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BOT Refers Recommendations to Reduce Home Bulk to the Planning Board

framedCalls for changes to the zoning code to limit home size, height and the appearance of bulk were addressed at a work session of the Board of Trustees on Tuesday November 10, 2020. A Bulk Committee was formed in October 2018 and they presented their recommendations in July 2019. In October 2019, the BOT asked Village staff to study the potential impact of several proposed recommendations from the committee, but after the COVID crisis hit in March, the issue was put aside again.

Now, two years later, Village staff presented their findings to the Board, and the Board voted to send these five recommendations, targeted to achieve modest reductions in home size, to the Planning Board for review. The recommendations address maximum allowable height, reduce the size of a bonus that allows for increased FAR, require that bonus floor area is built only on the first floor and dictates that any homes that are 15,000 square feet and more receive a special use permit from the Board of Appeals.

Study by Village staff determined that these recommendations would not yield dramatic reductions in home size. In fact, they estimated that the floor area ratio of maximum sized homes would only be reduced by 5%. However, after studying the issue for years, the Board agreed to move forward on these recommendations as an initial step. As with all code changes, they will review the impacts in a few years to see if these have the desired affect or need additional tweaking.

The five recommendations are as follows:

-Reduce the maximum permitted height to 32 feet from 35 feet, measured to the midpoint of the roof.

-Reduce the Floor Area Ratio, (FAR) side yard setback bonus by 30%

-Eliminate the FAR requirement that in order to qualify for the side yard setback bonus, additions to existing homes must be built at the rear of the house.

-Clarify the code to specify that the FAR garage credit applies to the square footage of the floor level of the garage where cars are parked, but not to space on the upper floors.

-Require Planning Board site plan approval for single family residential projects involving more than 15,000 square feet of gross floor area rather than a special use permit from the Board of Appeals

Jeff Watiker, the long- time chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals explained that this worked started in October 2018. Village staff was asked to compare Scarsdale’s zoning tools with other municipalities. A Bulk Review Committee, including the Chairs of the Planning Board, Zoning Board and Board of Architectural Review was formed and they presented their findings to the Village Board in October 2019. At that point, the trustees asked Village staff to study the potential affects of the first two recommendations … height reduction and elimination of 30% of the side yard setback bonus.

They considered 33 new homes and 32 additions that were considered by the BAR from 2014 - 2017 to see how these changes would have affected the outcomes. Read the full report here.

Topline, they determined that the height reduction from 35 to 32 feet would not result in many non-conforming properties as 90% of the new homes and 87% of the additions were built at a height of 32 feet.

However, the reduction in the side yard setback bonus would have an impact as only 47% of the new homes and 92% of the additions would meet these new guidelines. Tables and charts showing the impacts can be reviewed here: For example, on a home that was permitted to be 700 square feet larger due to the side yard setback bonus, under the new law that bonus would be reduced to 490 square feet. While not dramatic, the 210 square foot reduction in allowable square footage could have an impact on the overall perception of home bulk.

Commenting on the recommendations, Village Planner Greg Cutler said, “I think these strikes a balance… There are not too many non-conformities and they will move the needle in a certain direction.”

Trustee Justin Arest asked to see some hypothetical examples of how these code changes might affect the design of new homes. He said, “What is bulk? ....There is no definition. Can we show this on some hypothetical homes? Non-conformities should not be a priority from my perspective.”

Trustee Lena Crandall said, “This is an incremental proposal. I believe it is reasonable. The community has been waiting a long time to address the bulk of homes being built.”

Mayor Marc Samwick favored sending these recommendations to the Planning Board for review. He said, “A lot of work went into this. An incremental step has real benefit. Whatever we do will be subject to review in the years to come. This is an admittedly gradual step to respond to the community and what we heard from prior boards. We can study this until the cows come home. It’s important to get this in front of the community. It would have to go to the planning board first. After we get their comments we can draft a change to local law.”

The board voted 6-1 to refer the recommendations to the Planning Board.

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