Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress continues to provide a road map for the future, most notably with the recent report on its Urban Action Agenda including details that local governments should be studying and acting upon.
Although most county and local leaders say they believe in a regional approach, they often are inevitably drawn into local disputes and decisions that are made with little consideration for effects beyond the city or town or county borders. While that is understandable, they have to be made aware of the disconnect in the two perspectives. Make enough bad decisions locally and the effects spread to the region.
Take the conflict in the City of Newburgh over the proposed development of mixed-income housing and retail development in a vacant waterfront-facing property on Montgomery Street along with the rescue of two historic buildings, the historic Dutch Reformed Church and the former City Club on Grand Street.
A majority of the city council seems to favor the proposal. But two council members who can block the project, Jonathan Jacobson and Hillary Rayford, are opposed. The message from the Pattern for Progress report is clear — the region needs more affordable housing, something that the proposal before the council would provide. Those opposed to the project think that the land could be used for more upscale housing generating more tax revenue.
As of now, there is no other proposal that would do that, no proposal that would protect the historic buildings which are more endangered as every day goes by, no alternative to provide the badly needed housing for those with low or moderate incomes. Fail to create more affordable housing in the city and the problem becomes more acute throughout the region.
A law firm working for an opponent of the project claims that a city law requires six votes to sell the city property to the developer, a requirement that puts the two opponents in control of the situation.
Jacobson recently won the Democratic primary which puts him in a good position to win the November contest to represent Newburgh in the Assembly. If he wins and takes the seat, he will be empowered to think regionally and act that way as a member of a body that serves the whole state and its interests. So now would be a good time for him to step back from his narrow view of the proposed project and show that once in Albany he can take a more regional approach. Or he can block the proposal, serving a narrow constituency and doing nothing for the rest.
There is a similar disconnect with the Pattern findings on funding for education. It reports that since the start of the decade public school enrollment has declined by 5.3 percent yet public spending continues to rise, leaving New York state once again atop the list of per-pupil spending with a figure that is about double the national average.
Take a regional approach and there is a clear need to adjust school spending based on school population, to merge districts, reduce overhead, bring the oft-criticized burden of local property taxes down or at least stabilize it.