Purcell’s Monroe Revitalization plan stumbles in debut.
On Tuesday evening, the residents of Monroe were treated to Mayor Jim Purcell’s plan for Monroe revitalization of the Lake Street business district. But the meeting and the proposed $2.1 million plan were longer on controversy and confusion than on facts and details.
Many residents of the village were sent an advance postcard asking their opinions of the plan, and for their response. However, the details of the plan were confusing and difficult to find on the village website since it was embedded within the “Comprehensive Plan version 2.1“. Further, many residents did not receive notification or details of the plan, or links on the village website since, quoting Monroe Mayor James Purcell, “the computers have been down the past 3 days.”
As the background of the plan emerged, the proposed revitalization has been in discussion since 2013, and has now emerged as a proposal for vote late in 2015 after prior attempts to review. The meeting and plan were light on details, and equally confusing. The full video of the meeting is provided below, courtesy United Monroe who recorded the event. In fact, the words “Monroe revitalization” turn out to be largely a misnomer.
The current plan proposes more infrastructure to address neglect of investment over the past several decades, with less money devoted to visual updating of the Lake Street district. Concerns included the repair/replacement of the concrete bulkhead/sidewalks at the southwest corner of Lake and Millpond Parkway; potential right-of-way between North Main and Lake Street/Stage Road/Carpenter Place, and other details related to the infrastructure of downtown.
Purcell cited current improvements in town codes that now permit outdoor seasonal seating for the village’s restaurants and the ability of a restaurateur to serve alcohol at street-side, both relying more on code changes than physical improvements.
When questioned about the input to the Monroe Comprehensive Plan, and specifically the business district, Purcell rattled off a list of those involved, a group that included only one woman on the committee. This was a recurring theme during this meeting, as many residents expressed their disappointment with the representation of women in village government, lack of female hires, and lack of committee representation by women. That only began the list of resident concerns over the proposal.
This, in addition to other actions by the Village Board, led to resident suggestions that the Village and Mayor Purcell provide little feedback to the constituents, a point on which Purcell became visibly defensive. When the finer points of the plan were discussed, very few items were specific to Lake Street itself, and the more pressing concern among citizens were the conditions on North Main Street where property values continue a decline and code enforcement is described as “lacking”. Several residents who presented issues with specific conditions in the North Main neighborhood called it “an eyesore”, citing conversions of single-family residences to multi-family units with unruly tenants. Several of these were treated dismissively or given short answers to move the revitalization agenda along.
In response to questions of whether property owners within the Monroe revitalization zone were supportive of the Monroe revitalization plan, the response was a very short but negative nod. Rents in the Monroe business district are already high compared to other locations, and building owners/landlords have been reluctant to invest heavily in maintenance of buildings to code or upgrades to facades to help unify the shopping zone. The introduction of awnings was suggested as a partial solution, a suggestion that met with disapproval of those in attendance.
“(Those) awnings need to go,” cited village resident Greg Gilligan, expressing his view on the aesthetics.
“They look like a strip mall,” stated United Monroe Chairperson Emily Convers, who also mentioned that she shops in the current district and supports her local business-owners.
Trustee Irene Conklin stated the concern of many landlords, noting that the investment in a facade has little return if the building cannot be rented. Without building-owner support, the plan seemed to be dead on arrival. Residents in attendance also commented on the misnomer of this being a Monroe revitalization plan as much as it is an infrastructure improvement plan.
Trustee Neil Dwyer, when the Village Board was asked on how they would consider the response to post-cards, indicated that he would not consider them as he has already decided against the plan. Dwyer cited that the analysis did not adequately address the weaknesses that were identified, and that a $2.1 million investment for what appears on the surface to be sidewalks and street-lighting isn’t justified. An informal roll-call of trustees on the plan revealed that Trustees Conklin and Gormley also expressed their concerns to the plan, indicating that they could not support the costs and impact to the tax-base and citing that the added tax pressure would make it difficult for families to continue living here.
The Monroe revitalization plan stumbled in its debut as much as the plan to remove the spillway at Stage Road. Village residents overwhelmingly supported the desire to maintain Monroe’s iconic stone waterfall over a plan for a seasonal creek bed that would be dry during summer months.
See more in our upcoming editorial on the Monroe revitalization plan and where we believe the plan isn’t the right investment for Monroe.
In other village business, a single bidder was awarded the work to maintain the Monroe Ponds, in spite of more than 20 vendors who were asked to submit proposals. Additionally, the village announced that the reviews had been completed for work to commence on rebuilding the spillway at Stage Road, and that the town now had obtained from Orange County the rights to maintain North Main street.