I was at the Rotary Club’s weekly luncheon a few weeks back and listened attentively as Tom Ianniccari, a member of the Greater Mahopac/Carmel Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Action Committee, spoke with some frustration about the chamber’s impatience with the Carmel Town Board, which has made no revisions to its master plan in more than 17 years. A wide array of improvements are badly needed, he said, which would help both business owners and taxpayers alike. 

Ianniccari reported that chamber representatives had gone before the board earlier in the year with a suggested master plan, called Vision: 2020, which they’d like the town of Carmel to put in place within the next two years. Increasing sewage capacity, expanding in-town parking, improving the aesthetics of Route 6 and facilitating real estate development were the Chamber’s major priorities. Ianniccari noted that, among the many items on Vision: 2020’s wish list, these specific issues are getting in the way of future commercial growth.  

“It starts with small steps and getting people from every facet of the community involved,” Ianniccari said. “To broaden Vision: 2020, we need townwide forums, and not ‘at some point,’ but early and often, to incorporate the needs and ideas of all the interested parties in this community!”  

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“Really?” I thought. “Just regular people offering up their ideas?  Politics and moneyed interests will play no hand?”  

Decade after decade, this community has been shaped by incremental land-use and design decisions made by town zoning boards and planning boards that are staffed almost entirely by untrained citizen planners, many of them with very special interests. And some planning board members, without doubt, have been principally dedicated to their constituent base, as they advocate for projects that prove over time to be quite self-serving. 

Let’s be frank. There is absolutely no need to reinvent the wheel and go through a process with citizen planners that will lead, expensively, to further frustrations. Let’s change the way we do planning in this town to include truly impartial community development specialists who can help inform our decisions. It costs money to do good planning, so let’s bite the bullet, do our research and invest in experts with a wide range of proficiency and know-how who can help our community move forward, both programmatically and structurally.  

This town’s goal should be to improve the prosperity, sustainability and quality of life for all its residents. A two-year plan is a stopgap measure which does not take into account impending shifts in demographics and the long-term scarcity of financial resources. Decisions regarding infrastructure, today, require a survival strategy—get it right the first time and make it last. It would be a mistake for this community to believe that outside sources of funding, whether it be local, state or federal dollars, will be sufficiently available in the future. 

Plan smartly with expert help and with a substantial amount of research into cutting-edge design and construction. At stake is not just the appearance and character of this community, but its long-term economic viability.

Creating a town master plan is a complicated process that should consider best practices for designing downtowns; the edges of downtowns; corridors; crossroads, and new neighborhoods. How does transit play into development? Links to nature? Green power? Are there cutting-edge ways to treat sewage and, if so, can they be utilized if we commit to small-scale construction? Are there towns that have gone through this process of envisioning their future that we’d like to emulate? 

The New York metropolitan area has some of the finest schools of architecture in the world, several within a couple of hours of here—City College of New York (CCNY), Columbia University, Cooper Union, Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Syracuse University. Perhaps we should investigate whether one of these schools would be interested in partnering with us in designing “Vision: 2030 or 2040.”