Lively give and take on housing, pot, crime and the 2020 census

Town Hall meeting convenes village, county and state officials
February 28, 2019 at 9:39 a.m.
Lively give and take on housing, pot, crime and the 2020 census
Lively give and take on housing, pot, crime and the 2020 census

By By Jananne [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

A Town Hall meeting brought together an impressive panel of village, county and state officials last Saturday morning, Feb. 23, at Mt. Zion Baptist Church to tackle issues of interest to the community. The meeting was moderated by Port Chester Trustee Greg Adams, with Trustee Frank Ferrara and Mayor Richard “Fritz” Falanka, all running for re-election on Mar. 19, serving on the panel. They were joined by Village Manager Chris Steers, Police Chief Richard Conway, State Senator Shelley Mayer, County Legislator Nancy Barr and County Executive George Latimer.

Affordable housing, legalizing recreational marijuana, crime and the 2020 census were among the topics broached at the forum, attended by about 25 people. Trustee candidate Alex Payan was among those in the audience.

Sheila from Bent Avenue asked about the Emergency Tenant Protection Act and the mayor assured her that Port Chester has the rent stabilization law in place for housing of 12 units and above and is not talking about changing it at this time.

Hattie Adams, who sits on the Port Chester Housing Authority Board, said the list is currently closed to get into any of the PCHA’s five federally-subsidized buildings, two for seniors and three for families. Maybe by summer it will reopen, she said.

“In May the law expires unless we renew it, and we are hoping to strengthen it,” said State Senator Mayer of the ETPA.

Recreational marijuana legalization

Keith Morlino of Haines Boulevard asked if the village was going to get proactive about recreational marijuana legalization. “Now it looks like it will be a separate line item,” he said.

“We are on top of it,” said Mayor Falanka, adding that village officials would learn more at a New York Conference of Mayors summit in Albany on Wednesday, Feb. 27.

“We have already talked about legislation we can put in place,” said Steers.

“I am not in favor of it being in the budget,” said Mayer. “We are trying to protect people with convictions in the past. There is a movement in the legislature against having it be part of the budget.”

“Counties can opt out,” said County Legislator Nancy Barr, who represents Port Chester, Rye Brook and most of Harrison. “My opinion is that we should slow this down because this is a huge issue and will have a huge impact. We will know if it is separate by Mar. 31.”

Barr doesn’t want to make a decision on opting out without a full public hearing. “I am going to want to know how people feel,” she said. “I recommend everyone get as educated as they can.”

“If we don’t take action, it will be a default opt-in,” she added.

“I was live and let live,” said Ferrara. “I grew up in the 60s. I am now of a different mindset. Decriminalization I am in favor of. I am no longer willing to sit idly by. There are issues.”

“Port Chester is between two rich communities,” said Trustee Adams. “I don’t want it to be anybody’s dumping ground.”

Jack Robinson of Hobart Avenue wanted to know how residents can keep informed.

“The Senate Conference is preparing our response to the governor’s proposal,” said Mayer. “This is a big issue. (Assembly Speaker) Carl Heastie has already said he does not want it in the budget. So it is fluid.”

“Call my office,” she said, for updates.

Affordable housing

“What do you all call affordable housing?” asked Helena Kenyon of Grace Church Street. “What they put up as affordable is not affordable at all.”

“We are going to be having some new senior housing,” responded Ferrara. “It is in the incentivization phase. It looks like a lovely project. The developer hopes to break ground in June.”

He spoke about the 30+ units Port Chester developer Lou Larizza is building at 25 South Regent St.

Latimer explained that the county is involved in helping Larizza with the project. “He needs a low-cost piece of land and tax incentives,” he said. “If that happens, that project will come to pass. It’s affordable because there is a government subsidy.”

“We are doing a complete new zoning code,” said Steers. “We encourage the engagement of this community going forward. Affordable housing is one component.” The new zoning code, he said, “is one of the most important things we will be doing over the past five years. We will probably hold another Town Hall” on the subject.

“There is currently now an affordable housing set-aside,” said Ferrara. “The plan calls for a 10 percent set-aside. Things could change. That’s why we would like your input.”

“I think the formula needs to be changed,” said Trustee Adams. “Rich people don’t pay 30% of their income for housing.” He said the affordable housing formula should be changed to use Port Chester’s average income rather than the county’s.

Crime

Nellie, who lives in Port Chester senior housing, “and thank God for that,” asked if she should feel safe walking downtown.

Chief Conway responded by talking about the village’s drastic decrease in major crimes over the past five years due to police activity, cops on the street, downtown development and “people behave a lot better.” He said police patrol the Housing Authority properties 4-5 times a day.

Attacking the narcotics operation is a major issue, he added. “That’s the stuff you don’t see.”

Candidate Payan asked if the police department was understaffed and by how much.

“We could always use a lot more officers,” Chief Conway responded, adding that sometimes they have to delve into overtime. “We have been getting the job done,” he concluded.

“Safety has definitely increased,” said Ferrara. “We have a more vibrant downtown and more people living downtown. You have ample reason to feel more comfortable.”

“I am here about 10 years and I am so proud,” Nellie chimed in.

The chief, village manager and treasurer “have worked miracles with our police budget,” praised Trustee Adams.

2020 census

Mayor Falanka used the opportunity to push the 2020 census.

Although Port Chester is ahead of other municipalities as far as preparation, that’s because “we have a difficult community to count,” he said, adding that in the 2010 census, 31% of the community did not fill out the forms and that census concluded that the village’s population only increased by 1,000 people.

“We will work through churches, the Salvation Army and the library to educate people and get people to fill this out,” he said. “We have an active Complete Count Committee.”

“It’s a lot of money,” the mayor emphasized. “It affects how much we get in sales tax and other things. Talk to your friends and neighbors.”

The forms will come out in April 2020.

The county has a family task force, said Barr, which has been discussing the census.

“One way to do it is going to be online,” she said. “A lot of people are uncomfortable putting information online. It’s going to be important to have people that other people trust. It has to be a person to person thing.”

“This is a statewide problem,” said Mayer. “We are all going to lose congressional seats.”

“The county is going to be launching a committee to put together a game plan,” said Latimer. “Fritz’s ability to access money is in direct relation to how many people are counted. If you are undercounted, the less representation you have. The less population, the less representation you have in the House of Representatives. If Port Chester comes in with 32,000 people and has 42,000, Port Chester is the loser.”


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