BOT Proposes Six Month Moratorium on Building and Land Use Applications in Scarsdale
- Wednesday, 15 November 2023 16:08
- Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 November 2023 17:46
- Published: Wednesday, 15 November 2023 16:08
- Joanne Wallenstein
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No one was more surprised than Jim Detmer when he returned to Village Hall on November 14 to make a renewed effort to save a neighboring home in Edgewood, and to ask the trustees again to consider a petition he had presented to declare a moratorium on home demolitions and subdivisions.
Detmer had organized his neighbors in October to plead with the Committee for Historic Preservation to deny an application to tear down 27 Woods Lane. He said, “We know that precedent is our enemy here…. One goes, more are sure to follow … the old domino effect. It is critical that we prohibit demolition to preserve the integrity of the Woods, Edgewood and the Village.”
He also circulated a petition, that now includes 385 names, that says, “Our neighborhood homes are being systematically dismantled by over-zealous builders and contractors without regard to history, aesthetics, community and sense of space.” The petition urged the trustees to “impose a six-month moratorium on all development in the village and on all teardowns. During that period, we ask the Mayor and Village Board of Trustees to hold public work sessions on this subject, and to engage consultants and law firms as needed to modernize our codes and strengthen our governance to preserve our neighborhoods from overdevelopment.”
However, Detmer had not received much of a reaction from the Board when he presented the petition on October 26 and had returned to Village Hall to raise the issue of the petition again and to find out if the decision to save 27 Woods Lane had been appealed.
So when he got to Village Hall and found out that the Village attorney had drafted a resolution to impose a six month moratorium on all land use applications, he looked stunned. He also learned that to date no appeal had been filed to raze 27 Woods Lane.
Explaining the proposal for a moratorium at a work session previous to the Board of Trustees meeting, Village Attorney Nicholas Ward-Willis said that “The improvements, subdivision and redevelopments on single-family lots have created a number of pervasive adverse impacts including but not limited to the loss of the architectural and historic qualities and scale that helps define the fabric of our residential neighborhoods as well as negative environmental impacts such as increased flooding and the destruction of mature trees and natural habitats. These impacts are resulting from, among other things, the rapid pace of demolitions and replacement of older homes, additions being built on single-family properties, the construction of accessory structures, and the subdivision and redevelopment of residential lots. Such development activities create new impervious surfaces thereby diminishing the natural drainage and flood mitigation provided by mature trees and open space. Our natural resources are finite and fragile, and the Village’s infrastructure and other public resources are increasingly being tested by more frequent and severe storm events.”
It continues, “Moreover, new single-family developments are increasingly being built at the limits of our community’s minimum dimensional requirements for setbacks, while maximizing and, at times seeking variances to exceed the limits of floor area ratios, lot coverages, and other bulk requirements. This development trend also places greater challenges upon the Board of Architectural Review and Committee for Historic Preservation which are responsible for
maintaining and preserving aesthetic and architectural resources.”
Therefore, the resolution proposes a 6-month moratorium on “the acceptance, consideration, and approval of certain land use applications, such as applications for subdivisions, demolitions, building permits, site plan approval, and special permits.”
During that time the Village will study zoning and flooding regulations, building code and the land use approval process.
Later at the meeting the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on the resolution at their meeting on Tuesday December 12, 2023.
Coincidentally, the Committee for Historic Preservation was also holding their monthly meeting in Village Hall that night. In the third floor meeting room they were considering an application to tear down a mid-century modern home on almost an acre at 46 Lincoln Road.
Applications to raze the house had been filed and approved in 2008 and 2021, but the applicants failed to act and those approvals have now expired.
The developer is an emergency room physician who also has a business as a builder. Dr. Raj Krishnan who is in contract to purchase the house claimed that it was in terrible shape and that flooding had rendered the home beyond repair.
However, Committee Member Lauren Bender saw it differently. She said, “I voted against the demolition in 2018. It fulfills criteria number 4 of the preservation code, “That the building embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction that possess high artistic value.” She explained, this is a mid-century modern home, adjacent to the Heathcote School, that was built in 1954.” She noted that the school has been nationally recognized for its architectural style.
She said, “We seem to be losing our mid-century modern homes. There are only a handful left. The fact that it has been left to rot is unfortunate.” She counted the remaining mid-century modern homes on Brite Avenue, Tompkins Road, Overlook and the Breuer house in Quaker Ridge. She called the home, “Usonian,” and pointed out its dominant horizontal lines, low slung roofline, natural materials, stone base and the way it is built into the hill.
Neighbor Perry Shamsai who lives at 50 Lincoln Road corrected a claim by the developer that the house had been unoccupied since 2018. She told the board that the house had been rented until 2021. In 2022 there was a flood. She said, “We love the architecture of this house and the different layers of stone. Attention has been paid to the aesthetic of this architecture.”
Jack Miller of 45 Fayette Road said, “I live two houses away from this home. This is a death row reprieve for the house. I love this house – the way it is situated on the site – it looks different from different from vantage points – and in different lighting. It is on .97 acres and has beautiful plantings. It catches a lot of water from the entire neighborhood. The far end has an open watercourse and on a summer night you could hear the water moving.”
He contended that the home met criteria 4 for preservation, noting the materials, the railing on the deck, the varying roof lines, and the iconic front door. He said, “nothing is cookie cutter about this house.”
The developer framed his case as a public service. He said, “I build brand new homes to allow new families to come to Scarsdale. I am a doctor who builds homes to provide opportunities to experience Scarsdale.”
CHP alternate Amy Laurence responded, “But you could also say that you are denying a family the opportunity to live in a mid-century modern home.”
After more discussion, the committee voted to adjourn the decision in order to get input from architectural historian Andrew Dolkart.
Later many of the people from the CHP meeting joined the Village Board meeting downstairs where there were public comments on the proposed moratorium.
Ralph Geer of 38 Greenacres Avenue said, “I am standing in support of 27 Woods Lane. We all moved here for the aesthetic and perceived value of our community. Watching it being eroded through development is discouraging. Thank you for taking this on your shoulders.”
Jim Detmer from 29 Woods Lane said, “Thank you for listening to the community. I thought this was going to get kicked down the street and I am so happy it did not.”
Developer Eilon Amidor of 69 Morris Lane objected. He said, “This moratorium will cause a lot of problems for a lot of families. Think about young families coming here and trying to establish a house. People are not going to know if they will be in for the school year. The problem with 27 Woods is particular to that area. There are ways to mitigate that issue. Allow people to demolish homes and rebuild them in the same footprint. There is no reason to put in the moratorium. It will affect people who work in Scarsdale – we employ a lot of people.”
Raj Krishnan of 2 Continental Road repeated much of what he said at the CHP meeting. He said, “We are in the process of trying develop 46 Lincoln Road. We were not treated fairly based on the antidevelopment stance in Scarsdale. Scarsdale is a wonderful opportunity for development. The moratorium is going to stop people from moving here. I understand that there may be issues with the sizes and heights of homes. That can be dealt with. Our application was treated unfairly. It was approved for demolition in 2021. That’s a travesty and prevents someone from moving to Scarsdale. We have built several homes that allowed new families to move here. The moratorium will adversely affect buyers. If they can’t find a new house here they will go elsewhere. We are going to create history! I know the CHP wants to preserve history. The house is riddled with problems. My application was held over.”
Miguel Sostre, an architect from 13 Brook Drive Greenwich, had presented an application to the CHP to tear down 9 Ogden Road. He said, “Construction is the life blood of the town and allows the expansion of the tax base. It turns homes paying $30,000 into homes with a high tax base. There are solutions out there. It is not a moratorium.”
Benoit Hesnard who had recently moved to 44 Brewster Road said, “I moved here because of the Village. Six months is not enough time to find the right answer. Make it a year.”
Jack Miller joked, “The gentleman at 44 Brewster and I were separated at birth. I think it’s great there will be a discussion about Village board reviews. It should be streamlined to help residents and builders. There are lot of bright people here and it’s a step in a positive direction.”
Cynthia Roberts said, “The BAR and the CHP meetings are not Zoom accessible. If you can see it at home and comment from home it is a wonderful thing for many residents. When you have your hearings during the moratorium, look at the process because process is important for a community like ours.”
Also at the meeting, the Board addressed the following:
247 Nelson Road
The Board overturned the decision of the Committee for Historic Preservation to deny an application to raze 247 Nelson Road. The home was designed by Philip Resnyk and built in 1925. The CHP vote was 3 for and 3 against, and since it did not receive a majority vote it was not approved. The Board of Trustees found, “when viewed within this historic context, the Board of Trustees finds that there is not sufficient evidence to support a finding that the home located at 247 Nelson Road satisfies any of the individual criteria set forth in Village Code §§ 182-5(A)(1), (2), (3), (4), or (5), respectively, and thus is not historically significant within the meaning of Village Code § 182-5.
The Board held a hearing and approved new Village code on dogs. The code change amended Chapter 141 which prohibited dogs from areas abutting parks, playgrounds, schools or private property including sidewalks. This text was eliminated from the code. So, though dogs cannot be in public parks, schools or playgrounds, they can be on the adjacent areas.
Village Manager’s Responsibilities
Following the dismissal of Village Manager Rob Cole in September over a disagreement about his role in Village Government, the attorney has drafted revised code to clarify the job description and reporting structure of the Village Manager and his office. The function and duties of the Village Manager are not changing, but the board is adopting what is in the appendix of the Village Code and folding it into the code for best practice.
In brief, here is what the revised code says:
The new code clarifies the role of the Village Manager vis a vis the Village Board. It establishes the Village Manager as chief administrative officer of the Village of Scarsdale and executive assistant of the Mayor and the Board of Trustees in connection with the conduct of the affairs of the Village. It says that the Village Manager’s authority is subject to the approval, direction and control of the Board of Trustees and lists his roles and responsibilities.
The Board of Trustees agreed to hold a public hearing on this change on November 28, 2023.
The Village Board approved a law that will permit the police to tow cars parked in the street during times of road resurfacing, storm/drain cleaning and water system maintenance after attempting to contact the owners to move their cars. If the owner cannot be contacted in a timely manner the police will have the right to impound illegally parked cars.
The Board also reminded listeners that there is an overnight parking ban from November 1 to March 31 from 2 am to 6 am on all public streets.
The Christmas tree lighting and holiday celebration will be held in Scarsdale Village on Friday December 1 from 5- 7 pm. The entire community is invited to join the fun.