Jul 25, 2014

Updated Master Plan Gains Momentum

The Harrison Town Board listened to a proposal from the consulting firm BFJ Planning Tuesday evening. BFJ is optimistic that a complete Master Plan could be ready by this fall.

Updated Master Plan Gains Momentum

The Town/Village of Harrison could have an updated Master Plan as soon as Thanksgiving, according to a consulting firm's presentation to the Harrison Town Board Tuesday evening.

Harrison hasn't completed an update on the plan, which outlines zoning, population density and future development plans, since 1988.

BFJ Planning, the same consulting firm the town used when a draft for the plan was completed in 2007, gave the presentation. Frank Fish, principal of BFJ Planning, said although there is still work to be done in several key areas, he hopes to complete the process within eight months.

The town board must vote to give the bid to BFJ before work can officially begin on the plan, but since the firm already completed most of the legwork four years ago they are the front-runner at this point because of their knowledge of town and the reduced labor costs.

"What they are charging is like a refresher," said Harrison Mayor/Supervisor Ron Belmont (R). "It's not the full amount."

But completing a new Master Plan will require an intensive look in two key areas. According to a presentation from a team of three BFJ associates, the Platinum Mile area as well as the downtown business district will require several updates before a finalized plan is adopted.

Zoning in the downtown area—especially with a possible on the horizon—will be a key issue for any new plan. The Platinum Mile area has also changed significantly since BFJ worked in Harrison. Since then, the recession has left many offices in the area empty.

"The Platinum Mile was doing okay in 2004 and 2005, then came the recession," said Fish. "They want to make sure they don't have high vacancies."

BFJ associates said they will need to develop a comprehensive marketing plan to pull businesses into the area while also being careful of infringing on homes that border the row of office buildings along Interstate 287.

Because of a string of issues downtown, including parking and sluggish retail sales, Belmont said he also wants to conduct an updated study of the district before finalizing a plan.

The timeline completion includes two months spent updating facts, goals and new population numbers to reflect the 2010 census. Ten weeks would then be spent this summer developing plans for the downtown and Platinum Mile with a public meeting held halfway through to discuss the town's options, according to the BFJ presentation.

A completed draft would be ready by the end of August. A public hearing to discuss that plan would be held in early October before final revisions are made for a completed plan in November.

Work on these updates would likely be coordinated by the Harrison Town Board, Harrison Planning Board and BFJ Planning, assuming the town board and BFJ come to an agreement on a bid.

The town board also needs to decide if it will pay for an in-depth environmental impact study of the plan. That study would take a deeper look at any possible issues—but also cost an estimated $100,000 on top of other costs. Mamaroneck, which recently completed a comprehensive plan with BFJ, elected not to perform and environmental impact study. Port Chester also worked with BFJ and decided to pay for the plan.

The Town Board could vote to accept BFJ's bid as soon as Thursday, Belmont said. The cost of developing the plan would be released at that time, but was not available Tuesday night because negotiations are on-going.

Harrison's last attempt to complete a Master Plan took place in 2007 under the direction of then-mayor/supervisor and current Councilman Steve Malfitano (R). The draft approved under his tenure was never finalized under the leadership of Mayor/Supervisor Joan Walsh (D), who said at the time the document needed more work before being ready for final approval.

Citing her focus on financial issues during her four years in office, Walsh never completed an updated plan that gained any momentum.

Since taking office in January, Belmont said The Master Plan has been an issue he hopes move on quickly. Other board members agreed, calling the document an important priority for the town moving forward.

"It's the blueprint for the future," said Councilwoman Marlane Amelio (R).

"It really helps us see the areas that development can still take place," said Councilman Fred Sciliano (R). "It's important."

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