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.

Junior Mayor for the Day

IMG_7302Christian served as Junior Mayor for the Day last week. His parents won him the opportunity in the Ossining MATTERS online auction. What a remarkable young man! He arrived with a prepared list of questions. I think we addressed them all and much more.  We traveled across Ossining visiting many of the people who make our local government function so well, and admiring highlights of our beautiful Village.

 

Christian’s day as Junior Mayor began by joining in as members of the Baker-Collyer Christmas Cheer Fund and Rotary unveiled a new plaque in the lobby of Village Hall honoring 100 years of the Fund. Later in the day we had lunch with the Rotary, and Christian was presented with a plaque of appreciation. He asked to be the guest speaker. What 10 year old kid has the confidence and ability to stand up and speak to a room full of adults he doesn’t know? This kid! Afterward, he and I talked about the important contributions of so many members of our community that make Ossining a wonderful place.

 

Knowing that Christian is a strong math student with an interest in structural engineering, we headed to the John-Paul Rodrigues Operations Center, the epi center for that work in municipal government. Superintendent for Water & Sewer, Andrew Tiess gave Christian an in-depth understanding of how the Ossining Water System works. He now has a keen appreciation for how his love of math may be applied to a career that serves his environment and his community. This part of the day was a highlight for Christian. Village Engineer & Interim Manager Paul Fraioli talked about some of the big projects that the Village has undertaken.

 

Later in the day when I took Christian to the Joseph G Caputo Community Center, as soon as we parked, he took note of the pool building—as if seeing it for the first time because of the moment captured below where Paul showed him the pool building while it was under construction. At the Community Center, Christian showed me the football from his championship team, and he met with Superintendent of Recreation & Parks Chris Soi before we walked the Sing Sing Kill Greenway.

 

IMG_7340Christian learned all about the engineering feat that this remarkable public greenway is. When I told him that for many years people had thrown garbage into the Kill, and that though the Parks and DPW crews have done tremendous work to clean it up, still some people litter there. He was pretty disappointed by this behavior, asking why would people want to ruin something that is for everyone to share…something that is part of Ossining?

 

One of the next big engineering projects in the Village will be the repair of the Broadway Bridge—we’ll remove that ugly black net so we can fully appreciate Ossining’s iconic Double Arch from this new vantage point. And this young man will have a great appreciation for that work.

 

Christian had asked about the Harbor Square development, and thought it looked like a pretty great place to live, so we headed to the waterfront. Christian has an appreciation for the large sculptures in the Village. Dancing Milkweeds on the Village Hall lawn is one of his favorites. At the waterfront we talked about the giant wishbone sculpture. I acknowledged that it has been a little controversial, and that some people don’t much care for it. Christian likes it a lot, and was interested to learn about the process for creating it right in that location. In fact, he liked everything about the beautiful new Henry Gourdine Park, and is hoping that it will be officially open in time for the June 30 fireworks! (The plan is to cut the ribbon the week before. Stay tuned for details!)

 

Our last stop was to the Birdsall-Fagan Police Court Facility where Chief Kevin Sylvester gave Christian a full tour. He learned that the second floor which now serves as the briefing room, Detective Division, gym, locker rooms, and Chief, Captain and Lieutenants’ offices (including Coach Montague’s!) was once a bowling alley. Downstairs we visited the intake area (the only time Christian plans to visit there!) and courtroom, and found Christian’s home on the sector map. He lives in Sector 5.

 

Ossining MATTERS has asked me to offer this auction item again next year if I am still in office. Does your son or daughter have an interest in local government? Infrastructure? Parks? Law enforcement? Engineering? Public service?

 

I am grateful for the opportunity Christian provided me to see from a fresh perspective the contributions of the people who help us accomplish so much for this community we all love. Village government at its best goes unnoticed—residents are happy to have well-maintained roads, trash/recycling picked up, safe water provided, and a safe beautiful place to live, work and play. We strive to achieve those goals, a little more efficiently and effectively everyday.

 

2016 Priorities

At our first meeting of 2016 I reflected on what has been accomplished in the past year, and our goals for the coming year.

This Board of Trustees is united in our big picture goals:

  • Communication & Customer Service
  • Building Dept & Code Enforcement
  • Efficiency & Sustainability

Efforts toward efficiency & sustainability are happening on a number of fronts. The Solarize Ossining-Briarcliff and Community Energy Choice Aggregation (CCA) initiatives provide opportunities for financial savings directly to residents & small businesses.

12347673_902362783165144_3603113895730678789_nVillage infrastructure has been made more efficient with the LED streetlight conversion that is already well underway. This year we are looking to expand savings in our facilities with energy efficiency upgrades that will quickly pay for themselves with cost savings.

Later this year with the opening of the Sing Sing Kill Greenway, the public will be invited to experience Ossining’s iconic Double Arches in a way that few people have ever before. What began as a required sanitation sewer line project will become a local treasure.

The $100,000 NYPrize grant that the village got this year to explore the potential for a microgrid, is a smart move to help us make our community safer and more resilient during major power disruptions.

Ossining local business is growing and village government is supporting that success. This year we welcomed several new restaurants including Cravin’, El Manabita, Chow’s Caribbean, Casa de Campo and most recently DD’s Diner. To encourage shoppers to keep their dollars local, we had a holiday from feeding the meters for the month of December.

To foster new artisanal craft businesses to open in the village, we are voting later this month to amend a zoning regulation. This action is an example of the village’s responsiveness to local property owners who work with us to explore how we can expand opportunities for entrepreneurs to choose Ossining for their business.

Thousands have already viewed the Historic Downtown Ossining video created by Village Historian Dana White. You can still check it out at the Village’s YouTube channel. Understanding and celebrating our history is an important step in the decision making process for major plans including Market Square development and the Sing Sing Project.

The Downtown Development Fund Council will be making recommendations to the Board later this year for how to invest in the revitalization of downtown. There are two openings on that council. Residents interested in applying for those appointments are encouraged to send resumes and letters of interest to azambrano@villageofossining.org.

Our commitment to improving communication and openness began at the first meeting I presided over as mayor when we kept the cameras rolling throughout the Public Comments portion of legislative sessions. Weekly Open Office Hours that I have established every Tuesday at Village Hall from 10am-12noon have been a wonderful opportunity to connect with residents.

We have established a Village Facebook page as an additional avenue for getting information out to the public, and we have formed a Social Media Communications team to make effective use of talent across departments. A key goal on the communication front for 2106 is to create a new website that is more accessible and interactive.

In 2015 we said goodbye and good luck to several colleagues in Village government, including most recently Chief Joseph Burton. We have welcomed new exciting leadership in Village Management, Recreation & Parks, and the Ossining Police Department.

Fiscal responsibility is at the core of every decision this Board makes. We are very pleased to have passed a budget for 2016 that is $315,000 below the tax cap. We are dedicated to finding greater efficiencies and spending taxpayer dollars wisely to provide excellent service to residents.

2016 looks to be an exciting year for the Village of Ossining.

Standing Strong

I posted the below message on Facebook yesterday.  The outpouring of support has been remarkable.  Encouraging statements have come from family, friends, supporters, and folks who are simply fed-up with village politics.  This week is certainly not a high point for transparency in local government.  The residents of Ossining deserve better.  I am grateful to be connecting with so many community members, and look forward to building a more open, responsive and engaging relationship between village officials and the public.

Last night it was alleged that ethics charges have been filed against me.  This action serves only to reinforce my dedication to becoming a mayor who reaches out to the community, encouraging transparency and public engagement.

I have not yet seen the “ethics charges” referenced during last night’s publicly televised Board of Trustees meeting.  However, other village employees have.  Trustee Bob Daraio stated that “ethics charges” impacted his vote to support granting preferred developer status for 200 Main Street to Interoceanic Corporation.

No effort was made to obtain my response to this allegation, or even inform me of the charge before publicly revealing it as a pretext to discredit both my husband’s business, Sing Sing Kill Brewery, and myself.  The village struggled to locate the said email and could not even provide me with a copy of it.

Does it seem fair and transparent that a trustee referenced “ethics charges” when casting a vote, while I am the accused and I have not even seen them?  Did all the voting members of the board have access to that same information when they cast their votes?  The vote itself was tainted, and such an important decision on a key property should have been tabled pending resolution of the issue—particularly given that the source of the alleged complaint is Daniel V. Remer, a supporter of my opponent.

This bullying tactic is consistent with the current administration’s practice of stifling public comments.

So proud to have co-founded this group dedicated to engaging the community on issues that matter.  Last night our topic was gun violence.  Our committee is pictured here with our outstanding panelists.
So proud to have co-founded this group dedicated to engaging the community on issues that matter. Last night our topic was gun violence. Our committee is pictured here with our outstanding panelists.  www.OssiningDocumentaries.org

My public statements regarding 200 Main Street were made with complete disclosure that I am a Village Trustee and a Candidate for Mayor, and that I have recused myself from all deliberations and decision-making regarding the village-owned property because my husband is an interested party.  The article I wrote in the Patch provided information and encouraged public engagement about a flagship property whose future will dramatically impact the vibrancy of our downtown economy.  I was heartened by the thoughtful and respectful public response that resulted.

Being an elected official does not mean I give up my first amendment right to free speech as a resident of this great nation.  Is expressing an opinion, while being completely open about my position in the village and in relation to the subject of discussion, unethical?

I have done nothing wrong.  I am troubled by the timing of these allegations.

I am grateful for the outpouring of support I have already received from friends and community members who recognize this tactic for what it is—bullying designed to discredit a candidate who seeks transparency and public engagement.

Progress You’re a Part Of

Do you have a good idea for what could be done better in Ossining?  Do you ever feel people in village government aren’t listening to you?  Whether it’s economic development, collaboration with schools, safe streets, parking, parkland, recycling, trash, or taxes—everyone in our community has something they think could be better.  And the best ideas for improvement may already have been figured out by community members.  Please take a moment to complete this survey and tell me how we can better serve Ossining.

None of us knows as much as all of us.

This phrase was offered by a speaker at last month’s Pace Land Use Annual Conference of 2013.  This simple truth was at the core of every successful initiative discussed that day—initiatives already happening in other communities.  Borrowing ideas that work for other municipalities can save us money and make us stronger.

When I was a trustee-elect, Eric and I traveled to Washington, DC to attend a conference led by the New Organizing Institute.  I immersed myself among grassroots organizers who dedicate much of their lives to fighting for issues.  The message that most strongly resonated with me then as I prepared to take office for the first time was…

Do not seek elected office so you may wield power over the people you represent, rather, seek elected office so you may empower the people you serve.

Have you driven through the Avalon development on North Highland?  The fences are down and a good chunk of the buildings are up.  Please share your thoughts on development in the survey...
Have you driven through the Avalon development on North Highland? The fences are down and a good chunk of the buildings are up. Please share your thoughts on development in the survey…

Together, these two themes inspire and guide my work for the village.  Can you help me in this effort by spending a few moments responding to this brief survey?…

Keeping Connected…

Do you want to know more of what’s going on in village government?  Do you want more opportunities to impact decision making in the village?

Sign-up here to receive emails of upcoming meetings and community events.

Follow Victoria Gearity, Trustee on Facebook.

Get Nixle Alerts with emergency messages by texting 10562 to 88877.

Receive an email with any new post I put on my website by adding your email address to the “Follow this Blog” box in the upper right corner of VictoriaGearity.com.

If there is a particular village committee/council/board where you would like to serve, contact Assistant Village Manager, Christina Papes (cpapes@villageofossining.org) and ask if there are any available seats.  Even if there are none currently, you can submit your letter of interest and resume to be considered when a spot becomes available.

Come to a Village Board of Trustees meeting.  We meet Wednesdays at 7:30.  The 1st & 3rd Wednesdays are at the Birdsall-Fagan Court, 86-88 Spring Street.  These are legislative sessions and the public is invited to speak on camera to make organizational announcements or to comment on any resolutions the board will consider that night.  When the camera goes off, the public is invited to comment on any issue of interest to them.  The 2nd & 4th Wednesdays are at Village Hall, 16 Croton Ave.  These are work sessions.  This is when the board members ask questions about potential upcoming issues/initiatives, and we decide what will be the next steps.  You can also watch meetings on tv or online.  Let me know what we can do better.

If you are one of the many folks who has contacted me this year to share an idea or concern, thank you.  If you haven’t already completed this brief survey, please do.  Perhaps I’ll see you soon at a Wednesday meeting!

Throwing My Hat In

The title of this post suggests a nonchalant gesture made on a whim.  But what I did last night followed months of “what-if” conversations with Eric, and a lifetime of being entranced, amused, enraged, and engaged by politics.

This fall Marlene Cheatham will not seek reelection as a Trustee on the Ossining Village Board.  Last night I submitted the below letter to Thomasina Laidley-Brown, Chairwoman of the Town of Ossining Democratic Party expressing my interest to run for Marlene’s seat.  This was the first step in a series of events that need to occur on my path to, hopefully, garnering the endorsement of the Democratic party.

Dear Madame Chairwoman,

I would like to run for the position of Ossining Village Trustee.  As a member of our Village Board, I would strive to represent the needs of women, working and middle class families, parents of young children, stay-at-home moms, small business owners, and all proud citizens of Ossining.  As a lifelong Democrat and community activist, I welcome the opportunity to serve this community that supports the values of myself and my family so well.

As my children have grown old enough to allow me more time outside of the home, I have become actively involved in our community; most visibly in my work protecting our local environment as a member of the Village Environmental Advisory Council and promoting energy efficiency for Ossining homeowners as the Energize Ossining liaison.

My husband Eric and I moved to Ossining when I was pregnant with our first son.  At that time, the pool at the Joseph G. Caputo Community Center had recently opened and the library was under construction.  These shining examples of the vitality of the Ossining community were tailor-made for a growing family like ours.

Walking the path from parking to the playground is my favorite part of each visit to Louis Engel Park.

Being home with young children heightens my appreciation for Ossining’s parks and playgrounds.  One of our favorite destinations during the warm weather is Louis Engel Park with its beautiful walk along the Hudson to the playground and sprayground.  I look forward to being part of the continuing revitalization of Ossining’s waterfront.

The rich diversity that Ossining provides my sons was especially evident this year as we read books and had conversations in preparation for Martin Luther King’s birthday.  The idea of being in a classroom filled only with white children is unimaginable to my son at Park School where the parade of students carrying their flags on Heritage Day looked more like UN representatives than a group of children from a single community.  I’m also grateful for the opportunity Ossining provides me to improve my Spanish language skills on a daily basis.

I look forward to speaking with you more about how I may serve the Village of Ossining as a Trustee.

Sincerely,

Victoria Gearity

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