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Peekskill Planning Chairman Steps Down

Dwight Douglas, chairman of the Peekskill Planning Commission, stepped down from his position during Wednesday’s meeting in response to the Common Council's decision to appeal the site plan approval given to the Renaissance Project's methadone

Peekskill Planning Commission Chairman Dwight Douglas presided over his last meeting Wednesday.

Douglas said he resigned in response  to the Common Council’s ‘ill-advised and misdirected’ move to file an article 78 challenging the commission’s approval of a methadone clinic on 3 Corporate Dr.

The Planning Commission approved the site plan during its Oct. 10 meeting.

“Finally, my decision to resign is based solely on my own thoughts and objections to the course of action the Common Council has pursued and to at least partially lift the cloud that hangs over the Commission from the Council’s resolution describing our actions as 'arbitrary and capricious',” Douglas wrote in his resignation letter. "My decision is in no way intended to reflect the views of the other Commission members.  The Commission, as presently constituted, consists of a highly qualified and capable membership well able to carry on without me and make up their own minds as to their willingness to continue to serve the City in this important and, seemingly, unappreciated role.’’

The Renaissance Project proposes to combine the outpatient therapy program it currently runs at the Jan Peek House with Hudson Valley Hospital Center’s methadone maintenance center into one facility at 3 Corporate Dr. The facility could serve as many as 275 clients, but it’s not expected that the facility will have that many people at any one time.

The Planning Commission gave the project site plan approval in June, but had to redo the process after it was determined that the commission failed to notify the Town of Cortlandt as interested part in the state environmental review process.

Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, the law firm representing the Common Council, contends that the project is incompatible with the current zoning at the proposed site. Although the zoning allows for professional offices, the scope and usage for the proposed clinic doesn’t fit the city’s definition of a professional office, according to attorneys.

But Douglas said the city’s staff had already viewed the plan and determined that it fit the zoning criteria for the site  before the Planning Commission began its review.

“Many residents and citizens signed petitions in opposition to the proposed application,” Douglas wrote. “Generalized community opposition is not an appropriate factor for consideration in site plan review, nor, for that matter, for any decision that contravenes the laws and ordinances we are sworn to uphold.”

A copy of the resignation letter is available in the PDF attached to this story.

leesther brown November 16, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Leslie,anybody that thinks Foster is going to sue Ruth Wells is on that new stuff,and as far as Tina her hands are just as dirty.....#letshelpthatbigotpack..
Liz Claire November 16, 2012 at 10:58 PM
We are the City of the yellow brick road and of Lincoln's only visit to Westchester after his election. What does this teach us today about how to act in the world? Dorothy encountered a cowardly lion on the yellow brick road. Today our cowardly lions are lawyers who refuse to take the moral stance that Lincoln did when he challenged the Supreme Court for the greater good of our country. Our leaders can challenge any cowardly lion's reading of the City Charter and summarily resolve to disallow this clinic. The fact that it is done in Manhattan regularly is precedent. Lincoln had the courage to act for the moral good of the country. We need leaders who will similarly act for the good of Peekskill. To hell with small minded lawyers who refuse to act boldly. Morality can triumph narrow minded lawyers if people of good will act together. This will take Peekskill somewhere over the rainbow, which should be a pot of gold for all.
sayitsnotsojack November 17, 2012 at 12:47 AM
The only reason Lincoln stopped in Peekskill was to use the men’s room, Peekskill was then and still is a toilet
Liz Claire November 17, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Congratulations! I didn't know the ignorant had internet access. Use that access you have to learn that Lincoln was good friends with the Nelson family in Peekskill and stayed here and actually gave a speech. Peekskill has never been a toilet despite Mary Foster's attempt to make it so.
Tina Bongar November 17, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Wow, good comments Frank, I need to get you a large coffee now, and a croissant, at the very least. Your answers help clarify what's going on, and hearing from an attorney that the legal standard for Article 78's is fairly high, should clear a lot of waiting and hoping for the State's verdict. (Also that we probably can't get some better, clearer zoning and use laws about medical clinics -- hey maybe we could get Hudson Healthcare to move and get some commercial businesses.) I hope that we can all, with the help of Wendy and 1000+ people, put our energy into pressuring each of the different Clinic stakeholders -- through their $ sources of course. The Hospital by pressure on Astorino and/or a boycott, first by changing primary doctors to treat at Phelps or switch to someone else until this is resolved. Next, apply pressure to the Renn Project (they are getting a substantial State grant that's our tax money so I feel obliged to see if any pressure on any kind of State level can do anything). Next, suggest and solicit other and more appropriate business to Corp Drive. Finally, get other well-intentioned people to run the City because if this is all that City Hall does to stop this project it's the end for them. I think the financial state of the City will spell the end of them anyway.
leesther brown November 17, 2012 at 02:16 AM
@Tina..Surely you jest!....."Maybe You Can Get Hudson River Health Care To Move" Where The Hell Do You Get Off Coming Out Your Mouth With That "BS"?!! How About I Bring The Many In The Community That Need That Clinic and Boycott You?!! Look Here You Have Now Stepped In It With Me...#I'mclosetotheedge...You don't live in your own private "Idaho"......You've "mixed,tampered and diluted" as soon as you(WNA) touched ground.....I want you to try and "utter" closing the Health Center!!!...#youreallyneedtogetyourhat...
leesther brown November 17, 2012 at 02:23 AM
@Frank...when you meet Tina for that coffee give that....a bill...
Evan Liaskos November 17, 2012 at 05:39 AM
Since Lincoln was mentioned, I think that Dwight Douglas and the rest of the planning commission needs to study Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. If the planning commission really believes that "Generalized community opposition is not an appropriate factor for consideration in site plan review", then we have an issue where they have forgotten that government is supposed to be, as Lincoln himself said, "of the people, by the people, for the people".
Wendy Kelly November 17, 2012 at 01:19 PM
You go Evan! Fabulous.
Liz Claire November 17, 2012 at 07:06 PM
I recommend we read the General Municipal Law (GML) of NYS. There are copious references to “recommendations” of a Planning Commission. Nothing suggests their decisions are controlling authority. Rather, the law gives ultimate power to “city government”. Point 1: Section 28-a 2(b) “Among the most important powers and duties granted by the legislature to a city government is the authority and responsibility to undertake city comprehensive planning and to regulate land use for the purpose of protecting the public health, safety and general welfare of its citizens.” A meth clinic in a residential neighborhood is contrary to the safety and general welfare of our City. Point 2: Section 27-13 “The planning board may recommend to the City legislative body regulations relating to any subject matter over which the planning board has jurisdiction under this or any other statute, or under local law or ordinance of the city. ADOPTION OF ANY SUCH RECOMMENDATION BY THE CITY LEGISLATIVE BODY SHALL BE BY LOCAL LAW OR ORDINANCE” Thus the PC is merely advisory. The CC can veto the PC’s determination by resolution. This matter is not an example of the PB applying well settled law. THE COUNCIL HAD THE ABILITY TO CHANGE THE LAW BEFORE THIS BEGAN. Finally, GML envisions Art 78's as a tool for individuals with grievances, not city governments who can easily remedy these situations by courageous legislative action. No ambitious lawyer would tell you otherwise.
Liz Claire November 17, 2012 at 07:21 PM
A simple resolution invoking the City's "most important duty" to protect the public health, saftey, and general welfare of its citizens, could end this. This moral (and compelling legal) stance would trump all the challenges to the procedural studies imperfectly executed by the Planning Commission.
Leslie Lawler November 17, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Nice work, Liz. I agree with your interpretation. The City Charter is quite clear (Section 198(b)(1)) in denoting the Planning Commission as an advisory board, ("advise/formulate/make recommendations.") Further, Section (c)(1) clearly states, "Land use and development regulations. The Common Council may by ordinance adopt land use and development regulations, including but not limited to an Official Map and zoning and subdivision regulations."
Wendy Kelly November 17, 2012 at 11:12 PM
You know Mary and CC are monitoring this site as well as the law firm. See below and example of a group that didn't give up the opposition. I am in for the long haul whatever it takes. http://bangordailynews.com/2012/10/02/news/midcoast/firm-drops-plans-for-methadone-clinic-pursues-lawsuit-against-warren/
nifty123 November 18, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Dwight Douglas’ letter of resignation from the Peekskill Planning Commission clearly and with dignity explains his reason for stepping down. Very simply, he believes the Common Council’s action overturning a Planning Commission recommendation was contrary to law and undermined the Commission’s authority and responsibility. He acted according to his convictions, and if others have a different understanding of the law, fine. However, the harsh personal attacks against Mr. Douglas that have been published by the Patch are a discredit to his critics and to the community. As for the substance of the issue, if compassion for those in need of potentially life-saving help doesn’t move those who are determined to fight against establishment of a methadone clinic, pure self-interest should. Federal Law (the Americans with Disabilities Act) explicitly forbids discrimination aimed at protected groups - and individuals seeking or receiving treatment for addiction are indeed protected. Cities in Maine (settlement paid to clinic developers: $320,000) and Illinois (settlement: $620,000) have learned the hard – and costly! – way. So have cities in Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland and elsewhere who have had to settle for sums that were not disclosed. And on top of the penalties, the legal fees incurred by taxpayers in these communities. Sobering precedents for Peekskill to contemplate.
Wendy Kelly November 18, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Unless you come forward as I have as a legitimate person I don't care what you have to say! Case Closed. Wendy Kelly
Wendy Kelly November 18, 2012 at 11:59 PM
nifty123 is obviously Dwight Douglas or someone paid by DD to write very self serving comments.
Wendy Kelly November 19, 2012 at 12:13 AM
I know only Ruth, a woman would think of a name as nifty123 that isn't a man for sure. Ruth you've been caught!
Chris Hanzlik November 19, 2012 at 05:13 AM
As a former member of the Planning Commission for 14 years until 2010, including Vice Chairman for three years and Chairman for two years, I feel can speak to the issues here with, dare I say, some level of experience and expertise. With all due respect to all that have made comments here, there are clarifications that need to be made to some of the comments. To those that have stated that the Planning Commission's duties are only advisory, this is simply not true. While most of the PC's duties in City Charter Section C198b are advisory, everyone is overlooking Item b6: "To exercise all the powers enumerated in Article 3 of the General City Law, as amended." With respect to GCL Article 3, Section 27, Subsection 14b states, "the planning board shall have the full power and authority to make investigations, maps, reports, and recommendations in connection therewith relating to the planning and development of the city as it deems desirable." This is further clarified in Section 575-56A of the City's Zoning Ordinance: "It is the purpose of this section to promote safe, healthy, good, orderly and appropriate development throughout the City of Peekskill. For that purpose, pursuant to the authority set forth in Peekskill City Charter §C198 and General City Law §27-a, the Planning Commission is hereby authorized to review and approve, approve with modifications or disapprove site plans." People have the right to question whether the purpose of 575-56A was upheld, (cont'd)
Chris Hanzlik November 19, 2012 at 06:26 AM
but the PC's powers and duties are much more than advisory. As Frank correctly pointed out, the Common Council has to file an Article 78 because the PC's decision is binding. In cases under Charter Section C198 where the PC's duties are advisory, the Common Council can (and has) overruled or not considered the PC's recommendations - it can't here. As a matter of full disclosure, I worked with most of the current Commission members, including Dwight Douglas and Ruth Wells, for a number of years. While I'm sure that people will comment that I'm biased, I can attest that the Commmission members are intelligent, diligent, insightful, and above all, professional. For those that may not know, Dwight was the former Director of Planning and Development for the City in the early to mid 1990's (when I was first appointed to the PC) and was a planner by profession, so in my opinion I do not feel that anyone has the right to question his credentials and ability to serve as PC Chairman. Based on my experience and knowledge, I know that everything stated by Dwight in his resignation letter (which I hope everyone reads) is factual. Yes, the Renaissance application is a controversial and emotional, and I'm sure that those who spoke at the public hearings raised valid concerns and issues. But the bottom line is that the PC had to act as they did (I believe the vote was unanimous) based on the data from City Planning staff and Corp Counsel stated in the resignation letter.
Chris Hanzlik November 19, 2012 at 07:22 AM
The Planning Commission was in a "no-win scenario" - if they denied the application as an "as-of right" use, you can bet the ranch that the Renaissance applicant would have filed an Article 78 against the City and the PC. So now that the PC upheld their duties and did what they were required to do by law, the Mayor and Council files an Article 78 on the basis that the PC acted in an "arbitrary and capricious manner." If anything, that term may have been more applicable if the application was denied. I'm not insensitive to the public's concerns and issues raised on the application, but I want people to have a better understanding of the dynamics involved. The only way that the concerns and issues raised could have carrried more weight is if the application was a "special permit" (instead of a "permitted") use, which then falls to the Common Council to decide on. I do agree that the Mayor and Council were fully aware of the application, and that they could have done more to work with City staff and the Renaissnace applicant either "behind the scenes" or within public channels, such as find a more appropriate location, before it ever became a PC agenda item. The Article 78 is the Council's way of covering their butts and making the PC and City staff scapegoats. To Tina's points - the applcant, not the City, fills out the EAF. It's valid to say that the City/PC should have better checked those items, but I'm not sure that it would throw the application into a DEIS.
Wendy Kelly November 19, 2012 at 10:57 AM
Thank you Mr.Hanzlik for coming forward as the legitimate person that you are and appreciate your comments. It is time Bill Magwood, CEO of Renaissance Project takes his facility and leaves Peekskill it is obvious he and his facility are not welcome here. I have nothing personal against Dwight Douglas I don't know him as a person but I can tell you anyone involved in such a sneaky approval process kept from the public eye needs to be scrutinized carefully.
Chris Hanzlik November 19, 2012 at 01:23 PM
You're welcome, Ms. Kelly and thanks for being appreciative of my comments. I do share your sentiment about the Renaissance Project - yet one more social program that comes to Peekskill, which shoulders more than the fair share of such government/private programs. Although the whole process is not perfect, the addition of the public hearing and adjacent property notifications to the PC process makes it better than it was. Prior to 2007/2008, the Renaissance application would have gone through the approval process without them, flown even more "under the radar." It will be interesting to see how the Article 78 plays out - in my opinion, it is going to come down to whether or not the applcation is determined to be a permitted use. Whatever the outcome, there needs to be changes to the zoning ordinance to better define and include proposed uses and applications like Renaissance as "special permit uses" in all districts, especially in residential and those districts adjacent to residential areas.
Leslie Lawler November 19, 2012 at 02:26 PM
If that were the case, Chris, then maybe you could shed some light as to why White Plains Linen morphed into the monstrosity that it did. I have countless copies of resolutions by countless different Councils over the years wherein the Council did not accept findings of the PC. Further, I have copies of resolutions wherein the Council even changed Special Permit criteria that were outlined by the PC. Had the Council followed the PC's recommendations and findings, WPL, more likely than not, wouldn't have turned into the neighborhood burden that it did. It was the Council, for reasons I won't get into here, that took final authority on numerous occasions, much to our (as you, Dwight and Frank who represented them at one point) public disappointment. So having had the experience being at the brunt of both the PC's process and the Council's ultimate authority, I'm not sure why the process changes for this issue. But then again, we all know the power of the political donor which I've seen trump anything anyone on any board or council can say.
Chris Hanzlik November 19, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Leslie, the difference between the two applications was/is that WPL was a Special Permit use and Renaissance is (pending decision on the Art. 78) a permitted use. for a Special Permit use, the PC has jurisdiction over the site plan approval aspects of the application, and provides recommendations to the Council on the SP terms and conditions (one the the PC's advisory duties). As you correctly point out and as I pointed out earlier, the Council has the authority to accept or reject the PC's recommendations on Special Permits. Unfortunately in the case of WPL, it was very frustrating for us on the PC that the Council did not adopt the PC's recommendations. I believe that the inclusion of our recommendations, plus stricter enforcement of WPL's operations by the City, may not have cured all ills but would have certainly helped to make things more bearable. Of course hindsight is 20/20, but it's too bad the John Walsh Blvd. option wasn't available 10 years sooner. When applications are for a permitted use, the PC review for conformance with the zoning ordinance has to be, for the most part, objective in nature. The PC has a little more latitude whwen they look at the application's conformance with SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act), but it is a very fine line between hazy and clear. The review of Special Permit applications can be more subjective in terms of health, safety and welfare, but as has been pointed out, there's good and bad - it's not perfect.
Tina Bongar November 19, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Chris Hanzlik, Thank you very much for explanations here. What is your opinion and experience with SEQRA and a Negative Declaration -- did you ever have a case or would you be able to speculate, if a project's EAF had several egregious errors, do you think there's a possibility of overturning the declaration? Would the Council have the power to do this or is there authority only in Special Use permits?
Frank a Catalina November 19, 2012 at 05:53 PM
still hard to believe city is in this situation... this is way too far along for it to just 'go away' but make no mistake, before the plan even became public, the common council KNEW; before the first application, the project was given a 'nod'; staff was keyed in and steered the planning commission. there were many opportunities to thwart this but none were exercised. although very different than white plains linen, WPL was an example of an administration intent on KEEPING a huge taxpayor ON the tax rolls (and the city's largest employer) while curbing the over-growth bordering a residential neighborhood. and those efforts spanned at least 2 mayoral administrations. in other words, WPL was not shown the door & city govt LISTENED to citizen complaints. those efforts, behind the scenes, WORKED for the benefit of the entire city. for the record, i only represented WPL on some Cityy Code violations, later, as Corporation Counsel, was one of many who brought about a working solution. looks like exactly the opposite happened here... an administration unwilling or unable to safeguard the city; ignoring cries of citizens and now refusing to accept responsibility.. what a mess!
Wendy Kelly November 19, 2012 at 07:00 PM
You're telling me! Appreciate all the support, guidance and advice from all. Let's keep working together and keep this at HVHC where it belongs.
Chris Hanzlik November 19, 2012 at 10:20 PM
You're right on all counts, Frank. I'd be willing to bet that the Council even knew how this would play out, knowing that the PC had to act on the application, which deflected culpability away from them. It really pisses me off that this is all happening on our, the taxpayers', backs!!
Chris Hanzlik November 19, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Tina, although this might be better answered by Frank (not to put him on the spot!), I can give some opinion. In terms of "overturning" the Neg Dec, the Council would have had to cite the EAF errors in their Art. 78 filing, claimed that these errors resulted in a false determination of no or small environmental impacts, and then prove that the correction of the errors would result in large enough impacts to meet the threshholds for triggering a Positive Declaration and an EIS. If the Council did not challenge the Neg Dec in the Art. 78, I don't believe they have any other course of action since the application was deemed to be a permitted use and the PC was the Lead Agency in the SEQRA review.
Wendy Kelly November 19, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Anyone else want to join Positive Directions for Peekskill Team? We have a lot of bright people out there that we could certainly use. If interested email me at w.kelly1@verizon.net Much appreciated Wendy

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