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Oversized Houses on Undersized Lots: Does FAR Go Far Enough?

15OgdenstreetviewSince the 1950's, the size of the average American home has more than doubled. This trend of increased house size has certainly made its presence felt in Scarsdale, where large additions to old houses have become commonplace and newly built mansions line Heathcote Road. Although the size of houses in Scarsdale has been increasing, the size of the plots they are situated upon has not. As a result, many houses are now considered to be too big for their plots. Many Scarsdale residents believe that these "McMansions" are aesthetically unappealing, and take away from Scarsdale's refined architectural charm.

On June 25th, the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) met with the Board of Trustees. One of the main15ogden issues discussed was whether changes should be made to the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) requirements of Scarsdale homes to keep people from building houses deemed too big for their plots. This topic was brought up chiefly because the BAR had recently received several complaints from residents whose homes abut one of these new, oversized home.


One such neighbor, a Quaker Ridge resident (who wished to stay anonymous), explained that "Dell was a street with appropriate medium-sized stone houses. Now, the two monster houses on the corner dwarf the neighborhood..." The same resident went on to say that in modern-day Scarsdale, "it's all power to the developers, no regard or respect for the neighborhood and it's current residents." Lika Levi, a Scarsdale resident and founder of Save Scarsdale, Save Scarsdale, an organization dedicated to the preservation of architectural heritage and conservation of the environment
added that due to the spike in oversized homes, Scarsdale is "losing (its) character as a Village-in-a-Park and becoming a Village-of-Monstrosities."
Several solutions to the McMansion problem were discussed at the meeting. One of the more popular methods discussed was for the BAR to change the Scarsdale zoning codes to prohibit houses exceeding a certain FAR from being built.


However, David Lee, a member of the Board of Trustees, explained that although the Board of Trustees is "certainly aware that some residents have concerns about over-development in Scarsdale," the Board of Trustees must at the same time be "conscious of the rights of individual property owners to develop their property within the bounds of the law." Mr. Lee also warned, to the dismay of many Scarsdale residents, that it is still too early to say "what changes, if any, the Board of Trustees is considering making to the FAR regulations."

The Law and Land Use Committees of the Scarsdale Board of Trustees will meet at 6 pm on August 13 to continue the discussion on land use and zoning regulations, setbacks, FAR, lot coverage, building coverage, bulk, wetlands and sensitive drainage areas. Make your opinion count by attending this meeting at Scarsdale Village Hall.

Comments   

0 #12 Forget the houses.... 2013-07-31 08:23
Far worse than the houses being built - how did that monstrosity at Heathcote 5 corners get approval ? That structure does more to exacerbate the loss of character in this town than all the houses combined!!
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0 #11 Old Money? 2013-07-31 08:17
Is it possible to build a new house that screams Old Money? People who work hard and do well want a modern house close to the city - deal with it. What does New Money even mean? That you earned it yourself ?What is wrong with that ? Especially if there was no Old Money? Most importantly - how long does it take for New Money to become Old Money?? Stop being such obnoxious snobs. All these new houses are so much nicer than the ugly old splits and ranches....
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0 #10 edgewood neighbor 2013-07-26 22:57
Nobody will begrudge someone having a big, newly built home, especially in Scarsdale. But if you want a 4000 square foot home, don't build it on an eighth acre lot. You just look like you're trying too hard.
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0 #9 Menachem Rosenberg 2013-07-21 02:21
I am torn on the issue. I am torn. Both sides raise valid points.
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0 #8 Resident 2013-07-19 04:52
Has there been any consideration of having a height restriction on houses? We looked at houses in Roslyn and they had a rule that said that if a 45 degree angle was made from any outer point on the lot that it could not hit the house. I think it was called a tree line rule.
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0 #7 former BAR victim 2013-07-18 23:56
There need not be a strict tradeoff between home size and architectural quality. But the height of some new properties is ridiculous for the lot.

To be sure, as one commentator here correctly points out, there are hundreds of blah homes in Scarsdale dating from the middle decades of the last century. But what one sees today--faux country estates, some with featureless three-story 40' w X 45' high side views crowned by asphalt roofs--is definitely not an improvement to anything but the tax base.
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0 #6 Mr. Rational 2013-07-18 20:54
First off, all residents need to recognize that their underlying property values in Scarsdale are driven foremost by the quality of the educational product in our district. The only way this product remains amongst the highest quality in our country, let alone the county, is through a strong tax base. The tax base is funded by property values and those only go up when at a minimum home owners trim their overgrown rhotos (as one commenter points out) or better yet pick a better shrub and at a maximum tear down a structure and build something more valuable. So the naysayers need to understand that their investments suffer when they seek to change the FAR.

Second, a little education about high quality housing product would not hurt anyone. Scarsdale is checkered with low quality "mass" produced homes from the 40s-80s. Anyone with a keen eye, knows the difference in quality between these homes and ones built at the turn of the century through the 30s. If you don't see the difference, pay attention,espec ially when you are on the inside. Homes built in the last 10 years use a variety of very high quality materials and building methods that exceed the quality built in the 40s-80s. Anyone with a 7.5' ceiling in a cape needs to walk into a recently built home or a 20s colonial to know there is a difference in craftsmanship. These, mostly smaller, homes were mass productions at their time and are now viewed as a standard we need to adhere to? That's just misinformed, sorry to say.

So consider (1) maintaining the tax base and (2) improving quality in more modern structures and then for your opinion. Big may still be bad for you, but you can't deny the objective positives.
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0 #5 Schlomo Lowenstein 2013-07-18 12:18
The last commentator raises a good point. Touché!
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0 #4 Taste vs FAR Censorship ? 2013-07-18 11:36
Hello All...It is an opinion, but the new renovated version screams ...more elegant.... to me...
Please Chillax...I said opinion.
Sometimes jealous or frustrated people just seem to hate change..... Just saying
Please Consider
It always seems, from neighborhood to neighborhood ,that Homeowners are always the happiest and proudest ( and often the best neighbors ) when they have what They consider to be a "nice" home for themselves....T hese people rarely if ever rattle the FAR war drum. The Rattler's seem to hate change and never seem to live in one of these "Daddy Warbuck's Wallstreet Mc Mansions" as the prime example depicted above. I sincerely hope the Scarsdale leader's are not buying into this out of guilt
Whoever said,Thou shalt not covet and I always thought size was not necessarily that important may have had a point some where along the way.
Scarsdale has grown in property values and the tax base has grown to provide top notch municipal services due to so many projects like these. That has kept the assessments extremely low for those smaller and older homes. Those smaller assesments have stayed so low while the tax revenue has increased from all the improved and expanded larger homes which were assessed on ...you guessed it...square footage upgrades and increases .The Far is a cap on square footage and tastefull projects have nothing to do with the total FAR. Therefore it is a cap on future municipal revenues as well if the FAR is further restricted.
It is really all about tastefully conceived homes and reno's that incorporate the correct scale , details and proportions, as well as the proper landscaping to frame it all.
FYI, The Town just went thru an FAR professional studies ,analysis and FAR change about 10 years ago. The town spent a fortune of money in doing so..
.It would be a real shame to waste more money on this very same issue again.
Back then groups of between 1 and 10 people from the various neighborhood associations pushed for a massive Far reduction ( Initially proposed at almost 50% ). In the final analysis the largest crowd ever to attend a board of trustees meeting showed up in protest to contest the restrictions proposed by the 20 to 30 people that lit the fire that would have severely restricted the property potential of the over 5,000 property owners here. So as RR once said "Here we go again".
There really are so many more pressing and important issues for our leadership to focus our money upon.
There are many more updated homes in the last decade in Scarsdale then any other town in westchester. The updater's are the silent majority and It may be their guilt keeps them from commenting on the admitedly louder minorities judgemental chant. The last decade has shown the most remarkable growth in property values in history due in large part to allowing our residents to choose what size home they wish to live in and improve whithout government limiting their properties potential through Restrictive FAR Property Censorship....I n the end it's all a matter of taste and I have always found those who live in the so called larger and updated homes never seem to vocalize or to judge their fellow residents or to characterize those living with their freedom of choice in smaller homes ...in derogitory and demeaning ways.
But all those nuveaux rich jerks are building those Mc Mansions everywhere....
In the end It is all about freedom to choose, perspective, tolerance and of course taste......
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0 #3 FL Olmsted 2013-07-18 00:21
The "before" picture of 15 Ogden looks like a trailer home to me. What's with the front shutters that are too long and undersized all at the same time? And the ill-placed dormer? Where is the front door? I think the new home is far better looking than that tired old ranch. What's really appalling and unappealing throughout Scarsdale are the homeowners who let their Rhododendrons grow wild in front of their homes. Do they think the jungle look is aesthetically pleasing to their neighbors? C'mon people--landsca pe your front hedges! If the last time you re-landscaped was pre-1990 it's time to give your neighbors some relief from their eyesores.
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