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Preservation Hangs in the Balance in Scarsdale

26CushmanWhen all the members of the Committee for Historic Preservation resigned from the committee in November, 2017 saying that the current Village code did not allow them to prevent the demolition of any homes, we were surprised and hopeful. We were surprised because in our memory an entire committee had never made such a statement, and hopeful because we thought that this would compel the Village Board of Trustees to make some meaningful changes to the code. In fact, former members of the committee suggested some changes that would align with the historic preservation code in nearby towns and make it possible to save some of the historic homes in Scarsdale that are being razed at an alarming rate.

However, we're not sure what if any changes will be made at all.

The Village Board of Trustees has replaced all of the committee members, and the new committee chair, Lucas Meyer was quoted in the Scarsdale Inquirer saying that he believes that only "15 structures in the Village need to be preserved for posterity." Could this mean that almost all applications for demolition filed will be approved? We wondered if this was Meyer's personal point of view or a new standard for the committee? Either way, this interpretation of the code does not even align with the current village code. If the CHP simply approves all demolition applications, no one will need to appeal a decision to the Board of Trustees and the homes will be lost without any consideration.

We were also surprised that local architect Bana Choura was reassigned to the committee. She previously resigned after a conflict of interest as she works on designing the homes that are built on the properties where applications for teardowns are filed. Why couldn't the trustees find someone who has not previously had to step down from the committee... and someone from outside the Village?

We also wondered if the trustees would consider the recommendations from the prior members of the CHP for changes to Village Code that would allow at least some of our homes to be preserved.

And what about the Cultural Resource Survey Report of all of Scarsdale's properties done by architectural historian Andrew S. Dolkart and Li-Saltzman Architects in 2012? The study surveyed the "architectural fabric in order to identify buildings and areas of particular architectural or historical significance." They identified a list of the most significant individual buildings "ranging from colonial-era farmhouses, to mid-nineteenth century rural villas, to architecturally distinguished suburban homes from the early decades of the twentieth-century , to exceptional mid-century Modern houses. The report says, "We realized that what is so special about Scarsdale is the cohesive nature of the built fabric. While we continued to look at each building individually , we also looked to groups of buildings that give a distinctive character to the village. Thus, the survey has identified twelve "Study Areas," where groups of buildings of high quality and with architectural integrity relating to their original design, create cohesive neighborhood ensembles "20Mamaroneck

The report suggests both individual properties as well as historic districts for preservation. Would the trustees consider ways to recognize those properties and districts and incentivize preservation of the facades?

We wrote to the Mayor and several Village trustees with our questions and here is a response from Mayor Dan Hochvert:

1: Regarding the appointment of new committee members:

After the Village Board and Staff learned of resignations of the previous Committee for Historic Preservation (CHP), they recognized there were 3 applications for Certificates of Appropriateness scheduled for hearing on 12/26. A concern was that if the Village was not able to abide by its Code which requires hearings for such applications by the CHP to determine if the applicants' properties were historic, the applicants might seek judicial approval for demolition of the property. To prevent that outcome, volunteers who had previously served on the CHP were asked if they would temporarily serve while longer term volunteers were sought. The resultant CHP consists of some members with previous CHP experience and some members who have interest in historic properties.

2. Regarding the Chairman's view that only 15 properties in Scarsdale warrant preservation:

It is important to note that the Code gives each member of the CHP one vote and requires a minimum of four votes for a decision. New York State law also requires that if fewer than four members of the CHP vote either for or against the application for a C of A, it will be deemed a default denial and the applicant may appeal to the Village Board.

3. Regarding proposed changes to the preservation code:

The Village Board received recommendations from the members of the previous CHP and will schedule public discussion of them as soon as possible in the face of a busy budget development schedule.

(Photos are taken from the 2012 Cultural Resources Survey by Li-Saltzman Architects.)

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