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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.

The Heathcote Five Corners Coalition has sent a strong letter to Scarsdale Village Trustees, commenting on the proposed lease renewal of the driveway to the Heathcote Tavern parking lot to developers Fish and Oder. Fish and Oder have located a new tenant for the building who plan to open an Italian restaurant called Apulia in mid-September and require access to the parking lot for customers.

In addition to their objections to the terms of the proposed new lease, the Coalition expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency in the negotiation of the lease, saying, “the lease apparently has been substantially negotiated without any community input, even though, in particular, the Coalition specifically requested participation in the process and asked that the Village Board of Trustees keep it informed during the negotiation process … This process disregards the considerable involvement and strong views of the community and various community organizations, including of the Coalition and several neighborhood associations in Scarsdale concerning development at Heathcote Five Corners.”

The proposed new lease has a term of five years with automatic renewals of up to ten additional years provided there is an existing lease for a restaurant at the time of renewal. In exchange, Fish/Oder will pay the Village $15,000 per year.

The Coalition was formed to relieve traffic congestion at the Five Corners, improve pedestrian safety and ensure development consistent with the “Village in the Park” concept. They currently have a membership of 200 Scarsdale families, and in their view, the new contract does little to achieve their goals:

  • The new contract has no provisions limiting the development of the site or preservation of the Tavern building
  • A long term lease is not necessary –renewal of the old lease would suffice
  • The benefits of the lease to the community are not clear
  • The current lease will last for five years, with renewals every ten years, even if the existing restaurant ceases operation in the intervening years.

Read their letter below, and view the most current public version of proposed lease at www.heathcotefivecorners.com. Please share your comments!

Dear Mayor Stevens and Trustees:

On Monday evening, August 2, 2010, the Law Committee of the Board of Trustees reviewed a draft of a new lease of Village land from the Village to the developer of the Heathcote Tavern (2-4 Weaver Street) property and scheduled a hearing on such lease for 6:55 p.m. on Monday, August 9th. The proposed lease covers the same land the Land Use Committee of the Board of Trustees (LUC) considered selling to the developer in 2009. We understand that the Board of Trustees currently intends to vote on the lease on September 14.

Background – The Proposed Sale of the Village Land

For much of 2009, the LUC was in favor of selling the developer such land, including the current driveway to the Tavern parking lot, pursuant to a contract that had been materially negotiated with the developer prior to it becoming public. In response, residents throughout Scarsdale formed the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition. More than 200 Scarsdale families are dues paying members of the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition. The Coalition’s mission is to provide a voice for the public, to articulate the concerns of residents of Scarsdale, and to persuade the Village to relieve and reduce traffic congestion and improve pedestrian safety at the Heathcote Five Corners and ensure development in the Heathcote Five Corners area consistent with the “Village in the Park” concept of Scarsdale’s Master Plan.

The LUC held hearings at which it stated its goals in selling the land to the developer and explained how it believed that the proposed contract achieved those goals. At a LUC meeting on May 14, 2009, the Trustees’ goals were displayed on a chart (a copy of which is attached), namely:

1. Minimize Overall Project Density to a Level Well Below that Permitted by Zoning.
2. Mandate Restricted Age Residential, Rather than Commercial, Use Consistent with the Village’s Comprehensive Plan.
3. Reduce Current Curb Cuts on Weaver Street
4. Ameliorate the Volume of Vehicular Traffic Through 5 Corners.
5. Enhance the Visual Streetscape and Improve Pedestrian Friendly Amenities at 5 Corners.
6. Ensure the Preservation of the Existing Tavern Building.

The Coalition agreed with the LUC’s goals. At issue was whether and to what extent the proposed contract of sale to the developer actually achieved the goals.

The New Direction – a Long-Term Lease

The proposed lease with Fish/Oder, the developer of the Heathcote Tavern site, would replace a former lease that recently expired. The former lease had a five year term subject to termination at the option of either party on 90 days’ notice with a fixed annual rent of $14,000 payable in advance; and, most importantly, provided that the lease automatically terminated if the operation of a restaurant ceased. The proposed new lease provides for annual rent of $15,000 per year and a minimum term of five (5) years, with automatic annual renewals up to ten (10) additional years simply if a lease for a restaurant exists on May 31, 2015 and on each May 31st thereafter. The proposed lease includes references to a lease between the developer and a restaurant company from Italy called Apulia, for a restaurant that is currently anticipated to open in mid-September. To access a copy of the mostly recent publicly available version of the proposed lease between the Village and the developer, click on www.heathcotefivecorners.com. The Apulia lease has not been made public.

Set forth below are the comments of the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition on the lease currently proposed by the Law Committee with the developer of the Heathcote Tavern site:

1. Lack of Transparency; Process. There has been a lack of transparency in the negotiation of the draft lease agreement as the lease apparently has been substantially negotiated without any community input, even though, in particular, the Coalition specifically requested participation in the process and asked that the Village Board of Trustees keep it informed during the negotiation process. Moreover, it is a less than desirable governmental process that something as significant as what is being proposed is scheduled to be approved by the Law Committee at a time when many Scarsdalians are not in town and to put the lease on a direct fast track for approval by the Trustees in mid-September. This process disregards the considerable involvement and strong views of the community and various community organizations, including of the Coalition and several neighborhood associations in Scarsdale concerning development at Heathcote Five Corners.

2. Financeable Contract Potentially Forecloses Village Board’s Ability to Address Trustees’ Objectives Developed In Connection With Proposed Land Sale. The new lease creates a 15-year financeable contract, enabling the developer to get long-term financing for development of the Tavern property “as of right” without any limits on such rights. In addition, the proposed lease disregards all, and does not in any way achieve any, of the goals the LUC identified as a quid pro quo for granting the developer title to the Village land. In effect, the Village is giving up any meaningful ability to address the goals of the LUC (and the community) identified in connection with the land sale negotiation, including the obligation to maintain and preserve the Tavern building. A long-term lease is not materially different from a sale for these purposes.

3. After Months of Discussion of the Land Sale, it is Not Necessary to Enter into a Long Term Lease at this Time. It is not necessary for the Village to enter into a long-term lease with the developer before the restaurant opens. The critical elements for the survival of a restaurant, particularly one apparently on the verge of opening, do not include the length of the lease for the Village land. The restaurant’s leasehold improvements are not affected by the term of the lease for the driveway to the parking lot. The critical elements include the quality of the chef and the food and the restaurant owner’s fixed costs, the largest of which probably is the rent being charged by the developer. Prior restaurant tenants did not require a long-term lease of Village land, so what is different now? Nevertheless, a 6, 9 or 12 month renewal of the old lease would be acceptable, and during that time, a proper, new longer-term lease, structured to enable the Village to reduce the density of development of the Tavern site below "as of right" development and address other LUC goals, could be negotiated and properly reviewed and commented on by the community.

4. Village Has Not Explained the Need for this Lease or its Benefits to the Community. Other than to please the developer at the expense of the community, we do not see benefits to the community of the long-term lease being proposed. We appreciate that it could be prudent from the Village's perspective for a lease to be in place if the property is being used for a desirable purpose governed by the lease, but the proposed lease has significant deficiencies, as discussed herein. In fact, the approval of the presently proposed 15-year lease could be interpreted as an effective repudiation of the LUC’s goals and as a surrender of the Village’s opportunity to control development of the entire Tavern site in exchange for $15,000 per year.

5. Term/Termination Provisions. The draft lease currently provides that it remains effective for 5 years even if there is no restaurant lease, and it also states that if a restaurant lease exists on May 31, 2015 (even if there is no functioning restaurant), the lease will automatically be extended. The term/termination provisions should be revised as follows:
a. Need a Restaurant; Not Merely a Lease. The discontinuance of the “operation” of a restaurant and cocktail lounge in accordance with past practice for more than a modest number of consecutive days specified in the lease should automatically terminate the lease. The draft lease only requires that a lease exist; it does not require that a functioning restaurant and cocktail lounge be operational. (The old lease provided that the cessation of the operation of a restaurant and cocktail lounge immediately terminated the lease.)
b. Possible 5-Year Term without a Restaurant or Lease. The proposed lease provides that if the Apulia lease or any replacement restaurant lease terminates prior to the end of the 5 year term of the Village lease, the Village lease stays in effect for 5 years. The new lease should automatically terminate as discussed above and should require Apulia to open within a period of time specified in the Village lease.
c. Type and Size of the Restaurant Should be Specified. The Village lease should require the operation of a restaurant of the same type (e.g., serving food, drink and dessert to be eaten on the premises) and scale as in the past for the duration of the lease. For example, the new lease would not be breached if the developer expanded the size of the Tavern building and/or reduced the amount of space utilized by a restaurant.
d. Make Terminable on same Basis as Old Lease. The proposed lease should be terminable by either party upon 90 days’ prior written notice, as was provided in the old lease.

6. Prohibit Use of Village Land for Greater Development of the Tavern Site. The lease should prohibit construction on or other improvements to the Village land without the approval of the Board of Trustees. Similarly, the Village land should not be usable as access to a decked parking lot for any purpose – the leased land should not be available for access to the parking lot for expansion of office space or other development of the Tavern site which may be of the same type but expanded from its “current uses.”

7. Other Comments. The Coalition has provided the Law Committee with, and posted on the Coalition’s website, www.heathcotefivecorners.com, additional comments on the proposed lease, correcting various other deficiencies, including clarifying permitted uses and rights of the developer’s mortgagee, limiting transferability of the lease, allocating maintenance responsibilities to the developer, and being more precise with respect to rent escalations.

Millicent Kaufman Chairperson,
Heathcote Five Corners Coalition

Can downtown Scarsdale attract more restaurants and nightlife? Scarsdale10583 received an enthusiastic response to a letter about the subject written by Julie Rosenblatt last week. Many people said they would love to come downtown to eat and shop at night and wanted stores to stay open late. They also hoped to see an increase in the number of restaurants in town.

What has prevented restaurants from opening downtown? It turns out that parking requirements and steep village fees are a major hurdle for those who want to open eateries in the Village. According to current Scarsdale Zoning Law, restaurant owners are required to either have their own parking spaces for patrons or to pay the village for the use of the limited supply of available spots. In fact the parking requirements for restaurants are double those of other retailers. 

However, all that may change soon. Now that Christie Place has been developed and includes a garage, the Trustees and the Planning Board could relax parking regulations and reduce fees. This would clear the way for restaurants to open in some of the large vacant spaces in town, including the former site of Waterworks. At the upcoming August 10th Village Board meeting, a resolution to change these requirements and bring them in line with other retailers and neighboring communities will be considered.

Lewis Arlt, head of the Scarsdale Chamber of Commerce also weighed on the possibility of keeping Village stores open on select evenings, saying, “It may be an idea whose time has returned.” He offered to spread the word to Village shop owners and to use the new Scarsdale Chamber of Commerce website to disseminate information about evening hours.

Watch for new developments on this issue on Scarsdale10583.

The Scarsdale Trustees convened on Monday night 8/2 to give more thought to a Village-wide tax revaluation. Given the ever-growing number of tax grievances filed this past year and the large disparity in the tax assessments of homes of equal market value, many are calling for a reassessment.

Village Manager Al Gatta chaired the meeting. In addition to his role here in Scarsdale, Al serves on the Westchester County Assessment Commission. He has a wealth of knowledge about the tax situation in Westchester County and shared a draft of a recent report drafted by the commission for the county.

He also provided some data about the experience of other municipalities who have already undergone a reval:

  • Pelham conducted its revaluation in 1998. Over the next 10 years, the number of grievances went down from 398 in 1998 to an average of 178 annually over the next decade
  • In Rye where a revaluation was conducted in 2004, the number of grievances declined from 17% - 50% over the next few years.
  • Results were similar in Bronxville, where following their 2007 reassessment, the number of grievances fell 30% to just 100 grievances filed in 2010.

Al let the group know that Scarsdale is now spending an estimate $155,000 per year defending the village against tax claims. Though there is no guarantee that expenses would be reduced following an assessment, the experiences of other municipalities indicates that the number of claims would decrease and he believes that the Village would receive more favorable rulings from the hearing officers as our assessments would be up to date.

The County is also considering a Westchester-wide revaluation, and if this is approved, Scarsdale would be saved the estimated $1,750,000 cost of conducting a revaluation. The County has already approved the expense for aerial photography, and this data can be used in making the reassessment. Scarsdale will receive their digital aerial photographs in November 2010.

The report form the Westchester County Assessment Commission recommended the following:

  • Compilation of a centralized commercial property database
  • Use of aerial photography
  • Updating of tax records
  • Recommendations for property tax relief methods for those who cannot afford to pay their taxes after a revaluation
  • Regular cycles of tax reassessments after the initial revaluation – every four years
  • Regulation on the number of appeals allowed
  • Nineteen characteristics to be considered in the revaluation

Since Westchester County will decide on a countywide revaluation before the end of the year, the Trustees decided not to make any resolutions as an outcome of the meeting. They asked Al to keep them appraised of new developments and will continue to monitor County moves on this issue.

Do you think it’s time for a revaluation? Please take this short confidential survey and let us know. We'll publish the results when they are in.

Click here to take the survey: or copy this URL into your browser to begin: http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e2zchcnfgc6f9qg0/start

This summer has brought record-setting temperatures to Scarsdale. The thermometer reached a scorching 103 degrees on July 6. With many residents experiencing power outages, and water supplies limited, it is time to become creative on how to stay cool this summer.

I asked about 20 Scarsdale residents the question, “How do you stay cool this summer?” and I got some very interesting answers. Certainly the most common response was simply to stay in the air conditioning. Many people responded that they work in air-conditioned offices and the only time they have to worry about the temperature is walking into and out of the building. Other people said that they do not leave home if it gets too hot, and I don’t blame them! Others said they frequent the pool or the beach and spend a lot of time in the water and less time working on their tans.

After a long day at my friend’s pool the other day, she and I decided to cool off with some ice cream. I asked several people at Sedutto on Garth Road what they do to stay cool. While I got most of the usual answers, I did get the two most unique answers here.

“I work in an ice cream store and refuse to leave!”

“Honey, I’m going through menopause. There’s no staying cool.” But at least she enjoyed her ice cream!

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