Tuesday, May 26th

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BriteAvenueEvery day, more residents are becoming concerned with increased bulk in Scarsdale. No, it’s not the kind that an Equinox membership can fix; it’s the ever-expanding crop of new single-family homes and major additions that are making residents feel crowded. And, like that unwanted weight gain, it’ll take a while to shed the excess mass. The question is, how to pare down?

Several years ago, the village held land use committee meetings to address various issues, notably the appearance of bulk related to new construction. Since then, staff have researched what Scarsdale could and should consider in curbing the size of so-called McMansions, and have surveyed other municipalities to learn more about best practices. When comparing the village zoning code to its peer communities’ regulations, staff confirmed that Scarsdale already was utilizing all tools available to address the issue, and that it was comparable to or a bit more restrictive in its zoning requirements.

So, how to address the public’s concerns? Fast forward to the establishment of the Scarsdale Bulk Review Subcommittee, which was asked to dive deeper and consider how to limit the size of homes being built throughout this “village in a park.” Comprised of members of the planning board, zoning board of appeals, and board of architectural review (BAR) – the committee offers insights and experience of volunteers who routinely deal with the issue when working with builders and property owners.

On Tuesday, the village trustees listened to the subcommittee’s recommendations. Scarsdale Village Planner Liz Marrinan began the discussion by stating, “The bulk issue has been around in this village for decades… In 2000, we adopted a map change… to make the zoning requirements a little more restrictive and help prevent subdivisions... In 2002… we (adopted) FAR regulations for single family homes… for those who do not know, it’s the ratio of the floor area of your structure to your lot size.” She continued, “In 2007… we found that, while it hadn’t totally limited large houses from being built, it brought down the trend of ever, ever, ever expanding (structures). It did… level things out. “

Marrinan went on to say that the village has continued to review and tweak village regulations to control bulk, but that it “is very difficult to define. It’s often in the eye of the beholder… When we did the initial FAR study, we were surprised to find that big wasn’t necessarily bad. Large houses with a lot of FAR (often appeared smaller) from the street (due to) the design or the landscaping, or what have you. What was important was design, function, and those sorts of things to help mask it.” She asserted, “That is the issue with using a zoning tool based on quantitative data to address a qualitative issue.”

In introducing the committee’s recommendations, Marrinan explained that the group examined incremental changes that would result in a gradual reduction in bulk. “I can pretty much guarantee, as a planner, that if you make any of these changes tomorrow… you’re not going to see any difference… You’re still going to get complaints about bulk,” she said. “But, over time, as more homes and additions are built, you will see a gradual reduction.”

Scarsdale Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Jeffrey Watiker, who also serves on the bulk subcommittee, then reviewed the five suggested zoning techniques that may mitigate bulk. “One of the things we tried to do, in addition to being incremental, (was) to focus on the land use controls that directly address the problem that’s being looked at. So, if the buildings seem too high, let’s look at the height requirement. If the buildings look like they’re too bulky, we have a rule that’s written to address bulk; let’s look at that.” He continued, “I think you’ll find that the recommendations are targeted not only to be incremental, but they’re targeted at precisely what we’re trying to fix.”

Specifically, the committee proposes:

• Reduce the roof height limit from 35 feet to 32 feet (as measured from middle of roofline) to address perception that homes are “getting too tall.” Since the measure is taken at the middle of the roofline (an industry standard) a structure may have sections that rise higher than 32 feet, but the committee believes that, in theory, the highest houses would be pulled down a bit.

• Lower the FAR by 5 percent by reducing the side yard setback bonus by 30 percent to address bulk. This approach is tailored to those homes that would qualify for the setback bonus -- typically the largest new-construction homes on the largest lots (e.g., many houses in Edgewood are on much smaller lots that do not qualify for the side yard setback bonus).

• Improve the FAR law to allow additions to an existing home in a location other than the back of the structure. Currently, additions must be built in the back of houses to limit a bulky appearance from the street. However, if there’s not sufficient space in the backyard to accommodate an addition, a homeowner may opt to knock down the structure and build a new, larger home. By providing more flexibility for updates and modifications, the committee hopes to discourage teardowns (and bulky new builds) throughout the village.

• Amend the “garage rule” to limit the garage exemption to the ground floor of the structure, excluding any space above. The tweak would allow for any living space on the second floor to be properly considered with regard to FAR, thereby reducing space elsewhere on the property.

• Require homeowners who wish to build very large homes (more than 15,000 square feet) on the largest lots (greater than 1.5 acres) to file a site plan review with the village planning board. Currently, homeowners typically deal with the zoning board of appeals, which is not positioned to perform thorough reviews.

Other methods considered but ultimately rejected by the committee for implementation at this time were:

• Limiting house size by linking height to setback, which would be difficult to implement due to numerous possible variances;

• Increasing the reduction of FAR, which would increase the number of nonconforming properties throughout the village, and, possibly, adversely affect the marketability of homes or practical needs of homeowners; and

• Eliminating the garage setback, which could be seen as a penalty for owning cars and/or needing extra storage space.

Looks Often Are Everything
Members of the BAR often look beyond regulations and code to simple aesthetics of a property. There are practical ways to mask bulk, namely design and landscaping.

A significant problem is clear cutting that often accompanies new construction. In addition to the negative environmental impact of eliminating mature trees and other plantings, replanting efforts typically don’t match or effectively replace landscaping that has been razed. And, in the absence of large trees, bulk is painfully visible.

While the BAR often effectively collaborates with homeowners to improve the appearance of new homes and additions, and reduce the appearance of bulk, the rules by which the board operates are “fairly loose.” Dan Steinberg, one of its members, suggested that the village “explore ways of giving greater structure to the BAR, which would allow it to be more forceful in controlling bulk.” He also noted that the committee looked at how Scarsdale calculates lot coverage and how it affects the appearance of various homes. Because some underground items are not included in FAR, they may be included in new construction more often and will affect what can be planted above ground. This restricts replanting and overall appearance of the property.

“We also talked about the possibility of financial incentives or tax abatements to discourage the tear down of older homes in some of our older sections of the community,” Finger added. “Generally, we discovered that, to be able to provide some kind of tax abatement to encourage builders to renovate… would require legislation in Albany… We also (discussed) the possibility of an historic landmark district. It would apply to older section of the community and impose restrictions on the ability to replace older homes. Again, it has its advantages and disadvantages.”

For now, the committee recommends those steps that can be taken today that can make a difference, albeit slowly. For more details, including a discussion of village concerns versus property owners’ rights, as well as the trustees’ reaction to the committee’s recommendations, you may view a recording of the meeting online here

Diane2Undoubtedly, Scarsdale is such a special place to live because so many community members pitch in to make it so. This week we profile Diane Greenwald, a volunteer extraordinaire. 

When did you move to town and what do you do professionally?

Marc and I moved to Scarsdale in 2005 with our two young sons after living for 5 years in the north end of New Rochelle. We loved Scarsdale services and sought to enroll our children in the stellar schools. I worked for 12 years as an architectural marketing and communications professional. I have had my own graphic design business and also led programs for children and families at museums.

What were some of your earliest volunteer activities?

I started volunteering through my children and synagogue, mostly as a way to meet other moms and families. Life can be a little lonely as a young mother working from home in front of a computer. I took on small tasks at first, like designing a directory for Bet Am Shalom and helping organize truck day for WRT’s ECC.

Who were some of the people you met who encouraged you to participate?

This town is filled with wonderful volunteers, and I have been fortunate to work with so many. My volunteer path started with a little luck and the word yes…

In 2006, about a month before my older son began kindergarten, I was sitting at the playground with a new pal, Jocelyn Sontag, watching our sons play. She has an older daughter, so she was already involved at QRS PTA, and she was on the phone with Suzanne Seiden, then the outgoing PTA president at Quaker Ridge. Suzanne was looking for someone to co-chair Learning to Look, the parent-run art appreciation program and I have a degree in art history. They took a chance on me, and before I had even walked in the building, I was put into a leadership role!

It was a bumpy start but saying yes to that role launched an 8-year commitment to inquiry-based learning through the arts and many more PTA roles. I believe that parent involvement in the schools is meaningful for the community and for child development and I always felt grateful to be welcomed into the classroom. I met other terrific parents committed to enhancing programs, such as Tracy Ludwig, Lisa Eisenstein, Melanie Landau, Shreya Mehta, Michelle Saltz, Deb Hochberg and Leah Dembitzer. I loved Learning to Look so much that I went back to graduate school to study museum education.

At my younger son’s nursery school, I was fortunate to meet another mentor, Ruth Suzman, a deeply philanthropic person who helped place me on my first board, the Greyston Foundation, in Yonkers, where I served for 7 years. Ruth’s mindful, skillful commitment to service beyond our town has been a true model for me as I balanced a commitment to the wider community with my love of this one.

In 2013, when things became contentious in town over a school budget vote, I was lucky to meet Art Rublin, then chairman of the Coalition for Scarsdale Schools (CSS.) Art encouraged me and many others to use our voices, advocating in support of prudent but robust school investment. That shared commitment to education and Art’s talent for empowering engagement, led me to work with (and make friends with) more wonderful volunteers such as Pam Rubin, Nan Berke, Julie Zhu, Deb Pekarek, Mary Beth Evans, Susie Rush, David Brodsky, Linda Doucette-Ashman, Moira Crouch, Jim and Shirley Dugan, Lynn Clark, and so many others.

Through those relationships, I found myself saying yes again and again, including to the League of Women Voters Scarsdale. League women are a talented group who seek to enhance participation and good government through collaboration and consensus. Serving with this amazing board under Deb Morel’s leadership was a volunteer highlight.

Tell us about your volunteer “resume” – which activities have been most meaningful to you?

Well, two things, really. First is the STEP student we hosted, Zaria Cash. Becoming a host family for the STEP program and welcoming Zaria into our home for 2 years on her path to higher education was a life-changing experience for our family. I don’t have words to express the pride and love I feel for this wonderful young woman. STEP’s model might not be the answer to systemic inequity in America but engaging in this one young person’s life is meaningful, challenging and changing for everyone involved. I am grateful for the support of the entire STEP board. It sounds corny, but it really does take a village!

And of course, I can’t forget Scarsdale Public Library. Everything I love is at the Library. In 2015, then Library Board members Susan Kessler Ross and Michelle Lichtenberg, both incredible civic-minded gems, reached out to me to get involved. I joined the Library board, not really knowing what I was getting into, but I quickly learned about the well-defined needs, a well-considered plan for improvement, and a tremendous opportunity to leave Scarsdale better than we found it. What a gift to steward this mission.

The Library Improvement Project has been a consuming passion and partnerships have been the key to the project’s success– with Library and Village staff, volunteers, and with the community. There is no question that my collaboration with Library Director, Elizabeth Bermel, and Friends (FOSL) President, Dara Gruenberg, has been among the most rewarding of my volunteer life. Scarsdale is lucky to have such a visionary professional like Beth and there is really no one quite like Dara – a brilliant light of positivity! Our shared commitment to community gathering, learning, and to the free access of information for generations to come gives me such joy, as do our friendships! And I hope our synergy has provided a source of value for the community.

Working with several supportive but demanding mayors, including Jon Mark, Dan Hochvert and now Marc Samwick, has ensured the best value for taxpayers. And the extraordinary team of fundraisers, led by Dara, Bob Steves and Betty Pforzheimer, harnessed unprecedented community support, with particularly skillful work by capital campaign members Lisa Messinger, Gary Katz (now on the Library board) Mona Longman, Wendy Kleinman, Justin Arest, (now a Village Trustee) Michelle Lichtenberg, and Terri Simon (both former Library Board presidents.) I am in awe of their efforts and results. And I thank the over 500 donors to this project with my whole heart!

The Library has a deep bench of current leadership too, with the wonderful Elyse Klayman and Margot Milberg, Felicia Block and the rest of our promising, committed board. There is also the amazing Friends Board that is 20 people strong!! It is heartening to know that the Library is a central source of value for so many.

Another volunteer I get to work with is Terry Singer, a former Library Board vice president. A professional architect, Terry stayed on to co-chair of the SPL Building Committee and is a tremendous asset to this town. Her wisdom and experience have made countless projects in Scarsdale better – particularly the Library.

I have the privilege of seeing the Library renovation project emerge; construction is going along well and folks, it’s gonna be better than we ever imagined!! The Library will surely have something for everyone – and I am proud to be a part of it.

Beyond Scarsdale, you often advocate for political candidates and causes – tell us about that.

I am especially committed to supporting pro-choice, Democratic women seeking office. Emily’s List, Eleanor’s Legacy and Off the Sidelines, all are groups that identify, train, and promote women in politics, and have my support.

In Scarsdale, we are represented by amazing women at a lot of levels – Assemblywoman Amy Paulin has a stunning record of legislation, including championing the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act. Our talented and tenacious State Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins is the first African-American woman Senate Majority leader. We are represented by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a national leading voice for women’s equality, a central theme of her passionate presidential run. I proudly support them all!

In town right now, we have three women on the Village Board of Trustees – the incredible, dedicated Jane Veron (also our amazing Library liaison!), Lena Crandall and Rochelle Waldman. And three women serving on the School Board, Pam Fuehrer, Alison Singer and Karen Ceske, all distinguished public servants. These are models for our community daughters and sons. While I have great regard for men who serve, I believe we need a ‘new girls club’ to support each other toward gender equity in every arena, particularly the political one.

Have other members of your family gotten the bug and volunteered as well? Tell us about them.

Yup. My husband Marc has long been involved in philanthropic work in the legal and Jewish world. But now, he is also involved in the ‘Dale, serving as the chair of CNC. He also sits on the Scarsdale Baseball Club board and has always been a terrific coach for our boys. He has been a wonderful ‘dad’ to Zaria. When he first got involved in town, he would be called ‘Mr. Diane Greenwald’ – which I kinda love. But he has his own profile now, and I am proud of him. He is also a great bartender when we host community events!

What advice would you give to a newcomer to Scarsdale?

I seek out involvements that speak to me on some gut and/or intellectual level, but I also sometimes just say yes. So, say yes!! Saying yes can open doors you never knew were available. As the League motto states, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Neither is community.

P.S. Friends are the best part of volunteering. I tried to give my gratitude by name to many but there are so many more! So please help me out and pass it on -- Thank a volunteer today!

Note: Diane will be honored by Eleanor's Legacy, the organization identifying, training and supporting women candidates in NYS, on November 17th at 1pm. Information about sponsoring and attending the event and honor can be found here

DSCN1395Each year, the SHS senior class holds an annual chalking event early in the school year. This year at Scarsdale High School, the seniors were as enthusiastic as ever. Some came as early as 6:00 in the morning to create their masterpieces!

Each group was given a square to their chalk art. Some groups combined their squares to make an even bigger arrangement. Each piece was intricate and thought out, and seniors used different colors, blended the chalk with their hands, and included clever phrases. Many of the phrases incorporated the class graduation year, 20 (2020) in them. Some examples of phrases were “La2t 0ne” and “2 Infinity and Bey0nd”. The event was a great teamwork activity to launch the senior’s last year in Scarsdale.

See their creativity below:

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letter to the editorScarsdale School Board elections were held on May 21st of this year. Three of the seven seats were up for election, or nearly half of the Board. Two of the outgoing Board members had decided not to run for re-election, despite being eligible to do so. If they wanted to have a say in the future of our schools, there were free to run for a second term. They chose not to. On June 10, 2019, during the regularly scheduled Board Meeting, the contract of Superintendent Thomas Hagerman was extended for five years, beyond the term of the newly elected Board members. Not only was this significant action taken with no advance notice to the community, or opportunity for public comment, but it was taken by a Board comprised of 3 lame duck members. These outgoing Board members have effectively removed the newly elected members from the most important decision affecting our District. They will be required to run for a second term in order to have any say in the decision to employ our Superintendent.

This lame duck action was disingenuous and in direct conflict with the decision made during Board elections. Our community made the decision to have Karen Ceske, Carl Finger and Ron Schulfof represent us on the Board. They were chosen to exercise their best judgment. Unfortunately for them, and us as voters, much of their input has been usurped by people who have chosen not to serve any longer. This action was inappropriate and should be reserved for the incoming board. Dr. Hagerman’s contract was not set to expire until June 30, 2021, providing ample time for the new Board to provide considered input. According to documents produced by the District, there has not been a five-year Superintendent contract since 2001. With one exception, one of Dr. Hagerman’s agreements, all contracts and extensions have been for three years or less. We think it no small coincidence that three years is precisely the term of a Board member. We also find it interesting that the Board of Education does not keep a record of how each Board member voted on a particular subject. In other words, there is very little accountability. Most elected, representative bodies keep records for this very reason.

We fail to see any reason for such a rush, two full years before the expiration of the current contract or for any reason to extend the contract past the term of the incoming Board members. Did the outgoing Board have a lack of trust in the newly elected members? The Board of Education should govern their actions in light of the wants and desires of the community that elected them and to solicit input before simply enacting far-reaching decisions. This was not done and simply ignored the election results just shortly before. This is exactly the type of behavior that we have come to abhor in Washington, DC. We expected more from Scarsdale.

Roger Neustadt
Scarsdale Coalition for Safer Schools

USCWhat really happens behind the closed doors of the Admissions Office? On Monday, October 7, 2019 from 7:30-9:00 p.m. at the JCC of Mid-Westchester, 999 Wilmot Road, Scarsdale, the deans and directors of a number of top colleges and universities will open those doors and dispel the myths about what it takes to get into college. This is the eleventh year in a row this program is being presented.

The free community-wide event – “Inside the Admissions Office” -- is sponsored by the JCC of Mid-.Westchester and Woolf College Consulting. Students and parents will hear the real story behind how decisions are made from the deans and directors of Binghamton University, Mt.Holyoke College, Swarthmore College, Syracuse University, Union College, and the University of Chicago. The evening will give the public the opportunity to learn the differences and similarities in how decisions are made by a range of colleges including selective universities, state universities, and liberal arts colleges. Advance registration is required here

Moderated by Mamaroneck-based college admissions consultant Betsy F. Woolf of Woolf College Consulting, students and parents will learn:

· What makes a student’s application “stand out”;
· How an admissions staff makes the ultimate decision to admit, deny or defer;
· How colleges weigh grades, test scores, family connections, athletics, campus visits, interviews, essays and other factors;
· The institutional needs and policies behind the decision-making;
· The difference between a well-rounded student and a well-rounded class – and why that is important in college admissions;
· Whether declaring certain majors gives students a leg up in the admissions process;
· How admissions committees treat the application of a student who discloses his or her learning difference or ADHD.

Betsy F. Woolf is a college admissions consultant and an award-winning editor specializing in higher education and secondary school. She is a magna cum laude graduate of NYU and holds a J.D. from Hofstra University School of Law and a Certificate in College Counseling from UCLA.

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