Sunday, Apr 21st

Freightway Parking Garage Hangs in the Balance

freightwayAfter negotiations to build a transit-oriented development on the Freightway site reached an impasse earlier in the year, the Village was left with a deteriorating parking garage and the need to foot the bill for yearly maintenance and long-term repairs. Then the COVID crisis hit and the garage was abandoned by commuters and parking revenues for the Village virtually dried up.

Eleven months later, the Village still faces the same problems. Should we continue to invest in the preservation of the garage or build something new on the property?

Built in 1973, the 48-year-old structure requires yearly repair and maintenance in order to keep each parking level safe and functional for town residents. In 2002, the Village of Scarsdale invested over $1.5 million in the garage for necessary restoration and upkeep work. Since then, the town authorized various smaller scale financings for Freightway, including $88,000 in 2005 for security camera installations, $33,000 in 2016 for repairs to the top deck level, $100,000 in 2018 for drainage and brickwork, and $100,000 in 2019 for concrete repairs.

As we close out 2020, the Village of Scarsdale must make critical decisions on what the future of the Freightway Garage will look like. The Village Trustees are split on the matter, with some advocating for a pause on spending, some pushing for continuing yearly maintenance repairs, and others hoping to develop the property into something else entirely.

In 2018, seven development firms presented their preliminary visions for the future of the site. These plans included various combinations of improvements, with some creating residential units, increasing parking capacity, building retail and office spaces, and adding pedestrian bridges and plazas. These models generated enthusiasm from some who visualized the property as a key to revitalizing the downtown and bringing new residents to town. However others feared the impact on school enrollment numbers, additional traffic and the effect on the existing Garth Road retailers who would be impacted by a multi-year construction project.

After considerable dissent, in January 2020, these development plans were put on hold while the Village of Scarsdale weighed its options on how to proceed with the garage and the 2 acre site. 

On Tuesday December 7, the Scarsdale Village Board of Trustees held a meeting to discuss the future of Freightway Parking Garage via Zoom video conferencing. Attending the meeting was Jack Caliendo, a Senior Associate from Desman Associates, a firm hired to provide consulting engineering services and perform a condition assessment of the garage. Mr. Caliendo presented the Board of Trustees with a Condition Survey Report that can be found here.

The survey concluded that the garage is in “fair to poor physical condition... (with) cracks on the structural slab freightway1and traffic membrane observed throughout the parking garage.” Additionally, the firm reported that “the cracks and the failed caulk joints have permitted seepage of moisture into the concrete slab initiating corrosion of the embedded reinforcement and metal deck soffit” which then resulted in “deterioration of the supported concrete floors.” The report goes on to detail where the garage faces leeks, steel corrosion, clogged drains, and other maintenance and structural issues.

Mr. Caliendo estimated that the garage could last another 20-25 years if properly maintained. If the upkeep does not remain current, he anticipated only 10 years of future use. To plan for the future of the site, Desman Associates developed a course of action for the next 25 years that would cost an estimated $8 million. The first five years would focus on the most pressing structural fixes, waterproofing work, and drainage repairs. In later years, the firm budgets for necessary guard replacements, paintwork, and lighting and exterior improvements.

After Mr. Caliendo presented his findings and 25-year maintenance plan, several trustees expressed concerns about the cost of the project. Trustee Jonathan Lewis said that in light of Scarsdale’s current revenue challenges, he believes that the board’s efforts should be focused on establishing the budget for the next fiscal year. Trustee Lena Crandall echoed this sentiment and highlighted that “there are too many unknowns right now” amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. She suggested enlisting the Scarsdale Forum or the Scarsdale League of Women Voters to engage the community and suggest ideas for future uses of the garage.

freightway2.jpgTrustee Randall Whitestone endorsed this idea and emphasized that because we are still in the middle of the pandemic and a period of economic uncertainty, he does not think the town has the capacity to make any concrete decisions regarding the future of Freightway.

Mayor Samwick made one last attempt to restart the development process but was not able to convince others on the board. He said, “I agree with what has been said – but the potential for the Freightway site is an economic decision. Do we want to spend money on repairs – or do we want to look for a revenue opportunity?... We now have $2.4 million in revenue shortfalls in the present year and there will be shortfalls in the coming year. … There were concerns about the size and scope of previous proposals. If we don’t need that large a garage, this could have a positive effect on the Village. Let’s see if we can engage with the community. This is a fiscal discussion. What’s the harm of having some focus groups?

Justin Arest said, "Finding the best value for that site is important. This benefit would not come from many years – we need to discuss our situation now. I am concerned that we’re having these discussions when we don’t have the time for other serious discussions."

Looking at the future, Trustees wondered if work and commuting habits may have been permanently changed by the pandemic and asked whether a garage of this size would ever be fully occupied again. They discussed the need to generate revenue and ideas for alternate uses for the garage such as installing solar panels on the roof for a solar energy farm or renting out a few levels to a car rental company or an auto dealership. They agreed that more work was needed but that the Village budget, not the garage, was a priority at this time.

In conclusion, the Village of Scarsdale is currently stuck with an ailing garage and has no plans to move forward with either developing the site or investing in the necessary maintenance work. While the future remains uncertain, for the time being, the Freightway Parking Garage will stand unchanged.

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