Marathon Property Owner Calls for “Village Within A Village”

"Marathon" site (looking north)

Self-storage business is his fall back position

By Kevin Foley

The largest undeveloped, privately owned property in the Village of Cold Spring, 11.8 acres along Kemble Avenue, could end up the location for a few hundred thousand square feet of self-storage buildings.  That unlikely, but permissible scenario – under current zoning use – was put on the table by the parcel owner at a meeting of the Comprehensive Plan Special Board at the Village Hall on May 22. The site under discussion is commonly known as the Marathon property after the battery factory whose poisonous discharges polluted the land and the Hudson River for years. Technically though, the “Marathon” name has been obsolete since 2003 when the Kearney Real Estate and Development Group acquired the industrial-zoned site. Kearney’s rights and intentions, more than any other factors, will determine the property’s fate and the impact on the village. Hence, the main speaker at a meeting largely focused on the property was Ken Kearney, the head of the company. He addressed the board and an audience of approximately 25 people.      

Developer Ken Kearney shares his views on Marathon site

Standing before a display of the Special Board consultant’s mixed-use concept for the site, previously examined at an open community discussion held on May 14, Kearney offered his own similar perspective on the property’s potential, cautioning that most of what he had to say was “just eyewash for now.” Declaring “the days of McMansions built individually on one-acre lots are over and in any event not in keeping with the village character,” Kearney said that “a more urban approach, as opposed to a suburban” was needed. He seemed in basic agreement with the elements of the conceptual plans that promote a clustered mix of residential, commercial and live/work buildings well spaced over the tree-lined site.  In addition, he endorsed a park-like parcel at the property’s edge closest to Main Street. “A park, a green space, creates a destination for the site,” said Kearney.
       Addressing sewer and traffic concerns, which were raised at the May 14 conference, Kearney said the sewer system already in place was more than adequate for the contemplated level of development. As to traffic, Kearney emphasized the pedestrian-friendly possibilities, citing his company’s experience with senior housing as proof of a commitment to creating a walking-over-driving experience.  “If done properly this project can enhance and extend Main Street, he said.  Throughout his presentation, Kearney stressed green building tactics such as using rain gardens to capture storm water. “A village within a village,” he said more than once.
       Kearney said he has had conversations with Scenic Hudson, which owns the adjoining 87-acre West Point Foundry Preserve, about preserving the bluff overlooking the river on the south end of his property. Scenic Hudson, through a letter read aloud by Special Board chair Michael Armstrong, expressed concern about any development indicating the importance of low environmental impact and maintenance of green space. Kearney said he was optimistic that some kind of tax-friendly donation of land could be worked out with Scenic Hudson.
       Kearney also said he believed area property values, suppressed by the uncertainty of the site’s status as a polluted brown-field, would rise when an experienced developer completed a project that settled those questions.  At another point, Kearney said most projects that fail do so during the construction phase.  “We do our own construction, we’re good at what we do,” he said. The commercial aspects of a site could include a variety of shops offering both resident and visitor products and services, according to Kearney.  He emphasized a lower school tax impact with the live/work buildings, which would have loft space above for artisans to live with their craft shops below, unlikely to be occupied by families with children.
       Kearney also tried to underscore that the development’s elements would often mirror features already present in the village by showing photographs of existing structures containing mixed uses, walkways set back from Main Street, buildings with parking in the rear as well as structures possessing the material texture and architectural detail he contemplates for the project. The condominiums along West Street on the riverfront, on a site originally zoned for industrial use, served for Kearney as an important example of the possibilities for his property.

Storage
The prospect of storage buildings came up when an audience member asked about the possibilities under current zoning.  Kearney said he has had discussions with a storage company and determined that a series of buildings with as many as 300,000 square feet of storage, including underground climate-controlled units, were possible. That much space wasn’t currently market-supported, he said, but his company could begin with a smaller project if needed.  He reiterated that this was far from his first choice but remained a fall-back position. Almost the entire audience groaned in response to this possibility.

Jan Thacher argues for a more bucolic setting

Neighbors fear disruption
Some village residents found Kearney’s concepts, and those of the consultants, interesting and representative of new trends in American community planning. A few others declared them abhorrent. Jan Thacher passed around a photograph of the property in 1890 with cows grazing on it insisting this was how Gouverneur Kemble, the original owner, intended it to remain. Thacher questioned where the concept for mixed used came from since he said it was never discussed when he served on the relevant sub-committee of the Special Board. But restaurateur Tom Rolston rebuked him insisting he had served on the same group and that he had first offered the mixed-use idea.
       Dick Weissbrod of Chestnut Street, a former college professor, said he liked the design of the project, but was concerned about the long-term impact of the pollution buried on the site. I don’t have facts, just skepticism,” he said. Kearney said he believed appropriate techniques, certified by experts, would assure safety.
       Residents from the area surrounding the property generally objected to the scale of both the consultant’s schematic and Kearney’s ideas. “The impact of this project will be tremendous. I don’t like the idea of extending Main Street into the neighborhood. We have a quiet lifestyle now. This will turn people’s lives into turmoil,” said Elliott Hammond, a life-long resident of Constitution Avenue. Randi Schlesinger, a new resident of the Boulevard, spoke for many local residents in disbelief of Kearney’s claims for minimal

Area residents are not happy with development concepts for Marathon site

traffic impact. She pointed out the narrowness of surrounding streets such as Wall and Rock Streets. “People will have cars, and they will drive places,” she said.  Schlesinger and others mocked the idea of Cold Spring as a walking village declaring people routinely drive to the Post Office and the train station, among other places. Hammond and others did acknowledge Kearney’s property rights to build something. They said they just hoped the scale would end up a lot smaller than what they saw in front of them.
       Kearney expressed no urgency about submitting a formal plan for the property during the meeting. Afterwards he told Philipstown.info he was trying to be patient. “It’s obvious the process needs more time,” he said.  Relations with the village have been rocky. In April of this year Kearney lost an Appellate Division case when the village was upheld in its denial of a variance to the zoning code so he could build a private home at the site on a lot smaller than the village requires.
Photos by K. Foley and M. Turton

9 Responses to "Marathon Property Owner Calls for “Village Within A Village”"

  1. Peter Henderson   May 31, 2011 at 9:07 am

    I agree with the residents who objected to the scale of proposed development. My view on what is appropriate is “as little as possible.” The owner has an obvious desire to build residential units. With 11.8 acres zoned I-1 he can, as of right, build 11 single family homes. Part of the site (“the pedestal”) is off limits due to contamination, and the portion above the VOC plume is also most likely undevelopable, so realistically the maximum would be 8-10. That should be the starting point for negotiations.

    In return for him agreeing to leave the ridge in its current undeveloped state, we grant him more density on the remainder of the site. Perhaps he’s permitted to cluster 10 homes on smaller lots and add a couple of commercial units while preserving large areas of open space — something along those lines. To present a drawing showing approximately 25 single-family houses, including four on the ridge, plus numerous townhouse/apartment units, plus to be talking three story buildings, etc. is absurd. It’s all the owner could wish for and more, and represents what for me would be close to a worst case scenario.

  2. Peter Henderson   May 31, 2011 at 9:07 am

    I agree with the residents who objected to the scale of proposed development. My view on what is appropriate is “as little as possible.” The owner has an obvious desire to build residential units. With 11.8 acres zoned I-1 he can, as of right, build 11 single family homes. Part of the site (“the pedestal”) is off limits due to contamination, and the portion above the VOC plume is also most likely undevelopable, so realistically the maximum would be 8-10. That should be the starting point for negotiations.

    In return for him agreeing to leave the ridge in its current undeveloped state, we grant him more density on the remainder of the site. Perhaps he’s permitted to cluster 10 homes on smaller lots and add a couple of commercial units while preserving large areas of open space — something along those lines. To present a drawing showing approximately 25 single-family houses, including four on the ridge, plus numerous townhouse/apartment units, plus to be talking three story buildings, etc. is absurd. It’s all the owner could wish for and more, and represents what for me would be close to a worst case scenario.

  3. Arthur Warren   May 31, 2011 at 9:12 am

    “A Village within a Village?”

    Welcome to the hamlet of Cadmium Commons.

    The only problem with a Village within a Village, is that a Village usually has a two lane thoroughfare leading to and from it, not roads (like Kemble Avenue in the Village) where you can barely fit a Smart Car and a bicycle past one another.

    Is it a coincidence that Developer Ken Kearney is using Mike Armstrong’s Comprehensive Plan drawing to illustrate his new development? I’m sure he was very happy to find that Mr. Armstrong was doing all the grunt work for him by preparing the community for redevelopment of that parcel. Sounds like it is only a matter of time before Kearney v. Armstrong goes before a judge.

    And Mr. Rolston, always rebuking everyone for ideas that he himself came up with or presented first… Didn’t Al Gore invent the internet? I thought for a second he might propose another bed and breakfast for the Marathon Site. Maybe we could call it the “Cadmium Arms”.

    A.W.

  4. Ann S. Beddingfield   May 31, 2011 at 10:11 am

    The discussions about Kearney’s proposals have always struck me as hypothetical. I do not doubt that he wants to do what he says he wants to do. What I question is the likelihood of his getting financing. What bank would extend a loan? What investors would purchase an interest in any development partnership or LLC? These questions are pretty closely related to the question who on earth would buy a house at the Marathon site? To attract investors or get a loan, studies must project a revenue stream sufficient to secure repayment of the loan or recovery of the investment with interest or income distributions. Or does Kearney expect to self finance?

    Yes, the property has been cleaned up and certified as ready for development. However, a five-year study completed by the EPA in 2009 concluded that one house on the perimeter of the Marathon site –not in the middle but on the perimeter– needed further mitigation or monitoring. It is hard to imagine who would pay the prices Kearney will need to charge just to get to live smack dab in the middle of this site. In this connection, I note that there are several unsold units in a rather nice development right down by the River.

    I understand that all this is irrelevant to the approval process which must be completed in any event. Still it’s hard for me at least to see housing actually going up on this property. As for self storage, I think there is a reason self storage facilities are generally located on major roads like RT. 9.

  5. Elizabeth Daly   May 31, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    If I didn’t know better, I’d think that this headline was ripped from The Onion. It seems to me that this proposal seeks to replace one toxic situation with another.

    I can’t even fathom the scale of development proposed here in the context of the village infrastructure. Are we talking about the same property, accessible by Kemble, Rock, and Wall Streets, with its vast bounty of parking and driving space?

    If you need to test-drive this idea, come see the fun on Election Day at the VFW on Kemble, when the voters congregate. See the backed-up traffic on Wall and Rock Streets, and the cars driving in reverse on Kemble and parking on the grass, for lack of any other option.

    The level of traffic and congestion that a “village within a village” on the Marathon property would bring will seriously devalue the quality of life for those that live nearby, and further aggravate congestion in the village. The comments at the meeting about parking are on the money. People that visit the village want to park where they are going: directly in front of where they are going.

    One of the most glaring inconsistencies in this proposal — certainly its most ironic – is its proximity to the West Point Foundry Preserve, which encourages people to visit “a marvelous place to escape today’s bustle and connect with the Hudson Highlands’ astonishingly diverse wildlife.” This historic site and wildlife preserve has offered a quiet, peaceful space that allows some of the region’s wildlife to nest and live in peace, removed from the noise and density of the village.

    Does this seem compatible with the traffic, parking, infrastructure and density issues that will result from a “village within a village” as a neighbor? Perhaps we should stop thinking small and drop a Macy’s on top of the Marathon site, and see how long the wildlife remain.

    This benighted property has already been the site of an egregious wrong to the area that the village has paid for for decades. Let’s don’t continue down that path.

    As for storage space; thanks, but I’ll drive to Fishkill or Wappinger Falls for that.

  6. Maj. N. Justis   June 1, 2011 at 5:14 am

    The word for the day is “LIGHT BULB”.

    The perfect solution – Scenic Hudson could just buy the property(light bulb).

    All the nonsense, bickering, legal wranglings, perpetual legal fees would end.

    Once that is done, then the Lunn Terrace extension behind Forge Gate can then be built for the greater good of the community. (light bulb), how else can you access the Foundry Cove and the Campbell property (yup owned by Scenic Hudson)? Silly kids, “tricks are for kids.”

    Alles Klar Herr Komisar – Nicht Verstehen?

  7. Judith Rose   June 1, 2011 at 8:51 am

    Its been a while since the open space committee I served on has been disbanded, but as memory serves me, the vast majority of input for the Marathon site is not represented on the drawings that have been presented. I am not sure how the planner and Kearney came up with their ideas, but they are not at all what I remember as folks wanting to see. The vast majority of input asked for open space, recreation, dog walks, ball fields, ice rinks, gardens, an arboretum- all things that would be possible if the Village owned the property. Any thinking person, looking at the data, would have said- “we need to pursue an avenue for the municipality to acquire this parcel because the Village residents do not want development. ” But the Special board, in some action that flummoxes me, instead made the decision to create a plan for a very densely developed, many housed plan- the total opposite of the data we collected. I feel like I lost two years of my life in one fell swoop, all that committee time lost. And for the record, my friend Mr. Rolston claims that the open space committee discussed mixed use when he was on it. Well, along with Jan-I don’t recall such a conversation. For one, Tom had dropped off the committee before Jan and I collated all the data, and secondly, there was never, ever a groundswell of input from Village residents asking for more housing. Its almost as if the Special Board and its planner was designing for the benefit of Kearney and his bottom line, not for our benefit. Right now the property is zoned industrial- we don’t have to have such density, and we can control the open space and viewshed issues. I beg any special board member or Village Board member reading this- don’t rezone residential. You do that, and we have lost everything the Village residents have wanted and gain only tax burdens and traffic.

  8. Arthur Warren   June 1, 2011 at 11:07 am

    What flummoxes me, especially in light of the other comments below, is that Mayor Gallagher allows the Comp Plan Board to keep going and going, despite the outcry from members of the community that keep pointing out that their time, the Village time and of course taxpayer money has been wasted (and keeps being wasted).

    Yes, the Comp Plan was an important process. It has identified important trends in development and identified crucial preservation strategies – BUT it has also led to divisiveness, feelings of exclusion, cronyism on the part of the Working Village Group (in my opinion), AND now we see that the Comp Board and Mr. Armstrong are further over-stepping their charge by undertaking large scale urban-town planning on a parcel of land that taxpayers do not own, has been the center of a lawsuit, and in my opinion the comp plan in this instance has only served to support the agenda of the developer.

    Come on Cold Spring, what the heck is going on with your politicians? You have actual elected officials that seem to be behaving more like aristocrats (the almost laughable Mayor vs. key saga) and now you have appointed Village “officials” doing the same! In my opinion it’s all a failure of leadership that starts at the top.

    Ms. Rose, if I had given two years of my life towards this presented “plan” I would be livid too. I don’t know what’s worse, having Tom Rolston on an Open Space Committee – every quote I see attributed to him is in support of more development (a B&B here, a B&B there, one at the Grove, one at the Village garage, one on Downey’s Dock) or enduring any more of a Mike Armstrong led Comp Board/LWRP…which now seems to have become a pro bono drafting firm for potential Cold Spring developers.

    End the Insanity.

    A.W.

  9. Judith Rose   June 1, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Arthur- I am very much in support of the comp plan and the people working on it. Mike and Anne and all are actually doing heroic work. And I am thankful they are doing so, especially because at this point in my life I can’t volunteer to help. Someone needs to do it, and so few step up and volunteer.
    I just think they took a wrong turn with this one. Actually it’s not unusual for a municipality to take a close look at its vacant properties in this way- owned or not- to see how they could be used because in the end, comprehensive planning is all about determining if the zoning is correct. In this case, the committee collected nothing that supported more housing, so why the Board is working on plans to allow so much of it is really not in keeping with their charge.