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Trustees to Consider New Preservation Code for Scarsdale

5QuakerCenterThis home (built in 1938), pool and tennis court at 5 Quaker Center have been torn down and a two-lot subdivision has been approved by the Planning Board.At long last, the Scarsdale Board of Trustees will consider a draft of new preservation code aimed to safeguard a select group of historic properties. The new code would pre-designate some of the Village’s most distinctive homes, buildings and sites for preservation and prevent the demolition of the exteriors of the structures. Interior changes and updates would still be permitted.

Up to this point, Scarsdale has had limited success in protecting some of the Village’s most unique, distinctive and historic properties. Though the Village appoints a Committee for Historic Preservation to grant demolition permits, rulings have largely favored homeowners and developers who wish to raze the homes. In the rare cases where the Committee voted to deny demolition, owners have appealed these decisions to the Scarsdale Board of Trustees and ultimately to state courts.

For example, after a long battle, the owners of a historic home on Dolma Road appealed to demolish their home based on “hardship,” claiming they could not get the profit they wanted out of the sale of the home without permission to demolish it. Ironically, after the developer purchased the house he listed the property and a new 11,000 square foot home on the site for $7,995,000 and is yet to find a buyer.

The Scarsdale Board of Trustees will discuss this proposed draft for the first time on Wednesday March 20 at 6 pm. These discussions will take place after the Village election on March 19 as Mayor Dan Hochvert and three Village Trustees complete their terms of service. As some view pre-designation of properties for preservation as a “taking of homeowners’ rights,” the proposed code is sure to engender much discussion. The debate will essentially begin with one Village Board and then transition to a new Village Board in April.

The goal of this proposed code is to protect the interests of current and prospective residents by preserving the buildings and sites that make the Village unique and distinctive.

Here is the intent:

Protect historic buildings and structures which represent distinctive elements of the Village’s historic, architectural and cultural heritage;

Foster civic pride in the accomplishments of the past;

Protect and enhance the attractiveness of the Village to residents, prospective residents and visitors and the support and stimulus to the economy thereby provided;

Provide an educational role in the Village with respect to historic preservation.

The criteria for designating a site or structure for preservation would be similar to the code the current Committee for Historic Preservation uses to rule on applications for demolitions.

They are:

In making a determination whether to designate a Protected Site or Structure, the Committee shall consider the level of significance in American History, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture present in the site or structure, as well as the integrity of location, design, setting, materials and workmanship, and

(1) That the site or structure is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to broad patterns of Village, regional, state or national history; or

(2) The site or structure is associated with the life of a person or persons of historical significance; or

(3) That the building or structure is the work of a master; or

(4) That the site or structure embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction that possess high artistic value; or

(5) That the site or structure has yielded or may be likely to yield information important in prehistory or history.

The Committee may consider if the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, New York State Register of Historic Places or Westchester County Inventory of Historic Places. A national, state or county listing alone is not sufficient to warrant preservation herein.

Once the Village decides which properties to designate, the new code calls for the list to be filed with the Village Clerk and notification of property owners. The Village Trustees may refer the proposed list to the Board of Architectural review for their recommendations. This will be followed by a public hearing after which the Board of Trustees and adopt, modify or reject the proposal.

When the list is complete, the Village Clerk will send notification to the affected property owners within 5 days and notify all Village departments. The list of designated properties will be added to Village Preservation Code.

If property owners wish to renovate or alter a designated property, they will need to apply to the Board of Architectural Review for approval. The new code sets forth criteria for preservation and requires the BAR to issue a “Certificate of Appropriateness” for any work to be done.

The new code does permit property owners to appeal the decision of the BAR on the basis of hardship, so this loophole will still remain.

Owners of the designated properties will also be required to keep the exterior portions in good repair so that they do not “deteriorate, decay or become damaged or otherwise fall into a state of disrepair.” A list of requirements for the preservation of foundations, flooring, roofing, walls, chimneys etc. is included. Failure to maintain the property will be punished with a fee of not more than $50,000.

Last, aggrieved property owners who are unhappy with their historic designation, decisions by the Board of Trustees or Board of Architectural Review or a denial of permission to raze a home may appeal to the State Supreme Court.

Review the proposed code on the Village website here:

Undoubtedly many questions will need to be answered. Here are just a few that come to mind:

-What list of properties will be pre-designated? Who will come up with that list?

-After the list is complete, can homes be added to the list in the future? What will be the process?

-Will any streets or neighborhoods be pre-designated - or just individual properties?

-If a home is not pre-designated, will the owners be required to go through the current process to receive permission to demolish it?

-What happens in the case that an owners object to their pre-designation status, and doesn't appeal within 30 days? Is it a done deal?

-Will the pre-designated homes receive a plaque or some demarcation of their historic status?

-What will prevent anyone from filing a hardship appeal?

Learn more at the meeting at Village Hall at 6 pm on Wednesday March 20th.

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