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scarsdalecrestThe Procedure Committee invites eligible Scarsdale residents to run for election on November 9th to the Citizen’s Nominating Committee (CNC), the non-partisan group that chooses candidates for major Village offices. This is one of two venues for citizens to participate in the electoral process in Scarsdale (the other being the School Board Nominating Committee Election). Once elected, the 10 new members of the CNC will join 20 sitting CNC members in 4 or 5 meetings to propose and choose individuals to run in the Village election next March for three Trustee positions and Mayor. These candidates run under the banner of the Scarsdale Non-Partisan Party, and since they usually run unopposed, by choosing them the CNC effectively chooses the Village government.

CNC members are expected to attend all meetings, to serve for 3 years (10 of the 30 members retire and are replaced each year), and to serve on the Procedure Committee for one year after their retirement from the CNC. CNC meeting dates for 2010-2011 will be Dec 5, Jan 9, Jan 23, Jan 26 and if necessary Jan 30. Note with the exception of Jan 23 (Wed), all meeting dates are on Sundays and scheduled to minimally interfere with holiday and other commitments.

Eligible CNC candidates have to be registered voters and to have lived in Scarsdale for at least two years. In addition, CNC candidates cannot be currently on the School Board Nominating or Administrative Committees, the Board of Education, the Board of Trustees or the Procedure Committee.

Candidates run for one of two CNC positions in their elementary school district. A minimum of 2 candidates are needed per position, 4 candidates per school district and a minimum total of 20 candidates to run for 10 CNC positions this year.

To run, candidates must file a nominating petition with 10 signatures of registered voters from their elementary school district, as well as a short biographical sketch. Forms for both are available as downloads from the Procedure committee website http://scarsdaleprocedurecommittee.org/forms.htm. They may also be obtained at the Scarsdale Library, Village Hall, from the Chair of the Procedure Committee (Jim Pullman, jpullman@verizon.net, 472-6395) or the Vice Chair (Michelle Lichtenberg, michelle.lichtenberg@gmail.com, 725-6545).

The deadline for filing both forms is Sept 30; after this date, candidates for any school district will only be accepted if there are fewer than two candidates for that district. The nominating petitions must be filed as hardcopy with original signatures, while the biographical sketches must be filed as MS Word or text files, preferably as email attachments.

 

 

brownlawnIf your lawn is turning brown, you are probably wondering how long the watering restrictions will be in force, and if the restrictions have been effective in reducing usage. In order to learn more, Scarsdale10583 posed some questions to Deputy Village Manager Steve Pappalardo, and here is what we found out:

Have the watering restrictions been effective in reducing usage?

The water restrictions have been effective to the extent that they have helped the Village to re-establish adequate water pressure in the water distribution system.

How much has usage declined?

The Village does not have the exact daily usage numbers handy but we can report that the peak period summer water usage, defined as the time between 3:00 AM-8:30 AM, has declined since the imposition of the water restrictions which was the goal. Again, we were able to better to maintain water pressure in the system during this peak period.

We noticed that summons have been served to those who violate the restrictions. How much is the penalty?

A summons issued to any individual violating the mandatory water restrictions results in a court appearance. The penalty for violating the restrictions per Village Code is $250.00 per day, however the Judge has the authority to reduce the fine at his/her discretion.

How are we doing on construction of our pumping station?

Current construction at the Ardsley Road Pumping Station is scheduled to be complete by the end of this calendar year and tested and fully operational by spring/summer 2011.

Will the Village be able to lift the watering restrictions soon?

Annual water usage has historically dropped off significantly by the end of September so if this holds true again this year, we hope to lift the mandatory restrictions by October 1, 2010. We would likely continue with the voluntary restrictions at that point.

 

 

greenburghtownhallU.S. District Judge Stephen Robinson found Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and four town councilmen guilty of violating the Fortress Bible Church’s first amendment rights of free speech, free assembly, equal protection and due process in preventing the Mount Vernon church from gaining approval for their application to construct a new facility along Dobbs Ferry Road near the entrance to the Sprain Brook Parkway in Hartsdale. The court also ruled that the town had discriminated against the church under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act or RLUIPA. The decision was issued on August 12, 2010, more than three years after the 2007 trial. The church purchased a 6.53-acre parcel of land in 1998 with the intent to construct a new facility for their congregation that had outgrown their location in Mount Vernon, and now 12 years later, they still have not broken ground.

The ruling cites the town’s intentional delay, hostility and bias toward the church’s application and sanctions the Town of Greenburgh for destroying and failing to produce evidence.  The court ordered the town to grant the church approval to build, and directed the church to submit an application for an award of damages, which is estimated to be $4-$5 million dollars, to be paid by the Town of Greenburgh.

The 206-page court decision tells the story of the church's 12-year battle to gain approval to build their new facility.  Why did the town seek to block Fortress Bible Church from moving to Greenburgh?  The case offers evidence of racial bias against a predominantly African American church being located in a mostly white neighborhood and the town’s displeasure at housing an additional religious facility with tax-exempt status.  However, during the same period, Greenburgh approved new buildings for several other religious and educational institutions, including Solomon Schechter in the same neighborhood, and the Union Baptist Church in predominantly African American Fairview. The town also gave expedited treatment to the Hackley School's application.

The entire history of the church's quest to relocate to Greenburgh is outlined in the decision, which has been summarized below.  You can also see the entire ruling here: FortressBibles.pdf .

In 1998, The Fortress Church had outgrown their facilities in Mount Vernon where they worship and educate at the Fortress Christian Academy. Reverend Dennis Karaman of the Fortress Bible Church found property on Pomander Drive and Dobbs Ferry Road (Route 100B) and advised the Town of Greenburgh of his intent to construct a church and a school on the property. He told the town, “that if the property was not suitable for its intended purpose he would not pursue the purchase.”

The church then made plans to build a church and school that could accommodate a maximum of 500 people in a single structure. Although a church was entitled to build its chapel and school "as of right" in that location under the town's zoning code, the church was nevertheless required to obtain site plan approval, a waiver to construct landscaped parking islands and a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals for side yard setbacks.

During 1999 the church reformulated their plans based on feedback from the Town of Greenburgh and in January 2000 they submitted a revised site plan, comprehensive traffic study, drainage study, architectural renderings, floor plans, a watershed map, site sections and photographs.  In February 2000, the town’s Building Inspector said that the town’s zoning ordinance required that the church school have “ a curriculum approved by the Board of Regents of the State of New York.”  In fact, non-public school are not required to be registered with the Board of Regents.

The town subsequently failed to put the application before the Planning Board in March, April and May 2000, despite written letters from the Church requesting review.

The town then considered issuing a Positive Declaration indicating that the project would have a significant adverse impact on the environment and necessitating an environmental impact statement. The court found that this requirement prolonged the SEQRA process and caused the church to incur significant expense.

In July, at a work session of the Town Board, Feiner stated that “50 percent of the issue (with the church approval) was traffic and the other 50 percent was the church’s tax exempt status.”  Feiner then asked the church to donate a fire truck to the Fairview Fire District or to make some other payment in lieu of taxes to the Town of Greenburgh. Reverend Karaman understood the request for the donation to be a basis for favorable processing of the application to build the church.  Feiner had made a similar request to the Hebrew Home for the Aged, when it sought permission to build a new facility on Knollwood Road.  The Hebrew Home complied and the town issued the required permits.

In July 2000, after the church declined to purchase the fire truck and make certain other financial contributions requested by Feiner, the town issued a  'Positive Declaration" of potential environmental impact, thereby prolonging the SEQRA process. Their stated reasons were concerns about traffic, pedestrian access and safety, though the Town’s Planning Commissioner found that the church “had developed a good mitigation plan” for the traffic. However, the court found that "the town used the SEQRA process and the issuance of a Positive Declaration punitively because of the church's refusal to make a significant donation of value or monetary payment to the town and because of certain town board members' desire to delay the project and increase the expense of the SEQRA process for the church."

In August 2000, Feiner said that a task force was being formed to lobby for payments in lieu of taxes from the church and in October 2000 the town authorized more traffic studies, many of which had been previously addressed.

In response, in April 2001, the church complied and submitted lengthy documentation to the town including:

  • A summary of the potential impact and mitigations
  • A description of the impact on community services
  • A landscape plan
  • A traffic study
  • A noise study
  • A sketch plan
  • A traffic volume and flow illustration
  • A table summarizing the impact of each study

Then the town advised the church that it had adopted a moratorium on approval of certain applications that involved, among others, steep slopes, though it was legally impermissible for the town to introduce new legislation to restrict development on an already pending application.

Finally in October 2001, two and a half years after the church filed its initial application the town accepted the application as complete.  The Westchester County Planning Board and the New York State Department of Transportation both founds the plans acceptable.

However, in May 2001, the Reverend met with Feiner to ask what he could do to move the building of the church along, and Feiner again suggested that the church make a monetary contribution -- “pay some taxes to the Fire Department, $1,000 or $1,500, saying, "this will go a long way.”

In an email in December 2001 to a nearby resident who objected to the church, Feiner wrote, “Although I anticipate that the Town will vote against this, I think we have to do as much research as possible re: new federal law which makes it very difficult to stop religious institutions. Any research or ideas you could provide us with to help us would be appreciated. I’ll have the Town work on this but the more ideas the better [.]"  Moreover, the court found that Feiner did, in fact, direct town staff, including the town attorney's office and consultants to perform research and provide ideas for ways in which federal law would support denial of the church's application.

In January 2002 the town hired three new sets of consultants to analyze engineering, planning and traffic aspects of the application. The church met with the Police Chief, town traffic consultants, the Planning Commissioner and the Deputy Town Attorney in March 2002 and again modified their parking plans in April 2002.

The court found that the town used the process to delay and frustrate the church's application. They hired new consultants who raised issues and requested new information that was not in the original scope and was not necessary. Though the church objected to new requests for studies on drainage, fire safety and traffic they continued to supply additional information to the town.  In addition, the town’s attorney’s edited memoranda from their own Planning and Traffic Consultants, striking language that was favorable to the church and an offer to meet with the applicant.

Even though town policy is to meet with applicants to resolve issues, including applicants that are suing the town, they repeatedly refused to the meet with the church to resolve the issue.  In a letter from the church’s planning consultant, he says:

“The town has continued to show no inclination to work toward an agreement. As noted above, you have not set up a meeting where we could discuss technical issues regarding the site plan and determine whether our latest revision is acceptable. And, the town refuses to schedule a public hearing on the site plan. At the same time, your consultants ask for detailed information that goes beyond what is appropriate at this stage in the environmental review.”

The town then demanded that the church pay them for SEQRA review fees, and in January 2003 the Church paid the town $20,000.

Ultimately, In January 2004 the town denied the church’s application in a document that the court declared void because the town violated the NYS Open Meeting Law. They denied them on the basis of a Steep Slope Ordinance, which was not in force at the time the church submitted its application.   The ordinance regulates the disturbance of steep slopes that would be required to build the project.  The court found that the town manipulated calculations to cast the project in a negative light.

At the 2007 trial, the Police Chief and Fairview Fire Chief testified about the traffic and fire objections raised by the town.  Police Chief Kapica said, he “had no idea” why the report said, “Based on testimony of fire and police officials …emergency access to a use that includes place of assembly and school children is not acceptable.”  Fire Chief Mauro’s testimony revealed that the town had fabricated fire safety issues, claiming he had made statements about the impact of the project when in fact he had no objections to it.

In addition to making unfounded objections to retaining walls, traffic and parking, the town violated their own policies of meeting with the applicant to discuss issues and the consultants were directed by the town not to meet with church representatives.

The court found that the majority of town employees and consultants who testified at the trial had significant credibility issues; changing the testimony they gave at depositions or providing testimony that was untrue.  Furthermore, the Town Board destroyed evidence and documents that were relevant to the trial and failed to produce evidence that did exist. The town was sanctioned $10,000 for their spoilation of evidence and failure to comply with discovery.

As the court ruled that the town had discriminated against the Church under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the church is now entitled to relief, to cover increased construction costs due to the delay, increased traffic improvement costs, reimbursement for SEQRA fees, consultants and attorney’s fees.  The tab for Greenburgh is expected to be four to five million dollars.

In an email to residents, Feiner defended the actions of the town, writing the following:

I am disappointed with the Order and Opinion of Judge Robinson, issued more than three years after the conclusion of the trial, and on his last day on the federal bench.  It is not appropriate for a Court to substitute its judgment for the judgment of elected municipal officials who relied on the opinions of independent professional traffic consultants during the environmental review process.  Here, in evaluating the church’s application to build a large combined school and church immediately adjacent to the busy entrance to the Sprain Brook Parkway on Dobbs Ferry Road, the town relied on its traffic expert, who advised the town that the project as proposed would cause unsafe and dangerous traffic conditions.  I believe that it would have been irresponsible to disregard this conclusion.  Notwithstanding Judge Robinson’s opinion, I believe that nothing the town did in evaluating the church’s application violated any provision of law. .....  I have always maintained, and continue to maintain, that the town would welcome the Fortress Bible Church at an appropriate and safe location in Greenburgh.

Feiner continues to maintain that there are traffic concerns when the court found that experts and the NYS Department of Transportation had no traffic issues. He also claims the town would "welcome the Fortress Bible School" after twelve years of blocking their attempts to move forward. The town has spent an unknown sum of taxpayer money on legal and consultant fees to block the church and to defend themselves in the lawsuit and now stands to pay $4-$5 million in damages at a time when the budget of the municipality is strapped.

Similar to Westchester County's fate in the Affordable Housing lawsuit, Greenburgh's attempt to stop the church from moving to town will now cost them far more than the lost tax revenue from a tax-exempt institution.

 

 

diamondCar break-ins: There were three car break-ins on the night of 8/15-8/16, and in all three cases the robber broke the passenger side front window to gain access to the car.

A Thornwood man parked his 1998 Audi on Foxhall Road over night and when he went outside in the morning he found a broken window and his iPod was gone. There was also a crack in the car windshield. That same night, a 2005 Honda Pilot, parked on Tyler Road was vandalized and a Nikon Cool Shot camera was taken from the car. In addition, the passenger side window of a 2004 Toyota Sequoia parked at 323 Heathcote Road was broken and a Dell Inspiron laptop computer valued at $2,430 was taken along with a broadband card.

A Garmin GPS device, valued at $400, was stolen from a 2009 Subaru Outback, parked in the Balducci’s parking lot on the evening of 8/13. There was no damage to the car.

Around midnight on 8/15, Kelwynne Road residents heard a loud thud and then their burglar alarm went off. The residents found that a large rock, approximately 40 pounds, had been thrown through their front bay window. Police later learned that the White Plains police had arrested three kids that night for throwing rocks through home windows and the Scarsdale police suspect that these kids may have done the damage on Kelwynne Road.

Arrested: An Edgewood man who was wanted for assaulting his wife and damaging the contents of her home turned himself into police on the afternoon of August 13th.

A man needing money from his ex-wife came to police headquarters on 8/12 to ask them to call her. His wife has an order of protection against him and does not accept his calls. He failed to collect his weekly support payment from her and needed money to get home to Manhattan. The ex-wife came to headquarters and gave the man his funds.

Graffiti: The slide at Hyatt Field playground was spray painted with an expletive in blue and orange. The paint was found on the afternoon of August 9th.

Missing: a visitor to 88 Popham Road left a rucksack in the house when he accompanied the family on an outing on 8/13 at 10 am. When they returned at 2 in the afternoon they found that the rear sliding door to the was open, but everything was in order at the house. However, on August 14, the guest noticed that $4000.00 was missing from his rucksack. The sack had been left in the second floor guest room and the family does not suspect any family members and no other people were in the house at the time.

In another curious incident, a Mamaroneck Road woman reported that her $60,000 4-carat diamond ring has been missing since February. She also reported that a bathing suit and cover-up were missing as well.

checkEven stranger, the loss prevention supervisor from Balducci’s came to police headquarters to report a stolen company gas card. The card was supposed to be cancelled in February when someone noticed it was missing, but due to an internal error no one cancelled the account until August 10th. In the intervening six months $34,751 was charged to the card.

A Walworth Road woman who had previously been the victim of a scam on Craig’s List found that the culprits had written another fraudulent check from her account. Though Chase Bank had instructions to close the account they cleared an additional fraudulent check for $3,950.87.

Someone attempted to open a Bank of America credit card in the name of a Heathcote man on 8/4 using his date of birth and social security number. However, the person provided the wrong address and no card was issued.

A representative from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation came to Scarsdale police to report two bad checks he received at an outing at Quaker Ridge Golf Club. Police contacted the man who wrote the checks and he said he would rectify the situation.

Harassment: A Sage Terrace man reported that he received a disturbing voicemail on his home answering machine on 8/12. Earlier that day, the man’s wife had given his seven year-old daughter a number to call and later realized she had given the girl the wrong number. They suspect that the disturbing call came from the number the little girl dialed in error. In addition, the nanny for a Scarsdale family has been receiving phone calls at all hours of the day since February from an ex-boyfriend who lived in Brazil. Though the nanny let the man know she no longer wished to speak to him, he continued to call.

A Saxon Woods Road man has been receiving a call at 8:13 am everyday since June 1st and when he picks up the phone, there is no one on the line. After the initial call he receives additional calls every 20 minutes. The caller i.d. says “out of the area.” Though the man was not fearful, he was unsure of what to do. Police advised the man to call Verizon and to call the police again if the calls do not stop.

Confused: an elderly Fox Meadow woman called police at 4 am on 8/10 when she became confused and could not remember where she was. She reported taking an ambien to help her sleep but she woke up disoriented and fell several times and cut and bruised her elbow. With the help of the police, she realized she was at home. SVAC was called but the woman refused medical attention and police called the woman’s daughter to take care of her.

Watering Summons: Police served a summons to a Ferncliff Road man who was watering his lawn on the wrong day of the week. The man had previously been warned about the restrictions but continued to water.

Feuding neighbors on Ferncliff Road called police to intervene. One accused the other of calling the police to report that they were violating the watering restrictions. The other told his neighbor not to talk to him or his wife or he would be sorry. Both parties agreed not to speak to each other, call or approach their neighbor.

An Ardsley woman came to Scarsdale police headquarters on August 12th to complain that she had tripped on a store display at Great Stuff on August 5th. The fall caused bruising and pain to her knee. Police called the store and the owner’s son said they were aware of the woman’s fall and that she had been wearing big dark sunglasses at the time. They offered her ice and water.

A homeless man was found yelling and screaming in the middle of East Parkway on the afternoon of 8/13. The man appeared to be heavily intoxicated and police took him to White Plains Hospital for treatment.

 

 

In one of the most heated Village meetings in recent memory, the Trustees Law Committee faced off with members of the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition on Monday night August 9th. Originally scheduled for the trustees meeting room in Village Hall, the meeting had to be moved to a larger venue on the third floor to accommodate at least 30 members of the community and a cameraman and a reporter from News Channel 12.

The subject of the meeting appeared to be a simple matter, but once the discussion began, the complexities of the issue emerged. At stake is the lease for a small tract of village-owned land that provides access to the Heathcote Tavern parking lot. Tavern owners Fish and Oder claim they need a signed lease to the driveway and a small portion of the parking lot in order to sign a deal with a new restaurant tenant, Apulia, who is due to open there in September.

The prior lease expired on May 31, 2010 and the developers are asking for a long-term lease, ostensibly to justify renovations and the opening of a new restaurant. However, members of the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition question why a renewal of the prior lease won’t do, and suspect that the developers want a long-term lease in order to get financing to develop the Tavern property. Earlier this year Fish and Oder sought a 49 year lease on the driveway with a 49 year option to renew and prior to that they asked to purchase the strip of land from the Village so that they could get financing to build a multi-use complex of residential and retail space.

Monday’s discussion surrounded the lease trustees had negotiated with Fish and Oder that provides for a five year initial lease with automatic renewals of up to ten additional years provided there is an existing lease for a restaurant at the time of renewals. The initial fee would be $15,000 per year for use of the Village-owned land.

In a letter dated August 4, 2010, the Coalition had objected to the lack of transparency in the negotiation process and said that the lease had been negotiated in executive session without community input. Mayor Stevens addressed the charge claiming that it was good legal practice to negotiate in private and assured the group that the Trustees had considered the Coalition’s concerns in their discussions.

Both Stevens and Trustee Richard Toder contended that the lease only pertained to the use of the driveway and that no new development had been proposed. Toder argued that the lease would allow for the opening of a viable restaurant and prevent a key landmark in Scarsdale from sitting idle and potentially falling into disrepair.

However, members of the Coalition argued that the new lease did little to meet any of the goals laid out in the Comprehensive Village Plan or the goals of the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition to relieve traffic congestion, improve pedestrian safety, ensure development consistent with the concept of a Village in the Park and preserve the Tavern façade.

Speaking eloquently for the Coalition, Larry and Janet Bell pointed out the deficiencies of the agreement. It did not prevent the developer from building decked parking, would not prevent more curb cuts and would not prohibit Fish and Oder from increasing the density of the project. In fact, they believed the lease was for the convenience of the developers, and did little for the Village. Janet Bell said, “this is the Village’s opportunity to gain control over what will be developed and to control the size of it.” She urged the trustees not to sign the lease and to “put the time in to do it right so that it works for the entire community.”

In essence, the Coalition argues that by signing the lease the Trustees are giving up the leverage they have to decide the fate of the property. The Coalition is asking the Trustees to use the lease to gain concessions on what might be built on the site.

Toward the end of the meeting it appeared that the resident’s pleas were heard. Trustee Bob Steves said that the Trustees should sort out the issues and see if the lease could be used to control development. Former Trustee David Buchen said that “executing the lease came as a surprise. “ It would be” good and beneficial” if the elected representatives communicated with the residents and if they do it well, “there will be no mistrust.” Ken Rilander agreed that by keeping the negotiations behind closed doors, the “trustees are violating a tradition of transparency.”

Richard Toder, Chairman of the Law Committee told the group that the committee would contemplate the discussion and bring recommendations to the entire Board of Trustees for consideration.

It was another interesting night of lively discussion among some of Scarsdale’s most gifted debaters. Until their issues can be resolved, the Tavern building sits empty and the fate of the site remains up in the air.

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