Editorial: Supervisor’s hands are still all over the master plan review

Monday, September 29
by Christine Yeres

Supervisor Rob Greenstein is eager to show that his hands are off the master plan review, but last week he demonstrated again that his hands have never been off it.  Operating through the town planner, Sabrina Charney, he continues to make decisions without either informing his other TB members or consulting the Master Plan Steering Committee, whose members were appointed by the Town Board to run the master plan review. 

When asked in last week’s TB meeting whether the members of the Master Plan Steering Committee had given their input on the RFP for a professional consultant to help with the master plan review process, no TB member or its counsel seemed to know.  Yet Greenstein was prepared to issue the RFP that night.

And when it comes to the phone survey Greenstein plans to have Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) run soon—300 randomly sampled residents—he has no intention of involving the master plan professionals.  The TB has seen the survey questions, the Master Plan Steering Committee met with Charney and PSB (hooked in by phone) to discuss the questions, and the survey will proceed.

In response to an email to all TB and Steering Committee members from NCNOW the day after the meeting questioning the timing of the survey—to take place before professional master plan consultants are hired—Greenstein “replied all,” stating: 

“As far as the survey, the TB is very sensitive to being accused of tampering with the questions.  We have a hands off approach.  However, I believe there is consensus that we would like to see questions related to CC included in the survey.  We feel that the information will help us make our decision re: the zoning change.  Plus, many residents would be outraged if questions were not included.  As far as the wording of the CC questions, as well as the other questions, we believe we should leave it to the expertise of PSB.”

In the course of the September 23 meeting, NCNOW questioned the wisdom of conducting the survey before engaging professionals to help with the master plan review, and asked whether the Master Plan Steering Committee had seen the RFP.  Below is the exchange that followed:

NCNOW: Has the Master Plan Steering Committee had its say about the hiring of the consultants?  Have they had input into the RFP?

Rob Greenstein: They [the Steering Committee] wanted a consultant and they were consulted.

Jason Chapin:  We had a joint meeting with the Master Plan Steering Committee and I asked Sabrina to provide all information to all groups.  You can ask her—the assumption was that she was sharing all the information.

NCNOW:  Did she or didn’t she?

Chapin: Those were the instructions we gave her.  Your question is whether the Master Plan Steering Committee saw the RFP.  I don’t know.

NCNOW:  Are you going to authorize [the RFP] this evening?

Greenstein: Yes.

NCNOW: Do you think it’s important before doing that to learn whether the Master Plan Steering Committee has had input?

Chapin:  Yes.

Greenstein:   Christine, you want the consultant to have a bigger role.

NCNOW: I’d settle for the Master Plan Steering Committee having a bigger role.

Greenstein:   The reality is that Sabrina has a lot on her plate with a lot of different projects, and when it comes to putting this document together she needs help.  We’re not looking to have them take over the project…

NCNOW: Or to think with you . . .

Greenstein:   One of the reasons Sabrina was hired was for the fact that she can update the master plan without our having to go out and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to update the master plan.

People can disagree with this but that’s a decision that was made awhile back and Sabrina is doing it and it’s moving along very nicely and we’re going to get her some help to put together the document and that’s it.

NCNOW:  First of all, she hasn’t done a master plan before; [a review] wouldn’t cost $200,000 to $400,000 [the figures she has used are $250,000 to $400,000] as she has said; it doesn’t cost that much, and she has too much work already.  Town planners don’t do master plans. they don’t have time. You’re making it sound as though this [RFP is for] a helper for Sabrina.

Greenstein:   You’ve made your position clear for a while that you would prefer that we bring someone in to do this process.

NCNOW: But you’re saying now that you do not know whether Sabrina has solicited input from the Master Plan Steering Committee as she was asked to do and you’re considering authorizing this RFP tonight.

Chapin: Let’s ask Jill [Shapiro] to contact Sabrina, then make an informed decision; if we can’t locate her the board can wait on this.  It would be appropriate for the Master Plan Steering Committee to be aware of this RFP and weigh in on it.

Lisa Katz: I agree.

Greenstein: The consultant’s services aren’t needed immediately, so we can actually put off the decision.  Whether we vote on it now or in two weeks, it doesn’t matter because we don’t need this person’s service immediately.  It’s not going to hold up the survey.

Shapiro was unable to reach Charney and the TB put off the discussion of the RFP.

The exchange on the RFP runs from the 28-minute mark to the 43-minute mark in the video below.

Town of New Castle Board Meeting 9/23/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.

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