All About Armonk

North Castle Daily News

December 10, 2013

I am unable to appear before you this evening and it is for that reason I have asked that this letter be read to the attendees and members of the North Castle Town Board.

Before 2013 comes to an end it is time for me, Linda DiFiore, to respond to all the misinformation and omissions of information Supervisor Arden has taken the liberty to state in a public forum about me. First and foremost, you must know that I am a dedicated Town of North Castle resident; and a dedicated, committed, and former Town of North Castle employee. Listed below are the facts that residents and taxpayers need to know.

Fact 1:  I was a full-time employee of our Town's Building Department for 33 years. For the past 25 years my full time position was Senior Office Assistant. In addition, I served as a secretary to the Architectural Review Board (ARB) and the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), and I was paid for that additional work.

For the past 20 years I was President of Unit 2 of the Civil Service Employees' Association (CSEA).  In this capacity I assisted town employees (who were union members) with various employment issues acting as their liaison, which was part of my job as president of the unit. I believe this might be the reason Mr. Arden wanted to terminate my position.

Fact 2:  On August 30, 2011, I retired and received the fair and customary retirement benefits from the town and from the New York State Retirement System.

Fact 3:  During Rich Fon's tenure as Head of the Building Department, he asked me to consider returning to work on a part-time basis. This offer was made to me on August 1, 2011.  
   
The part-time position was to pay me an hourly wage and I was expected to work 21 hours per week, supporting the Building Department as well as the ARB and the ZBA. Note that this part time position would not provide me with any benefits -- no sick days, vacation time, or insurance. Simply put, if I didn't work, I was not to be compensated in any way.

It was understood that I would not work for three months during the winter of 2012. Time sheets and correspondence with Rich Fon substantiate this.

Fact 4:  At a union meeting held on August 30, 2012, I was informed by both Supervisor Arden and Labor Negotiator for the town, Mr. Richardson, that my part time position in the Building Department was being eliminated.

Fact 5:  In October of 2012, Lori Zawaki was hired as a part time employee to replace me in the Building Department.  Her hourly rate of pay was $24.00; she was scheduled to work 17 hours per week; and was to be compensated an additional $300.00 per month for any work she did for the Architectural Review Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals.  Ms. Zawaki is a relative and close friend of John Stipo a passionate Arden supporter who himself was appointed to serve on the Zoning Board shortly after Mr. Arden took office.

Fact 6:  In the Spring of 2012, Mr. Arden approached members of the Zoning Board and asked that they sign an affidavit stating I was not doing an adequate job in my capacity as Secretary. The members of the board refused to cooperate, and they resigned.  

Additionally, Mr. Arden reached out to former Building Department Manager, Rich Fon, asking him to confirm what he alone decided was my “poor job performance.” Mr. Fon flatly refused his request.  

In closing, I want to tell everyone that I loved my job and had the pleasure of working with wonderful people. I write this letter to set the record straight and clear my name.  

When Mr. Arden repeatedly attacked me at multiple Town Board meetings, I was unable to defend myself. He has said I was being paid for a no-show job, which is clearly not the truth, and he knows that.  

To all the town employees with whom I have worked over the years, I thank you for your support and thank you for your time. I wish you all a very Happy Holiday and a happy and healthy New Year.  

Very sincerely yours,


Linda DiFiore

This is an Open Letter to the Supervisor
October 27, 2013

Dear Howard,
A number of people have asked me why I, who actively supported you in your first election as Supervisor two years ago, am not supporting you for reelection. This letter will answer some of the key matters that have been troubling me.

I expected good government but that expectation has not been met.  I expected a government that follows our zoning laws and does not engage in spot zoning; a chief executive officer  that prosecutes those who violate the law and does not press for a change to the zoning law so that the illegal action is made legal. How else can we expect others to abide by the zoning laws or any of our laws?

I expected a government where decisions are made only after each member of the Town Board listens both to the other members and to the public. Our Town’s forward-looking open space program was created because Jack Lombardi listened to Betsy Sluder, an avid conservationist and Head of the Conservation Board, and other Town residents. No prejudgments should be made except to put a subject on the agenda for discussion.

I expected Town Board meetings to be civil, so that people can express their opinions without fear of denigration. All of our citizens deserve respect whether or not we agree with them.  

I expected a Town Board that respected our Town employees, past and present, including those who for years served at below market wages.
I expected an election without PACS, and without a flood of expensive derogatory mailings.

At the last Town Board meeting I expressed my belief in a citizen’s right of redress. Our laws have resulted from both legislation and court decisions. We should not denigrate those who try to use the Courts, as contemplated by the Constitution.

Howard, I hope you and my friends in North Castle now understand  why I cannot support you for reelection. 

Sincerely,
Sue Shimer

Issues with the Brynwood Campaign Contribution

North Castle Town Board

 
October 18, 2013
I have been a long-time resident of the Town of North Castle and have witnessed various real estate developments occur under different town boards and different supervisors.  While there were many discussions as projects moved forward, they were always in the context of what was best for the Town of North Castle.  In my recollection, there has never been a circumstance where a developer has made significant contributions to particular Town Board members in the hope that his project would get more favorable treatment.

The contribution of $78,000 by Brynwood Partners is the largest single political donation in the history of North Castle and was made to further the reelection of the Supervisor and two members of the current Town Board.  Whether or not such a contribution is legal is not the issue.  What is at issue here is the appearance of impropriety, as this clearly raises a conflict for the Supervisor and Town Board members who were the direct beneficiaries of this contribution.
                               
This is not an isolated instance but part of a continued pattern of Brynwood's involvement in our political process.  Four years ago, Brynwood contributed to the campaign of Mr. Cronin and Ms. Di Donato Roth.  Mr. Cronin and Ms. Di Donato Roth returned their contributions but only after three years when the possibility of a conflict was raised.  Last fall, Brynwood supporters made additional contributions to the State Senate campaign of Ms. Di Donato Roth; to the best of my knowledge such contributions have not been returned.

The latest Brynwood intrusion into our local politics involves a $78,000 contribution to finance nine flyers sent out this year supporting the reelection of the current Supervisor and the two Town Board members.  While Mr. Arden, Mr. Cronin and Ms. Di Donato Roth deny any involvement in the dissemination of such materials, (which would make such contributions illegal), the mailing was prepared by Strategic Political Group, the same organization that worked for Mr. Arden in his 2011 election campaign and Ms. Di Donato Roth in her unsuccessful State Senate bid.  Federal Election law clearly identifies the use of common consultants as problematic.

Brynwoods conduct with regard to this is unsavory.  While this contribution has been referred to the Town Ethics Board and the Town's special attorney for the Brynwood development, the legality of the contribution can only be evaluated by the Westchester County District Attorney and it should be referred to his office to evaluate.  Furthermore, it is a clear violation of the spirit of the Town's Ethics Code which limits "gifts" to Town officials.  At a minimum, the Town Board members involved must recuse themselves from any current vote on Brynwood.
 
However, whether such contributions are legal or not, is not the issue.  This clearly does not pass the "smell" test.  Word will get out that to do business in Armonk, you just have to "pay up."  This Town's reputation as an honest community in which to do business is more important than any one commercial development.  Brynwood's behavior threatens that reputation.  Integrity is an elusive concept but it must be adhered to.
 
There is no easy solution to this.  The Brynwood proposal may be beneficial to the Town and deserves a fair hearing.  (Although in its present form I am personally opposed to it.)  Any discussion occurring in the current environment that permits Brynwood to proceed will be tainted and subject to litigation.  There are alternatives that might permit Brynwood to move forward.  One would be to adopt a "cooling off" period of up to a year.  This will provide time for the political contribution to become less immediate and allow the Town to fully examine and focus on the details of the Brynwood proposal.
 
I recognize that both approaches may delay Brynwood moving forward.  If Brynwood cannot accept such a delay, they brought it open upon themselves with their inappropriate behavior.  Our reputation is more important than a single project.
                               
Thank you

Earle Yaffa

44 Evergreen Row

Armonk, NY 10504
 
cc: Town Ethics Committee

North Castle Open Space Committee
17 Bedford Road
Armonk, NY  10504

Supervisor Howard Arden
North Castle Town Board Members
15 Bedford Road
Armonk, NY  10504

October 4, 2013

Re: Tree Cutting by Con Edison on Armonk Loop

Dear Supervisor Arden and Town Board Members:

The North Castle Open Space Committee respectfully requests that the Town Board order Con Edison to immediately suspend its removal of trees on School Street and suspend its plan to cut down over 800 trees beginning on School Street, and continuing up Cox Avenue, north on Route 22 to Banksville Road and down Long Pond Road to its intersection with Windmill Road (the “Armonk Loop”) until Chapters 191 and 192 of the North Castle Town Code are complied with and the public and Town boards and committees have had ample opportunity to learn about the project, ask questions, and reach an informed consensus.  Failure to issue a stop work order will result in damage to our Town’s rural character that took generations to create.  Once destroyed it cannot be repaired.

I. Tree Cutting Violates North Castle Town Code

• Chapter 191.  Chapter 191 of the North Castle Town Code is entitled “Trees” and it governs public trees which are trees “lying between property lines on either side of all streets, avenues or ways within the town.”  Section 191-2 creates a Tree Board which is responsible for studying, investigating and counseling on the preservation, pruning, planting, replanting and removal of trees along streets and other public areas.  Section 191-9.C states that “in order to protect the town’s investment in time and resources in the street tree program, it shall be unlawful to remove any healthy street tree without prior approval of the Town.  The Tree Board, Highway Department and Building Inspector shall work together in determining any street tree removal.” In 1991, the Tree Board was incorporated into the Town’s Beautification Committee. Many of the trees that Con Ed has taken down and plans to take down are healthy street trees. Therefore, Con Ed must comply with Chapter 191 of the Code.  To date they have not done so. 

• Chapter 192.  Chapter 192 of the Town Code is entitled Tree Preservation and governs the removal of trees on private property as well as street trees within the right-of-way. It states that trees are “necessary to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the Town of North Castle because trees provide shade, impede soil erosion, aid water absorption and retention, inhibit excess runoff and flooding, enhance air quality, offer a natural barrier to noise, provide a natural habitat for wildlife, provide screening, enhance property values and add to the aesthetic quality of the community.” Section 192-3 provides that “it shall be unlawful” to do the following without a permit:

o Removal of a tree within a property’s regulated setback zone or landscape buffer zone.
o Removal of a significant tree (defined as a tree 24 inches or greater in diameter at breast height at 4 ½ feet).
o Removal of any tree in wetlands, within clearing lines, or conservation easements.
o Clearing and Thinning (defined as any cutting of more than 5 trees of 8 inches in diameter or more in any one-quarter-acres area, within a twelve month period)
o Removal of any street tree within the right of way.
o Removal in any calendar year of more than 10 trees on any lot.

Removal of trees does not require a permit when it is “under an actual or ongoing emergency condition when such tree removal is necessary for the protection and preservation of life or property.”  In this case there is no actual or ongoing emergency condition involving the majority of trees that Con Edison is taking down.  Therefore they need to get a permit for each and every tree they take down.  Please note that permission from the private property owner permitting Con Ed to take down their trees does not change the legal requirement that Con Ed comply with this part of the Town Code.  To date, Con Ed has not applied for any permits to take down any of the trees and is therefore in violation of the law.  Under Section 192-15, “Each tree removed without a tree removal permit…shall constitute a separate offense.”  Each offense is punishable by a fine up to $500.

II. Public and Town Boards and Committees Were Not Notified

The Open Space Committee would like to know why neither the public nor the relevant Town Boards and Committees were informed and consulted about the tree cutting plan.  The first time that the majority of Town residents learned of Con Ed’s plans to “harden” the electric lines on the Armonk Loop was when Lewis Tree began removing trees on School Street on September 24th.  Yet evidently Con Ed began making these plans at least six months ago and sent letters last April to certain private property owners in town asking for permission to take down their trees.  On September 27th, several days after the cutting began, Supervisor Arden sent a town wide e-mail informing the public that he had been working with Con Ed closely since Hurricane Sandy to prevent future power outages and one of the outcomes of that work was the hardening of the electric lines on the Armonk Loop.  His e-mail informed the public that the removal and trimming of “some” trees would be necessary.  However, Lewis Tree has told the Highway Department that they plan to remove approximately 837 trees, their goal being to clear trees that could fall within 35 feet of the wires. 

Just as the public has been ignored, so too the Conservation Board, Open Space Committee, and Beautification Committee were not informed of or consulted about this plan to remove such a massive amount of trees. These boards and committees specifically exist to help preserve the Town’s natural and scenic resources. Why were they not included in the process?

III. Many Questions Remain

Because there has been no public information session and no Town work session the information about the project remains limited and only known by very few. Therefore, many questions remain to be answered.  Specifically, the Open Space
Committee requests answers to the following questions:

• Where is Con Ed’s written plan for tree removal that identifies each tree to be removed?  Con Ed has been informing private property owners that a third party arborist from Virginia has studied all the trees on the loop over the last few months and decided which trees should be removed.  This plan should be obtained from Con Ed and posted for public review on the Town website.
• Have alternatives to removal been explored sufficiently?  Con Ed’s website says “be assured that we will make every effort to minimize the impact on the appearance and health of the trees.”   It then shows the following graphic for how they prune trees that are near wires.  Clearly many of the trees they are contemplating taking down can in fact be left standing and be pruned just as shown on their website. See http://www.coned.com/publicissues/vm_distribution.asp
• Should the Town hire its own arborist to consult with on this project?  The Open Space Committee strongly urges the Town to do this.
• Has the full impact of taking down these trees been explored sufficiently?  Taking down healthy trees can often weaken the trees around them setting them up to fail in the future.  Trees also play an important role in soil retention and stabilization as well as runoff and flooding.  Are we trying to solve one problem and in fact causing others?
• Has a tree replanting program been discussed?  Taking down such a massive number of trees will greatly change our visual landscape.  The trees that are taken down should be replaced by lower growing varieties that will not impact the wires and poles.  Replanting of these trees should be part of this project.

IV. Next Steps

• First, because Con Ed is in violation of two Chapters of the Town Code, the Town should request an immediate ruling from the Town Attorney regarding enforcement of the Town Code and then issue a stop work order to Lewis Tree and Con Ed.  Tree cutting should be suspended until the Code is complied with and until there have been sufficient public information sessions held by Con Ed to inform the public and receive and address public feedback. 
• Second, we request that this letter be read aloud at the next Town Board meeting on October 9th and that addressing all the concerns outlined in the letter be made an agenda item at the October 9th meeting. 
• Third, we urge the Town to hold work sessions so that all relevant town boards and committees may be consulted and included in this process. 
• Finally, we urge the Town Board to retain an arborist to guide and advise the Town throughout this process.

V. Conclusion

Everyone in town experienced long power outages during the storms of the last two years.  Obviously people want the power lines strengthened and protected. However to do so does not have to require such a massive removal of trees that will forever change the way our town looks.  That should not be the legacy of this Town Board. Alternatives must be explored, questions must be asked, and experts must be consulted.  At the end of this process the consensus may be that many of these trees must come down, but a balance must be achieved and the correct process must be followed.   Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,                                                                                        
Kerri A. Kazak
Chair North Castle Open Space Committee

CC: Anne Curran, Town Clerk
Joan Goldberg, Town Administrator
John Fava, Chair, Conservation Board
Carol Bidjarano, Chair, Beautification Committee
Roland Baroni, Esq., Town Attorney           

October 6, 2013

Dear Friends and Neighbors,        

Yesterday we received concerning news that Brynwood was a major contributor to an independent expenditure committee (known commonly as a PAC) that advocated for Ms. Roth in the recent North Castle primary election. I had no knowledge of the Committee for a Better North Castle, was in no way involved with its efforts and received no support or funding from this legal entity. The use of John Cronin's and my photo on one flyer was completely unauthorized and done without our permission. The claim that I received funding from this entity is a complete fabrication. All contributions to Friends of Howard Arden are disclosed on the New York State Board of Elections website and the sum total spent was under 5000 dollars. Any attempt to link me to this group is a blatant attempt to tarnish my reputation for political gain.

In spite of the fact that the Town's attorneys tell me that Brynwood's use of an independent expenditure committee is legal and that they filed all their disclosures properly, a separate issue is whether this type of organization is appropriate for a small town. My personal feeling is that it is not. In light of these activities by Brynwood, I have taken three immediate actions:

  •  First, I am referring the situation to our Board of Ethics and our special counsel for Brynwood, Keane & Beane, to determine the legal and ethical ramifications as well as the proper handling of the Town Board's vote on Brynwood's development application.
  • Second, I am demanding that the PAC be immediately disbanded and that it cease all activities for the North Castle general election.
  • And third, I am asking all candidates to join me in signing a pledge not to receive any assistance from independent expenditure committees in this or future North Castle elections. Our small town needs to remain a small town, away from third party budgets and influences.

I hope to have a speedy resolution of this matter so that we can refocus the upcoming election on the important issues that affect our residents and the future of North Castle.
 
Sincerely, 
 
Howard Arden, Supervisor


October 1, 2013
 
Dear Supervisor Arden and Town Board Members:
 
My thanks to Supervisor Arden for his recent update regarding the hardening of our power lines and the tree cutting program now under way. However, much more information is needed. As you know, I raised this issue at the last Town Board meeting. In addition, last week I sent all of you an email asking about the tree cutting on School Street.
 
I think we all agree that hardening our power lines and cutting back or cutting down trees in a planned and logical fashion makes sense.  This is especially true considering the suffering experienced by our residents due to extended power outages over the past few years.  However, I am troubled by the lack of information disseminated to residents regarding the tree cutting program. Early last week, many of us became concerned with the sudden marking and cutting of trees on School Street.  The majority of residents were not adequately informed about the project. The only specific information recently sent out about the project was Supervisor Arden's update on Friday evening, September 27th.  This was sent out after the issue was raised at the last Town Board meeting, and after the tree cutting had begun.
 
I have spent a number of days researching this project and I am troubled by an obvious lack of process and resident input. I have been made aware of the following:
 
· Con Edison reports that they met with town officials and that a "site walk or drive" was conducted with these town officials.  At that time the tree cutting program was explained in detail.
 
· Con Edison officials offered to meet with residents at a town meeting to describe all aspects of the tree cutting program.  A town official refused their offer.
 
· The tree cutting project was being planned as far back as this past spring.
 
· Con Edison presented a plan to a Town official or officials for their process of identifying trees to be cut.  It is not a “distance from the road” selection but a specific targeting plan.  What is the plan?
 
· The Conservation and Open Space Committees were not consulted on this project.
 
· Contrary to statements in Supervisor Arden's September 27th update, some residents have not received prior notification about tree cutting.  One family informed me that they came home from work and the trees were cut without any prior warning.
 
Based upon this information, I believe that the residents should be made aware of your answers to the following questions:
 
· Why was Con Ed’s offer to meet with residents refused?  Who refused their offer?
 
· Which town officials participated in the "site walk" with Con Ed?  Why were the results not shared with residents?
 
· If Con Edison had presented a plan for cutting down trees, why were the Conservation and Open Space committees not consulted for their input?  Furthermore, why were they not consulted on the entire project from the start of the planning process?  It would have been logical to involve representatives from these committees in all aspects of this project.
 
· Has the Town been monitoring the private contractor, Lewis Tree Company, to determine if they have been adhering to the tree cutting plan presented by Con Ed?  Who is watching what they do to be certain that it makes sense and that a logical TOWN APPROVED plan is being followed - not clear cutting?
 
On June 20th, 2013 Con Edison issued a report titled “Post Sandy Enhancement Plan’ (Source: http://www.coned.com/publicissues/PDF/post_sandy_enhancement_plan.pdf). On page 42 of this report is the following statement:
 
“Released a mailing to customers in North Castle, informing them of our plans to trim trees more aggressively and offering opportunities for feedback. We will also schedule community meetings to inform landowners of our plans to be more proactive in identifying hazardous trees and listen to their feedback.”
 
My understanding is that these mailings were sent only to property owners along the path of the proposed tree cutting. Would it have been reasonable to post this letter on the Town’s website so it could be reviewed by all residents? More importantly, what happened to the “community meetings” that Con Ed asked to schedule? Why were these meetings not encouraged and held, per Con Ed’s request?
 
It is perfectly understandable for the Town and Con Ed to attempt to harden critical power lines in North Castle and to trim and/or harvest trees. However, the large amount of tree cutting has been a stunning development for many of us. Con Edison's offer to give a presentation to residents should have been accepted. This meeting could have been broadcast on TV and uploaded to the town website for viewing by residents. We would have been prepared for what is now happening or could have given them the feedback that they were obviously seeking.  Con Edison seems to have gone out of their way to inform our residents and seek feedback, but they were rejected.  Who rejected their offer?
 
We have committees and boards like Conservation and Open Space for a reason. Residents are chosen for these committees who can provide valuable input on exactly these types of projects. We also have a Town Code for a reason. Open government requires that residents be educated and informed by their Town officials. In my opinion, the process of open government has failed in this situation.  We have no published input from independent advisors or from the Conservation Board or Open Space Committee informing us that the plan makes sense.  Evidently only one or a few "Town Officials" were involved and the residents were not adequately informed or asked for input. The Town Code also seems to have been ignored.
 
I present the following pertinent quotes from our Town website regarding these important committees/boards:
 
Conservation Board:
"The Board provides information to residents for the protection of open space, water resources, erosion control, tree preservation and wildlife conservation… It assists in sound planning to assure the preservation of natural and scenic resources."
 
Open Space Committee:
The Committee is charged with working with Town officials on:
#5. Developing procedures for applying the protective techniques for open space preservation identified in the Report of the Town of North Castle Open Space Study Committee, June 2003, and working with Town officials to apply these techniques to each parcel.
OSC Criteria for Identifying and Prioritizing Properties for Potential Open Space Acquisition
Adopted by OSC on November 2, 2005:
•Scenic significance including reclamation of environmentally compromised areas and visually blighted areas
•Presence of old growth trees and forests
 
Our Town Code specifically references the issue of tree cutting:
 
· 192-1-Legislative intent. The Town of North Castle finds and declares that the preservation of trees as defined herein within the Town is necessary to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the Town of North Castle because trees provide shade, impede soil erosion, aid water absorption and retention, inhibit excess runoff and flooding, enhance air quality, offer a natural barrier to noise, provide a natural habitat for wildlife, provide screening, enhance property values and add to the aesthetic quality of the community.
 
· Section 192-3: Except as provided in § 192-4, it shall be unlawful to conduct, directly or indirectly, any of the following activities in the Town of North Castle unless a permit is obtained pursuant to § 192-5:
-Removal of a tree within a property's regulated setback zone or landscape buffer zone.
-Removal of a significant tree.
-Removal of any tree in wetlands, within clearing lines, or conservation easements.
-Clearing/Thinning.
-Removal of any street tree within the right-of-way.
-Removal in any calendar year of more than 10 trees on any lot.
 
My understanding is that none of this was done or followed. Therefore the current tree cutting program may be in violation of the intent of the Town code.
 
Documents obtained from Con Ed indicate that the focus of this project will be a 4 mile corridor winding through our community called the “Armonk Loop”. It runs up Main Street/Route 128, across School Street, on to Cox Avenue, north on Route 22, then down Bedford – Banksville Road. Town employees have been informed by the Lewis tree company that they will take down 837 trees along this “loop”. Yet Con Ed claims that they have no knowledge of this figure. Is Con Ed communicating with the Lewis Company? The time has come for the North Castle officials, Con Ed and Lewis to get on the same page.
 
North Castle residents deserve detailed answers to these questions. We also deserve the benefit of input from the knowledgeable residents who serve on these important boards and committees. I applaud an effort to harden our power lines and manage the trees along these lines.  However, the cutting of these trees, particularly some old ones, will affect the character of our town and should not be undertaken without public input, due consideration and adherence to our Town Code.
 
Respectfully submitted,
 
Neal J. Baumann
Armonk, NY

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