I read with dismay in the last two issues of this newspaper, information regarding the status of the Depot Square project. First, an article stating that the new administration was apparently throwing the whole idea out, despite a great deal of work, and presumably expense, being done on the idea of moving the highway’s garage and using the land to help revitalize the Heights. Then, last week an Op-Ed from a member of the opposite party, while making some salient points, wrapping the whole thing up in political language. As an observer of this idea from the very beginning (I was present at the original presentation made at the chamber years ago), I have become increasingly disappointed, perhaps disgusted would be more apt, at how this project has apparently become politicized and the “not invented here” syndrome dictates its progress, or lack of.
I understand that there are many complex planning, financial and legal issues, as there are with almost any developments of this kind, but sometimes these are used to obfuscate or even block public participation to further one side or the other’s agenda. Forgive me for thinking this might be the case with the Depot Square project, but we are being fed so many different “facts” that it is hard to form an independent opinion. So for example, will it cost “little to no cost to the town” as one side claims or “the millions” that the other side warns? Is the highway’s garage nearing the end of its useful life or does it have decades of useful service to go? What are the economic projections to swapping out a non-revenue producing facility in a neighborhood to one that does? What is the impact of losing $1.2 million in grant money to the town’s ability to invest in revitalizing the Heights and how might that affect future grants? The whole thing seems very opaque to me, and I’ve been following it quite closely.
I also believe that the process to date has lost the vision of the big idea: to use a parcel of town-owned land adjacent to the North County Trailway to capitalize on this wonderful asset to the town in a way that would both increase the quality of life and add economic benefit. In my work, I partner with many communities and municipalities up and down the Hudson Valley, linking them to parks and trails that help their economic development. I can tell you, without reservation, they would give their eye teeth to have a major county trail (and part of the Empire State Trail no less) running right through their downtowns! All parks and trails are important but some can provide a greater economic and social boost and so require greater focus and attention.
I hope that the Town Board allows this greater focus and attention by the public of the Depot Square project before it gets swept under the rug or as another notch on the political score-keeping belt. The residents of Yorktown deserve it.
Jonathan Nettelfield is a founding member of Yorktown Trail Town Committee (an aggressively non-political organization).