Just 90 days after a hot-button infrastructure issue in Ossining prompted the creation of the Downtown Redevelopment Working Committee, the group presented its ideas for the revival of the village’s downtown.
“Our charge was to imagine, without limits, what could be possible for our community,” said Justine Lackey, a 12-year resident of the village and co-chair of the committee.
The group was formed by village officials following community backlash regarding its plans to construct a roundabout at the intersection of Spring, Main, and Brandreth streets and Central Avenue. Village officials accepted applications from prospective participants and selected the group’s 15 community members this spring.
“It’s been wonderful to be a part of this process,” said Mayor Victoria Gearity, who served on the committee with four other village officials. “It’s a really interesting collection of members from our community, with a variety of skills and backgrounds.”
The group, which is made up of lifelong residents, immigrants, local business owners and recent transplants, met weekly for three months to discuss various scenarios for the revitalization of downtown.
Members of the committee presented some of those ideas to more than 100 people who gathered in the Ossining Public Library on July 25. Dozens of wide-reaching ideas were floated during the two-hour meeting, from modifying zoning codes to allow bed and breakfasts to creating an Ossining smartphone app and a local currency.
“The DRWC believes that the village of Ossining is turning a corner and that we have an unprecedented opportunity to set the stage for a robust comeback,” Lackey said. “It’s really an exciting time.”
The group especially focused on the connectivity of downtown to the rest of the village and on the various vacant or underused properties.
“This is what we believe is one of the biggest problems with the village,” said Kaja Gam, a committee member and owner of Kaja Gam Interior Architecture and Design at 127 Main St., “that we have these large stretches of no man’s land, and it contributes to the lack of cohesiveness and creates division between neighborhoods.”
Committee members advised the village to spend more resources on beautifying public space and creating more small, green areas.
Gam asked the crowd, “Can you imagine if we had a couple of little places between here and the waterfront?” She suggested that people might actually walk down to the water and back if there was a place to stop halfway when they got tired to sit and look out over the water. “These are the things we think we want to encourage,” she said.
Traffic and parking conditions in the village also consumed a large part of the group’s discussion.
“Improving the experience of the downtown and making a vibrant village center for the community depends greatly on visitors’ ability to get to the downtown,” committee member and resident John Van Steen said. Van Steen, who served on the group’s traffic subcommittee, noted that parking in the village is both poorly priced and ineffectively allocated.
“Too many spaces in close proximity to the business district are only for tag (permit) parking during business hours and are not available for shoppers,” he said.
But the group, like seemingly the rest of the village, found itself divided on the heated roundabout issue.
The village board made the decision to shelve the issue in April and the committee believes plans for the roundabout “should not be reintroduced until solutions and strategies are in place for Route 9, Market Square and the use of the adjacent Post Office parking lot,” Van Steen said.
The downtown committee also recommended the village enlist the assistance of an outside entity, such as the Pace Land Use Law Center or Congress for the New Urbanism, to help prioritize the many ideas outlined by the group.
While a majority of those attending were pleased with the ideas the committee shared, many pointed to the fact that this is not the first time a group has been created to reenvision Ossining’s downtown.
“This project has been proposed several times in different forms,” former Ossining mayor Miguel Hernandez said following the presentation. “But I do have a great deal of optimism that this time it’s going to happen.”
The committee will now turn over its findings to the village board, which will review the information and decide the next steps to take.
“Our hope is that this is reigniting a conversation for our whole community,” Gearity said.