf for now, the Downtown Redevelopment Working Committee is working diligently to prepare recommendations on the much broader question of how to move forward redevelopment of our downtown.

Do you receive an email from me every Monday? If not, send me a quick message (gearity@villageofossining.org) telling me to sign you up. Here’s a list of past Monday Mayor Messages. I established this practice of weekly communication at the start of this year. It’s proving to be an effective way to keep folks informed about what the Board is up to, as well as announcing when and where each Weekly Walk will happen!

 

Our Strength is in our Unity of Purpose

peace-unity-vigilTonight Ossining came together with messages of peace and unity. Here are the words I shared:

I am honored and proud to be the Mayor of this beautiful Village, and to be here tonight with all of you!

I find inspiration and guidance in the words of great leaders whose influence has contributed to who our nation is today. I’d like to share quotes from two New Yorkers. The first was an immigrant who came to NYC to attend college. At the time of our nation’s founding, Alexander Hamilton published these words:

The world has its eye upon America. The noble struggle we have made in the cause of liberty, has occasioned a kind of revolution in human sentiment…

Let those in whose hands it is placed, pause for a moment, and contemplate with an eye of reverence, the vast trust committed to them… Let them ask themselves this solemn question— Is the sacrifice of a few mistaken, or criminal individuals, an object worthy of the shifts to which we are reduced to evade the constitution and the national engagements?

Then let them review the arguments that have been offered with dispassionate candour; and if they even doubt the propriety of the measures, they may be about to adopt, let them remember, that in a doubtful case, the constitution ought never to be hazarded, without extreme necessity.

In a moment when the world was facing war, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke these words:

Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions…

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

Things are Happening for Ossining

img_2040Every year at noon on New Year’s Day, the Ossining community comes together for an inauguration. The time and date is actually dictated by the Village Charter. The fact that we make what could be the recitation of a few words into a community event, is one the things that makes Ossining special.

In my remarks, I announced a new mayoral weekly commitment, and set out a vision for the exciting changes we are poised to make happen for Ossining. Two of the hottest topics of public engagement last year, housing and the roundabout, are part of the economic development planning that will be the focus for 2017. The Village is at an exciting moment, poised to make changes for our downtown that will impact our community for generations to come.

Happy New Year!

This year I asked my parents to join me on stage for the Oath of Office. My parents are the greatest role models in my life, not just because they are wonderful loving parents, but because of their dedication to public service. Regardless of whether they were raising young children, or commuting to NYC for work each day, they have always devoted their time and talents to community organizations. And not just things directly related to our family like school or church. They did that of course. But they also volunteer with organizations that speak to their values—like programs for children, seniors, local history, healthcare, education, and women’s rights. My mother was asked to run for local office a number of times, but always declined. My father retired at a young age, and for the past 18 years has made a full-time job of volunteering for community organizations. If it were not for their inspiring examples, I know I would never have run for mayor.img_2038

 

I am fortunate to share the stage with a number of elected officials who are also role models and mentors for me today. One study I recently learned of demonstrated that the healthiest, happiest, and safest lives are lived by Americans in Villages where their lives are intertwined. That’s good news for Ossining residents, and particularly for all the engaged community members in this room today.

 

As many Americans feel ever more impotent at influencing the path of our nation, we recognize there is a place where we can make a difference. We are turning toward each other, and seeking to devote our talents to making the most of the opportunities we have right here, right now in Ossining. It is an exciting moment to participate actively in shaping the change we wish to see for our Village.

  • This Village can turn a sanitary sewer project into a glorious greenway.
  • We have seen empty storefronts become thriving local gathering spaces.
  • The decrease in our energy demand by upgrading to LED streetlights offers enough savings to keep our tax rate increase this year at 0%.
  • We have passed laws to expand opportunities for entrepreneurs to open their businesses of tomorrow right here in Ossining.
  • We have invited hundreds of people to live in luxury on our waterfront, and thousands to enjoy sunsets from the new Henry Gourdine Park on the Hudson.

Ossining is poised to see major change happen in our downtown. We have a thoughtful and collaborative Board of Trustees, with a willingness to make big decisions about the Village’s future. Critical leaders of our staff are capable implementing big projects for Ossining. And we have the solid fiscal standing to invest in infrastructure that will benefit our community for generations to come.

 

Weekly Walks

As we enter this exciting year with a focus on bringing into view big changes for development in our downtown, I am going to add a new commitment to my weekly mayoral schedule. And I’m announcing it to you right now.

 

When I took office as Mayor two years ago, I established Open Office Hours every Tuesday from 10AM to 12 noon. That routine has been a very successful way to meet with residents who have concerns, questions, suggestions, or once in a while a friendly chat. I will continue to be at Village Hall every Tuesday for Open Office Hours. Emailing me any time is also an effective way to get my attention.

 

For my second term, as we shift into a focus on planning, zoning, housing, and development of land that is currently owned by the Village, I will be taking a weekly walk. I’ll keep up the routine until I’ve walked every block of the Village. I’ll post my starting place and time on FB and the Village website so that you can join me if you’d like.

 

A Thriving Downtown

In 2016 we engaged in a public discussion about safe, affordable housing that inspired hundreds of tenants, property owners, housing advocates, attorneys, taxpayers, and elected officials to deepen our understanding of the realities and needs of our community. In 2017, the Village will undertake a Housing Needs Assessment that will provide us with not just an accurate inventory of our existing housing stock and conditions, but one of the tools that will help us make well-informed modifications to our Comprehensive Plan, which drives all local zoning regulations. The discussion about safe and affordable housing will continue, and will be part of a larger discussion about economic development.

 

Ossining today is, in part, a result of decisions made by past Village administrations. Elected officials in the 1970s bought into the prevailing wisdom of their day, and decided that Urban Renewal was a wise idea for our downtown. The results of Urban Renewal, which demolished two of the five corners at the heart of our downtown, have been mixed, at best. The people living in those buildings lost their homes, and our downtown lost beautiful architecture as well as a whole side of the street which completes the balance needed for a truly thriving downtown.

 

But as with any major change, there comes opportunity. I am grateful to be Mayor in a moment when we are poised to capitalize on the space that was left by Urban Renewal. Rather than perceiving it as a scar on our downtown business district, I recognize it as an incredible gift for the Village. Where there were once buildings filling each block, we have an opportunity to create a welcoming public gathering space in the heart of the Village. Today these spaces provide parking and host our weekly farmer’s market and a number of festivals and events throughout the year. But the potential for these open spaces to inspire people to spend time in our downtown is no where close to being fully realized. At this stage, let’s not limit our vision to any particular size and scope of what structures may be built in these spaces, or how parking will be expanded.

 

Our goal as we actively shape the future we wish to experience for Ossining, must be to create a public gathering place where a mother wants to sit and read a book to her child; a place where high school students gather in the afternoon to share a smoothies with their friends; a place where seniors from Maple House rest on their way home from a little shopping up the block; a place where families enjoy ice cream on a hot summer night; a place where co-workers sip coffee during a break from their second story Main St business that thrives in tomorrow’s economy, and it’s a business that we could not even conceive of when we drafted our most recent Comprehensive Plan. And yes, sometimes it will be a place that hosts cultural festivals and holiday tree lightings. But to be a success, this public gathering place must be an essential component of a whole downtown that is buzzing with activity on any given Tuesday—with no festival required to make people want to show up.

 

In recent years, we’ve laid the groundwork for what’s next. A few years ago, the Village commissioned a study by consultants to inform the Board and the community of what a developer would seek to build on the Market Square properties to maximize their profitability. It was almost two years ago, that several community members joined me in workshops and online venues to gather feedback from the community of what we’d like to see happen for these properties. And right now the Sing Sing Prison Museum is closer than ever to becoming a reality. It is exciting to explore how that major institution could impact our local landscape and economy.

 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the topic of public discussion that elicited an intensity of passion among community members this year, second perhaps only to housing—the roundabout. Construction of the new intersection is planned for the summer of 2017. Ossining will become the only Hudson River community to have a modern roundabout at the heart of its downtown. Because of the dramatically improved safety that roundabouts provide, they are the go-to recommendation by the NYS DOT, and many other states, for any new and upgraded intersection construction. Because even small single-lane roundabouts like the one we will have, require a larger footprint than an electrified signal, roundabouts are often not an option in densely built downtowns. It is only because of the negative space left by Urban Renewal that the roundabout was an option for us to consider in our decision making for this necessary infrastructure upgrade.

 

So, our job today as a community, is to actively participate in shaping the change we wish to see for our downtown. Some entrepreneurs are already investing their talents, their treasure, and their dreams into our local economy. First Village Coffee is one of the recent new businesses to open and find a very enthusiastic and loyal customer base on Main St. Just before they opened, I was speaking with an engaged community member, someone has spent a fair amount of time thinking about our local economy. He said to me, “I’m really worried that the coffee shop is not going to have enough customers to survive.” This well-intentioned resident grossly underestimated our community’s appetite for a welcoming, high quality, gathering space in our downtown. Let us all embrace more of that faith in the spirit of our community that leads local entrepreneurs to open businesses in Ossining.

 

I began today by acknowledging some of the role models who inspire me to be serve my community. I’d like to close with a few thank yous for the some of the people who make it possible for me to serve as Mayor. Thank you to the chairwoman of the Democratic Committee Thomasina Laidley-Brown who supports our journey in public office, and leads the process of gathering hundreds of signatures each year to get our names on the ballot. Thank you to the community members who lead great organizations that provide the services that keep us safe and allow our socioeconomically diverse community to not just survive, but to thrive. Thank you to my fellow elected officials for all that you give to your constituents, including me, and all that you contribute to well-being of the Village of Ossining. Thank you to members of the Village staff, those here today and those who come to work every day to serve the people of Ossining so admirably. Thank you to the parents and coaches who drive my kids home from practice when I’m at a meeting. And most importantly, thank you to my family. My sons have an uncanny ability to roll with whatever the schedule is on any given day, they cheer me on as mayor, they are always happy to eat pizza for dinner again, and they don’t grumble as they again go to bed without being tucked in by mom. And to my husband, thank you for carrying the financial burden of our family, even as you work tirelessly to open your new business. Thank you for being my most patient and sage advisor.

 

Every two years, elected officials in the Village come to the voters and ask to serve another term. I imagine if you asked each of us on this stage, we’d each have a unique story of what made us seek office. But I also imagine there would be a universal theme of our desire to serve this community that we love. It’s that same love of Ossining that brought each of you here to this gym at the Community Center, to share part of New Year’s Day with your neighbors.

 

We are living in interesting times. All of us have a role to play in the success of Ossining. Sometimes that may be to vigorously debate issues that matter deeply to us; sometimes that may be to show up and listen; sometimes it may be to eat jerk chicken, or drink coffee, or buy a pretty new dress, whatever small investment we choose to make in supporting a local business that day.

 

And sometimes it may be to lead us in a song. I’d like to invite up to the microphone three very special Ossining residents. Anna Canoni is the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie. She and her daughters Kaylee and Alexis are going to lead us in singing This Land is Your Land. I hope everyone will join in.

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