The 'Master Plan'

"A good community is identified by the degree to which it successfully solves and avoids problems and builds a better place to live." - Edward Plotkin, (In a 1971 letter published as a preface to the 'Master Plan Update Report, Village of Dobbs Ferry, New York'.

Virginia Avenue neighbors recently obtained a copy of the document that was drafted, many years ago, to guide future development in Dobbs Ferry. This 77 page document is called the 'Master Plan Update Report, Village of Dobbs Ferry, New York', to be precise. It was prepared by Sanders and Thomas of New York, Inc., Consulting Engineers and Planners, Massapequa, New York, and released in December of 1971. The preparation of the report was funded by HUD, project no. NYP-196.

On the very first page of this report appears a letter from the Planning Board, signed by Edward Plotkin, the chairperson of the Board at the time. It reads (in part):

December 21, 1971

The Planning Board is charged with the responsibility of planning - of caring for present and future needs of the Village - of preparing the Village to accommodate the effects of growth and change more smoothly and more beneficially. As an appointed advisory group, we are to look after:

  • the welfare of the whole community, not only individual property owners;
  • the use of land, not properties;
  • the future needs more than current pressures;
  • the solution of problems, yes, but, even more important, the avoidance of problems and the direction of growth and change for the greatest benefit to the village.
  • Planning problems, and the situations from which they generate, are a fact of life in all Villages. A good community is identified by the degree to which it successfully solves and avoids problems and builds a better place to live. This takes planning. It has been found that those who don't know what they want, aren't happy with what they get.

To aid the Planning Board in its decisions, the Village retained a Planning Consultant to prepare this Master Plan. This plan is a guide for Village growth and change, and may be altered to conform to future desires. It must be flexible to meet requirements of economically feasible programs and the effects of adjacent community development. ..... [remainder of letter]

Edward Plotkin, Chairman

This is the same Edward Plotkin who is CURRENTLY the chairperson of the Planning Board. It was he who said that the Planning Board 'does not do that kind of planning' when neighbors asked, back on June 6th of this year, that the Planning Board take responsibility over seeing to it that the development of Virginia Avenue take place in an orderly and planful manner that addresses the many significant problems that the proposed development project presents in that neighborhood.

It was also he who said, when asked at that same meeting what guides development, 'There is no Master Plan'. And it was he, as chairperson of the Planning Board and facilitator of the June 6th meeting, who failed to direct concerned residents to the Site Plan Review process - the one mechanism in the Code that spells out, in any detail, the concerns that are to guide development planning in Dobbs Ferry. For the 'Site Plan Review' is the pocess whereby development plans are reviewed with nine 'purposes and objectives' in mind, as delineated by Section 300-71, 'Zoning and Land Use', in the Dobbs Ferry Code:

... In its deliberations, the Planning Board shall consider each site plan with the following purposes and objectives in view:
  1. To protect the character of the neighborhood and prevent the depreciation of adjoining properties.

  2. To achieve a harmonious relationship and maximum compatibility among the uses shown on said site plan and uses located in adjacent districts.

  3. To assure the adequacy of buffer landscaping, screening and building setbacks.

  4. To prevent the overcrowding of land with buildings and the inappropriate concentration of same.

  5. To lessen and, where possible, prevent traffic congestion and hazards on the streets which provide access to the site.

  6. To assure the adequacy of vehicular ingress, egress, interior circulation, parking and loading facilities, particularly in regard to traffic and pedestrian safety.

  7. To conserve significant environmental features and lands.

  8. To prevent the inappropriate sitting of buildings and other improvements without due regard for the limitations of slope soils, hydrology and vegetation on the site.

  9. To provide adequately for the cumulative effect on infrastructure, particularly roads and utilities, of reasonably anticipated future development.

Had such a review been done, the Planning board could only have found the Virginia Avenue development proposal severely wanting - for reasons articulated, in detail, in the information packets recently submitted to both the Planning Board and the Board of Trustees [1].

But the Planning Board refused to require a site plan review as a condition of subdivision approval of the Virginia Avenue development project. Interpreting Section 300-70 of the Code [2], which states that the Planning Board is 'not required' to do a site plan review in certain situations, as saying that the Code 'does not PERMIT' the Planning Board to conduct a site plan review in those situations, the Planning Board refused to avail itself of the Site Plan Review process.

Not only is such an interpretation questionable on the face of it, given the wording of Section 300-70 [3], it is an interpretation that contradicts earlier interpretations of the Code given by Village attorneys. [4].

Nevertheless, the Planning Board has decided not to require a Site Plan Review, and has thereby relinquished its responsibility for development planning in the case of the Virginia Avenue development. It has handed over all further development planning decisions to the developer, who may make decisions solely on the basis of the profit motive - as Chairperson Plotkin so eloquently put in on the night of June 27th. To hell, apparently, with "communities that successfully solve and avoid problems and build a better place to live." [above]

See the following, for more on:

  1. why the 'Master Plan' has not been updated since the early '70s, despite the fact that a 'Land Use Committee' that has in recent years been empaneled to look into this matter finds the current zoning and land use Codes in Dobbs Ferry outdated and insufficient: [5] , and

  2. on the controversy regarding whether the 'Master Plan' was ever fully adopted in the first place: [6].