MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The Town Board has officially turned the page in the next chapter of the town’s history as it prepares to undertake several massive, and related, projects that are long overdue.
On Wednesday, May 30, the Town Board hosted a standing-room-only informational meeting in conjunction with the town’s myriad boards, committees, department heads and other stakeholders to begin the process of revamping the town code, the town’s infrastructure and, ultimately, creating a new master plan.
“This meeting is for our town’s future. As you all know, we need to start someplace and we need to start now,” Deputy Supervisor Suzi McDonough said. “What this board would like to do is engage the entire community. Anyone who wants to be involved will be involved.”
Supervisor Ken Schmitt said the whole idea is to ensure the town’s vitality for future generations.
“We want to discuss what the blueprint for this town will be 20 to 25 years from now,” he said. “All of you folks are the architects of that. We need your input; we need your involvement. I can’t stress enough the importance of these meetings, and there will be many. This is the kick-off.”
Besides the Town Board, participants in last week’s meeting included members of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Environmental Conservation Board, as well as Recreation and Parks delegates, town department managers, town consultants, civic association members, Chamber of Commerce reps and county legislators.
“We have budgeted $100,000 for consultants [for the master plan/code revision],” Schmitt said. “For a total revamp of our codes, our master plan, you need a professional firm. You need consultants to help. We want to do this right.”
The meeting was broken down into three parts: town code/zoning, infrastructure, and master plan.
The codes currently being worked on include towing and wetlands. Future codes on the radar include de-icers/bubblers on town lakes; neighborhood identities, and signage.
“When we say neighborhood identities, we mean things like Restaurant Row or light industrial,” McDonough said. “Different sections of the town of Carmel will have different identities. We have been working with the Chamber on this. It would include things like the facades, the infrastructure, the color schemes. Signage is also something we have been talking about for the last eight years and has been a very hot topic. Let’s try to pull together this time and get together something that will make this move forward.”
Councilman Jonathan Schneider said code and zoning revisions have to go hand in hand.
“While we are looking at a lot of changes in our codes, without the appropriate zoning in place, it would be a detriment to the town,” he noted. “One thing we have been reviewing lately is multi-family and the way our zoning is right now; [if we didn’t review it], we could see multi-family pop up all over town. And that is something we want to see mitigated a bit and make sure it is the appropriate vision for the town.”
Under the infrastructure topic, current projects include the Water District 2 distribution system and facility study; asset inventory; Carmada Park, and drainage and paving. Future projects include the completion of Water District 9; Airport Park and McDonough Park upgrades; the Sycamore Park tennis courts rehab; an asset inventory project; a community center/town pool; and the Route 6 sewer/water project.
“We desperately need sewer and water down that side of town, from Wallauer’s hardware to the Somers border,” Schmitt said. “There is a study underway. We hope to have that by mid-August.”
McDonough said that for the most successful master plan to be implemented, “We will need involvement from all our boards, consultants and community stakeholders.”
She said an ad hoc committee will be created to assist with the vision of an updated plan and encouraged residents and board members to sign up that night.
Jim Gilchrist, director of the Recreation and Parks Department, said the revamping of the code and master plan was coming at a perfect time for his department.
“We did the recreation master plan about 10 years ago with the idea to update and revise it 10 years later, so this is the perfect time to do this,” he said. “Once we complete what we have going on at Airport and McDonough parks [in the coming months], our athletic field portion of the [recreation] master plan will have taken us way into the future. We will be all set with athletic fields. We have accomplished over 60 percent of our master plan over the last 10 years.
“The two items that we need to resolve are the community center, which we have been working on since 2012 and have the permits for, and a swimming pool,” he continued. “[For that] we need at least a 12-acre parcel that could be completely developed.”
Craig Paeprer, vice chair of the Planning Board, expressed exasperation over the proliferation of cell antennae on building roofs over the past several years, though he conceded there was little the town could do about it due to FCC regulations.
“Cell towers have been a thorn in our sides,” he said. “We’ve had four in the last two years. There is very little the Planning Board can do other than from the architectural view of it.”
There was much talk about the potential sewer/water project for Route 6 in Mahopac, as well as developing more commercial growth and how the two are linked.
“We recognize that the need for sewer and water is the key to keeping down taxes,” said County Legislator Carl Albano. “Aesthetics is a big issue. On Route 6, there is a lot of stuff that doesn’t flow. We can do better.”
“We really want more commercial development, but in a smart way,” added County Legislator Amy Sayegh.
Carl Stone, a member of the town Planning Board, said Route 6 had become “a continuous strip mall” with too many traffic issues.
Lawrence Zacks, a representative of the Chamber of Commerce, said that many of the problems facing the town are rooted in how the infrastructure was constructed over the years.
“Part of the problem is we started as a summer community and we don’t have the [proper] infrastructure,” he said. “But this is very exciting because everyone [in the room] is a key component in making these decisions [to fix the problem].”
Zacks said he’s been consulting with neighboring towns about zoning and master planning to get inspiration.
“There are many opportunities to improve our area,” he concluded.
Thom Ianniccari, another Chamber rep, said the town needs to market its natural resources to attract the development it needs.
“The master plan is a total blueprint. We are the county seat and we need to lead by example,” he said. “We want smart development; we want a balance. [We should be] using our lake areas as a magnet to attract developers. And mixed-use [development] is very important to our future. You can create little villages.”
Faith Ann Butcher, the Chamber Board of Trustees president, said the town needs to consider weather issues when planning for the future.
“With more storms happening, we need to think about how this will affect our infrastructure,” she said, with some suggesting that utility lines be buried underground.
Butcher also said the town needs to prepare for shifting demographics.
“The fastest growing percentage of the population is seniors and special needs people,” she said. “We need to take that into consideration.”
Judie Mirra, a Carmel hamlet resident, said town officials should consider getting millennials involved in the planning process.
“You need to get the young people here [at these meetings],” Mirra said. “You talk about 50 years into the future—look around this room; I don’t think a lot of us will be around to take advantage of this.”
Councilman Mike Barile said many of the aesthetic changes will target the Mahopac business district and surrounding area of Lake Mahopac.
“We are looking to revitalize and change the look of downtown Mahopac and change the eyesores,” he said. “We have worked very hard together. Downtown is going to look much different.”
But Councilman John Lupinacci warned the process and changes won’t happen overnight.
“This is a journey we are embarking on,” he said. “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We won’t be shortsighted. This will evolve as we move on and we will give the [community] regular updates.”