For three years, mayors from throughout the lower- and mid-Hudson Valley have met on a quarterly basis to discuss land use, planning, and economic development objectives. Organized and staffed by the Pace University Land Use Law Center, this “Mayors’ Redevelopment Roundtable” serves as a valuable forum for exchanging ideas, identifying common interests and advocating for regional or statewide policy objectives.

In addition to myself, the Roundtable includes the mayors of Yonkers, White Plains, Mount Vernon, Port Chester, Peekskill, Rye, Beacon, Poughkeepsie, and Newburgh (with a collective population of more than 500,000). The Roundtable also maintains ongoing relations with the Westchester County Association, a major business advocacy organization, and with the Hudson Valley Economic Development Council, which promotes business recruitment and retention.

This morning, we had an opportunity to meet with Lt. Governor Robert Duffy, who is spearheading economic development and job growth initiatives for the Cuomo Administration. I was privileged to offer introductory comments on behalf of my fellow mayors. I focused on two basic themes:

First, the State has good reason to concentrate on the cities of the Hudson Valley:

  • We are served by mass transit, can accommodate appropriate residential and commercial growth, and can establish closer links between home and work, with attendant energy and climate benefits;
  • Cities act as the engines of job growth and upward mobility. An economic strategy that focuses on isolated office parks and ignores population centers will not succeed;
  • Contrary to the statewide impression of the northern suburbs, our communities wrestle with significant social and economic distress and are deserving of State attention;
  • Because of prior individual planning and development initiatives, and because of the regional framework established by the Mayors’ Roundtable, we are ready to move forward quickly and can serve as a statewide model for integrated, coordinated action.

Second, there are a variety of ways in which the State might assist us, beyond the obvious and much-needed provision of dollars:

  • Planning is an essential precursor to sustainable growth, and the State can help provide the resources or expertise to support planning efforts;
  • The development review process can be streamlined to encourage transit-oriented projects in compact urban centers which are, by definition, environmentally beneficial. Similarly State tax incentive programs can be reoriented to comport with planning and sustainability objectives;
  • Standard metrics can be established that better quantify the comparative benefits of downtown and transit-oriented construction, in contrast to automobile dependent growth at the metropolitan periphery;
  • Enhancements in the energy and property maintenance codes, coupled with tools for enforcement, could promote common goals and permit economies of scale in both policy creation and administration.

The Cuomo Administration is in the process of establishing regional economic development councils that will serve as the vehicles for evaluating and prioritizing specific projects and initiatives. Until those councils are in place, it will be difficult to pin down the precise State standards and mechanisms for promoting a stronger economy. As a result, today’s discussion was necessarily conducted in fairly broad terms.

Nonetheless, the Lt. Governor demonstrated an openness to ideas and a willingness to convene various State authorities in order to advance our regional goals. It was a good start to a conversation.