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You are here: Home Section Table On Our Minds Don’t Throw in the Towel on Freightway Development Yet
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Don’t Throw in the Towel on Freightway Development Yet

Calm3(This is the opinion of site owner Joanne Wallenstein)
It’s understandable why a proposal to build up to 280 apartments on the Freightway site has so many Scarsdale and Eastchester residents up in arms. Though the garage is dripping and rusting, many cannot understand why the need to rebuild it would necessitate the largest development project in Scarsdale’s history. What’s more, what some see as an opportunity to bring people and revenue to the Village, others view as a threat to neighborhood character and schools.

Without the presentation of any assumptions or financials behind the proposals, residents are unable to assess the potential impact on the schools and the tax rate. Lacking details, it’s hard to see what if any benefit there will be to the schools, the Village and Scarsdale’s 17,000 residents.

Those who support the development plan point out that it may bring new life to the Village and attract young residents who may eventually buy single-family homes. These residents will be able to walk to the train and the Village and fuel a renaissance in our floundering downtown. They claim that transit oriented development in other Westchester towns has not proven to overcrowd schools or unravel the community fabric and has helped these towns to thrive. Again, since no quantitative analysis is provided, it’s hard to assess the impact on foot traffic in the Village and validate the claim that the project will revitalize the market for retail stores and restaurants in the Village.

So where does this leave us? After years of community input, focus groups and work by urban planners, are these objections reason enough to give up on development all together? Is there a potential benefit to listening to both sides to see if common ground can be found? Might there be other solutions that appeal to more residents?

Let’s take a deep breath and consider some facts on which most can agree.

-The Village-owned garage needs to be renovated now and ultimately completely replaced.

-The garage generates $600,000-$700,000 in revenues that are badly needed by the Village.

-The garage and the two and half acres surrounding it are an eyesore – and could clearly be put to better use.

-Scarsdale’s school population has been dipping and is expected to decline by another 300 students in the next five years. See the enrollment projections here: *

-Our downtown lacks the vitality of neighboring towns and many stores are vacant.

Currently, the Village has two proposals before them, one calling for 220 residential units and the other for 280. The two developers have presented renderings and site plans, but the accompanying financial data has been withheld, as Trustees fear that sharing it will put them in a poor negotiating position with the developers.

Neither plan offers much to current owners of single-family homes. One plan proposes a possible theater, but other than that, it’s difficult to envision how current homeowners would benefit. Would real estate taxes go down as a result of the revenue from the development? Would there be any new public facilities such as a dog park, a playing field, a pool or an ice rink? Who knows? Right now, those who live here now are hard pressed to find the pearl in the oyster. As one man put it, these two similar plans pose many risks with little potential reward.

However, just because these two plans have little appeal, it doesn’t mean that a solution cannot be found.

I suggest, as many did at the meeting, that the Village go back to the developers and ask for some creative solutions that reduce the number of residences and increase amenities for Village residents. Trustees should provide developers with a maximum number of housing units and a wish list of additional community facilities. Are office space or restaurant sites viable options? More site configurations warrant consideration.

Under these scenarios, with a reduced number of residences, perhaps the developer would not agree to underwrite the full cost of the garage – and the Village would need to take on debt to share some of the cost of the garage. But the tradeoff would be well worth the cost. More exploring needs to be done and rough cost and revenue estimates need to be shared.

About the finances, as the Scarsdale community includes people with professional expertise in municipal finance and real estate development, trustees should share financial projections and give these folks a chance to analyze the numbers. Simply stating that the development will provide a “net benefit” to the Village, as claimed by the Mayor, is not sufficient evidence to move forward.

In conclusion, the 2.5 acre site is very valuable property and Scarsdale remains one of Westchester’s most desirable places to live. If this development is supposed to be a public/private partnership, let’s put the needs of the public first.

Just because the first two proposals we received our not up to snuff, we should not give up. There are benefits to improving this site for those who live here now and those who will come, so let’s continue to explore our options.

*Note: Here are the school district's enrollment projections as of December, 2019.

enrollment

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