Council vote expected in September
By Jeff Simms
Public comment dominated the July 17 Beacon City Council meeting, the first since Mayor Randy Casale announced that the city is considering a six-month moratorium on residential building.
The ban is being considered, Casale said, because Beacon’s faster-than-projected growth could bring the city’s population uncomfortably close to the threshold its existing water supplies can sustain.
Beacon’s population is about 14,400, but with almost 1,000 housing units either under construction or review, that number could jump to nearly 17,000 quickly. The city’s water sources can accommodate 17,800, although its comprehensive plan projected Beacon would not grow that large until at least 2050.
The City Council will likely vote in September on the moratorium, which, if adopted, will be backdated to July 3.
At the July 17 meeting, dozens of residents offered their opinions.
Mary Fris, a Main Street business owner, said that she’s heard from numerous shop owners that the city should slow residential growth and concentrate on jobs.
“I get people in my shop every week looking for work, and that’s not just high school kids,” she said in a later interview. “If there were mid-sized companies in Beacon, those people would stay in Beacon and spend money here.”
High-end apartments and condominiums typically appeal to commuters and retirees, she said, not people who spend much money locally.
Others at the meeting, however, argued that a moratorium would stall an economic and cultural revival they see going on in Beacon.
“Beacon has the opportunity to lose the market that has been driving revenue, growth, better schools, a picturesque downtown and tourism,” said Theresa Dryfoos. “We all know the market can cool on a dime, which would give us a whole new set of problems.”
Monroe enacted a 90-day moratorium on residential construction in 2016 and extended it four times to give the town time to update its comprehensive plan. Home developers who had already cleared trees from two parcels sued; one issue was whether they would be able to include “accessory apartments.”
Blooming Grove, South Blooming Grove and Washingtonville each adopted six-month residential moratoriums earlier this year to update their comprehensive plans. Two homeowners who had been attempting since 2015 to install a $2 million solar array on their farm pleaded for an exemption.
Officials in Goshen in 2015 declared a six-month moratorium on solar projects to allow village staff to research the technology and how it might affect planning.
Jessica Jelliffe expressed concern that continued residential growth might cause Beacon to lose the small-town character that has brought many residents to the city.
“We love this city,” Jelliffe said. “We came here because we felt something extremely strong and powerful, and we don’t want to lose that. Right now it feels like the development is moving extremely quickly without taking into account the history and the vibrancy of what we do have.”
Frank Fish, a principal at BFJ Planning, which helped a committee of Beacon residents and officials revise the city’s comprehensive plan earlier this year, said in an interview that moratoriums are typically utilized when a municipality identifies an issue — like water — that can be addressed and rectified within a given time frame. Six months is considered a “very reasonable” stoppage, he said.
He said BFJ just completed a project with Rockville Centre, on Long Island, which has a population of 24,500. Village officials instituted a six-month building moratorium because of concerns that growth in one area of the village was out of scale with the surrounding neighborhoods. BFJ helped the village create a new zoning district to address the issue.
“There needs to be a cause for the moratorium, and it has to be calculated to alleviate” whatever condition is identified, Fish said. “I’ve seen them work very successfully, but if you don’t get going on some remedial action during the moratorium, you’ve negated the reason for doing it.”
The Beacon council is scheduled to review a second draft of the proposed moratorium at its July 31 workshop. The council would have to schedule a public hearing and solicit input from the city and county planning boards before a vote could take place.