At the opening of the August 4 Land Use Committee in Scarsdale Village Hall, Trustee and Committee Chair Jon Mark was testing the microphone and said, “Four score and seven years ago we started this process.” Though he got a laugh, there was truth behind his words. The development of the property at 2-4 Weaver Street has been under consideration for years, and this Board appears determined to see the matter resolved.
On this night the Committee had gathered to get community input on a term sheet for the sale of a strip of Village-owned land that now serves as the driveway to the parking lot of the Heathcote Tavern. The meeting was well attended by a majority of the Board of Trustees, Village Managers and representatives from the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition.
By way of background, development of the site has been hotly contested. In 2010 after considerable opposition from the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition, the Board of Trustees voted against the land sale. But in early 2011, the Planning Board reviewed the specifications for a proposed as-of-right building on the property and concluded that the additional strip of land would allow for a better project, set farther back from Weaver Street and requiring fewer curb cuts. With the encouragement of the Planning Board, in March 2011, developers Fish and Oder asked to purchase the property for $200,000.
At several meetings in the spring to review the proposed sale, the Coalition asked to see specifications of the planned building before the Village consented to the land sale. The developer complied and provided elevations and a site plan that is shown here.
The current Term Sheet negotiated between the Village and the developer includes the following provisions:
- A four-story building with 27,000 square feet of gross leasable floor area to be built on a deck over the current parking lot.
- The new building will include ten market rate units and one affordable unit. The project will not be age restricted.
- The building could only be for residential use. The developer would be prohibited from leasing space to retailers or commercial tenants in the new building.
- Parking spaces for the residents would be provided on the first level of the building, which would be at the same elevation as Weaver Street. Restaurant parking for the Tavern building would remain below.
- Height restrictions: According to the term sheet, “The highest roof peak of any new building shall not exceed the highest roof peak of the Tavern building, provided any fourth floor, if set back 20 ft. from the front façade, shall not exceed the maximum height permitted by the Zoning Code. The maximum permitted height is 46 ft. measured, in the case of a building with a flat roof, to the highest point of the roof beams or, in the case of a building with a pitched roof, to a point halfway between the top of the plate and the ridge. The height of any cupola on the new building shall not exceed the height of the existing cupola of the Tavern Building.”
- The new building would be 20 feet from the Tavern building.
- If the Tavern Building were to be converted to residences, it could contain no more than four units and the building could only be used for residential, restaurant or office use.
- The façade of the building, facing Weaver Street, Wilmot Road and Palmer Avenue would be preserved for 25 years.
- The current number of parking spots at the Tavern would remain.
- The developer would agree not to seek any variances that would increase the bulk, density or height of the building.
To compensate Oder for these concessions, the sale price of the Village land was reduced from $200,000 to $150,000.
The Land Use Committee had shared the details of the proposed term sheet with representatives from the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition. In response, the coalition proposed some revisions to the agreement and they were incorporated. However, two stipulations requested by the coalition were deemed to be deal breakers and were not included: the coalition asked to remove parking on the deck level of the structure to decrease the overall size of the building and to limit the amount of office space allowed in the Tavern Building to the square footage of the current office.
The committee asked for comments and there was still resistance. Speaking about the size of the project, Peter Gordon said, “The Five Corners Coalition would have allowed a 31,000 square foot building. The proposed project is now 75% larger than what the builder could be built as of right.”
Martin Kaufman concurred with Gordon, adding, “Increased bulk will bring bigger units and more units. These units could accommodate children and will place a burden on the schools and on traffic. They will be taxed less and therefore be an increase on the burden for school and village.” Furthermore he said, “We were told at the first meeting that the intent of the Planning Board was to have a better, not a bigger, building. This building is much bigger, but not better.”
It should be noted that the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition include the parking spaces in their square footage calculation, while the developer and Land Use Committee do not.
Lika Levi of Lockwood Road questioned the timing of the meeting. According to Levi, “The whole village community should have the chance to answer. People are on vacation in August. I wish we did not discuss in the middle of the summer.”
The trustees assured the audience that there would be additional opportunities to comment on the project, which would next need to undergo an environmental review and be considered by the Planning Board and possibly the Board of Architectural Review.
Trustees shared a letter they had received from the developer. Explaining why they were not willing to meet Coalition demands to remove the parking spaces and limit the office space the developers said, “We have made a big concession; to preserve the building façade and to eliminate retail from the site. We know the building has been part of the Scarsdale landscape for 90 years. We feel that this project will give Scarsdale a gateway project that the community can be proud of.”
Speaking eloquently, Trustee Jonathan Mark, who has lead the process and the negotiations, indicated that he was “prepared to move the process forward.” Though a divergence in views had developed, he questioned exactly what neighborhood character the coalition hoped to preserve. He described the Five Corners as a “hodgepodge of design and use that might benefit from a handsomely designed structure.” He warned that the Coalition’s additional demands on density and office space risked the entire deal -- and if it fell through the developer could raze the entire Tavern and build a new retail complex.
The Land Use Committee ultimately decided to put the sale agreement on the agenda for the Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday August 9th. And since the membership of the Land Use Committee and the Board of Trustees are one in the same, it appears that this long-discussed land sale agreement will finally be approved.
To gain a more complete understanding of the issue in its entirety, read the statement from Trustee Jonathan Mark that he read at the conclusion of the August 4th meeting of the Land Use Committee below:
Concluding Statement of Jon Mark, Committee Chair
1. Why we are here:
At a March 16, 2011 meeting of the Planning Board at which the Developer’s application to preliminarily discuss a potential project at 2-4 Weaver Street, it was suggested by the Planning Board that the Developer apply to the Village Board for the sale of the Village-owned land. In general, the Planning Board’s motivation was to allow for greater flexibility of design of the project.
By letter dated March 24, 2011, the Developer followed through on the Planning Board’s suggestion and made an offer to purchase the Village-owned land. In summary, the Developer offered to buy the land:
- For $200,000
- Asserted that it would not increase the bulk outlined in the then current proposal (consistent with the suggestion of the Planning Board)
- Proposed there be 10 units in the new building and if converted, up to 4 units in the Tavern building
- Proposed at least 2 affordable units in addition—for a total of 16 units
- He requested that no age restrictions be imposed on the units
- He requested a merger of the Village-owned lot with the lot the Developer owns, and
- Offered substantial preservation of the façade of the Tavern Building for 15 years, with no use restrictions to be imposed on the building.
- The Developer requested a response by April 20th.
2. Despite that deadline request, this is the fifth meeting this Committee has held since the date of the Developer’s letter with prior meetings having been held on April 14, May 16, June 7 and June 22. Members of the public attended and were heard at each of these meetings.
3. Over the course of the four months that has elapsed, the Committee has received and considered written and oral comments from residents – chiefly from members of the Steering Committee of the Heathcote Five Corners Coalition, but from others as well. The Committee has also received input from members of the Village staff.
4. The nature of the input received resulted in iterative versions of the Developer’s proposal including a set of preliminary drawings which were revised by the Developer in response to requests for greater specificity and detail by members of the Coalition and this Committee. The principal result of these iterations was to produce a somewhat more refined proposal and along the way, concessions from the Developer with respect to certain items. For example, as a result of the comments received from the Coalition and the other input we received
a. The Developer now says he will not seek setback variances which, if granted would have allowed the proposed building to be built closer to the boundaries of the property.
b. The Developer has indicated that he would agree that the new building will be used solely for residential purposes. It would not be used for commercial purposes even though such use would be permitted under the zoning for the site.
c. Developer had initially proposed that there be no use restrictions imposed on the Tavern building. He has now indicated that he would agree to limit the Tavern building’s use to a full service restaurant, office space and residential use – if it is converted for such purpose.
i. Note that as to use of the Tavern for residential purposes, it is proposed that a maximum of 4 units could be constructed in the building if the Village-owned land was sold to the Developer. This number has remained unchanged throughout the process and in fact was included in a June 11, 2011 written suggestion of proposed conditions received from the Coalition.
d. The number of units originally requested by the Developer for the new building was 12 units which included 2 affordable units. The Developer now indicates he would agree to a total of 11 units, which includes one affordable unit, in the new building.
These use and size limitations should all contribute to reducing the traffic impact the project would have on the five corners intersection as compared to the impact a purely commercial project would have.
e. Regarding preservation of the Tavern Building façade--the exterior walls facing Wilmot Road, Palmer Avenue and Weaver Street-- the Developer had proposed a period of 15 years. He now indicates that he would agree to a period of 25 years. A right to modify the windows in the event residential units were built inside the Tavern Building was initially requested and has not been objected to in the comments we received.
As a result of the give and take, the Developer was granted concessions as well. The proposed cash price has been reduced from the Developer’s initial offer of $200,000 to $150,000 in recognition of the relinquishing of certain development rights that would otherwise be as of right by code for the combined parcels.
And yes, the potential density of the project would increase somewhat from what was originally proposed if the Village-owned land is used.
5. As we have heard this evening, a significant divergence of view has developed with respect to what is referred to as the “density” of the building. There is no difference in view that the Developer would be able to build a larger building using the Village-owned land, than would be the case if he did not own it. However, there is at least some confusion over how to accurately describe the number of square feet a new building will take up using the Village-owned land.
6. In non-numerical terms, what the Developer proposes to build is a deck over a portion of the existing parking lot and on top of that a structure three and a half stories high with the top story being set back from the front of the building. Under the proposed plan a lobby and parking spaces would be provided on the “deck floor” that would be roughly on the same level as Weaver Street. Parking would continue to be provided on the existing parking lot which is at the grade of the Heathcote bypass and which for the most part would be underneath the deck.
7. The difference in view is how to describe the total volume of the proposed structure in square feet. The developer believes that a correct number is 31,800 square feet -- a number which does not include the parking areas on or under the proposed deck. The Coalition believes that a more accurate characterization would be to include all of the parking areas in the square foot measurement which would produce a 55,400 square foot number. I am told neither of these calculations reflects how the size of the building would be calculated under the Village zoning code and regardless of what the number is or how it is calculated, both the Developer and the Coalition agree that it will have to comply with that code in any event.
8. However, the Coalition asserts that its square footage number is the better way to assess the project and based on its number concludes that the proposed new building is too large for the neighborhood. They have therefore proposed a condition that would have the effect of limiting the total square footage of the building such that the proposed parking area on the deck would be eliminated. The Developer has told me today that this proposal is unacceptable to him and, if imposed, would prompt him to withdraw his request to buy the Village-owned land and he would proceed to apply to build what he is able to “as of right.”
9. Notwithstanding these disparate views of the arithmetic, the proposal is – in non-numerical terms to build the structure I described and what we are then being asked to consider is whether in our judgment there is sufficient value to the Village in the restrictive conditions to which the Developer might agree to justify the sale of the Village-owned land to him. As has been made clear to us, most recently in an August 3rd email from a member of the Coalition, the Coalition’s two top priorities are traffic and preservation of the character of the neighborhood, with preservation of the Tavern Building being one element of the second point.
10. Clearly, the size of the proposed project and its use (including the use of the Tavern Building) are two key elements when considering traffic impact. The size of the building can be described and can be circumscribed in a variety of ways with bulk being one. The problem seems to be how to reduce the concept of bulk to a number. The terms presently proposed address bulk using an aggregate number for the building of 31,800 square feet. This number excludes the Weaver Street level proposed parking to which an 11,800 square foot number is assigned and does not include the square footage of the existing parking lot which would be under the deck to be constructed. As noted, the Coalition believes that the appropriate square foot measurement to assign to the project is 55,400 square feet which number includes both parking areas. Both numbers relate to the same proposed structure. So the issue is not that bulk is not addressed, but rather what metric should be assigned to it. It is easy to get lost in this arithmetic debate and lose sight of what the project might look like as a whole.
11. In addition to “density,” the proposed terms contain other restrictions that would limit the size of the new building. It can only include 11 units. The set backs -- front, back and side -- must conform to Village Code and no variances which would minimize code-required set backs (which would allow a building with a larger footprint) are to be requested. The roof peaks of the new building may not be higher than the roof peaks of the Tavern building and the cupola indicated on preliminary drawings of the new building may not be higher than the cupola on the Tavern Building. These parameters in addition to the density description that is contained in the proposed term sheet will naturally limit the size of the new structure -- and hence have some resultant effect on limiting its impact on traffic.
12. Further, there are other elements in the proposed term sheet which should have some benefit for the Village and address in some degree the issue of traffic:
a. Parking for the restaurant and all deliveries to the site must occur within or under the proposed building.
b. Only two curb cuts will be allowed in connection with the development of the new building, a reduction from the present three curb cuts.
13. In addition, the Coalition has requested that any future use of the Tavern building for office space be limited to the extent of the office space use presently in the building. At present, the Tavern houses a full service restaurant occupying most of the building, and I am informed approximately 2,200 square feet devoted to offices. The Developer has said he would not agree to the further restriction requested by the Coalition noting in a letter to us that this is a valuable retail site and that he has been approached by retailers who would demolish the Tavern building and redevelop the site. If the Developer pursued that course of action, the opportunity to preserve the facade of the Tavern building would, of course, be lost.
14. We have also heard tonight about concerns on preserving the character of the neighborhood and the potential negative impact the new building might have by virtue of its size. Looking at the neighborhood right now and recognizing that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I note that at present, the site in question and the immediate surroundings of it are a hodgepodge of design and use -- none of which is residential. On the 2-4 Weaver site itself is, of course, the existing Tavern Building and a small dance studio that was once a gas station. Immediately across the street is a cleaners operating in a square brick building that was once a post office with a long unused loading dock. Next to that is a gas station. Further across the road is the Wilgrin Building, a mostly Tudor two story structure with a contemporary style one story brick structure tacked on to one end of it. Across the street from that is Balducci’s (originally built as a Daitch Shopwell supermarket) sporting a Disney-like ornament on its roof – and next to that is the now vacant and deteriorating former gas station that was closed to make way for a new two story 11,000 sq. ft. commercial building (which number does not include two levels of parking below). Lastly, there is the handsomely restored former Volunteer Ambulance building which used to be a train station. In short, exactly what character is sought to be “preserved”? The answer to that question is not clear to me -- other than to say it is a commercial area containing an assortment of modest buildings of varying mismatched styles. In my view, the area might benefit from a handsomely designed, well built structure.
15. Thus, while I have taken seriously all of the Coalition and other resident comments we have received, many of which are to be included in the term sheet and will result in improved terms, the additional requests they have made on density and limiting the extent of the office space use of the Tavern Building appear to put the rest of the work that has been done on this matter at risk. The Developer has indicated to me that if those points are pressed he will likely abandon this process and proceed to build whatever he has a right to build.
16. Such a result would be the Village’s loss in my view since other than compliance with the zoning code, the Developer would be free, among other things to build a somewhat smaller structure “as of right” but which could be used wholly for commercial purposes. A commercial use only building would have the potential of greater traffic impact than a building used solely for residential purposes. The other aesthetic elements contained in the proposed term sheet would also be lost.
a. The new building would be only ten feet from the Tavern Building if it remained creating a somewhat more crowded site. Under the proposal, the new building would be 20 feet from the Tavern Building allowing for better landscaping in the gap between the buildings.
b. The obligation to preserve the Tavern façade would not exist and the Developer could tear down the Tavern Building and in his words “redevelop the site” for any number of commercial purposes under the Village Code. If he chose not to do so, he could convert the entire building for some permitted commercial use. Either scenario would have the potential for greater impact on traffic than the current proposal.
c. The Developer could also sell his land to another developer who might have no interest in bargaining with the Village in this manner.
17. In short, the present proposal provides the Village with an opportunity to have significant influence on how the site at 2-4 Weaver is developed above and beyond the requirements of the zoning and other building codes. It strikes me that the input we have had up to this point has been worthwhile and that this opportunity should not be cast aside by insisting on additional refinements in the terms which will cause the Developer to go down another, less restricted path.
18. Lastly, I note that should the Developer continue to apply for approval of his proposed project, there will be further hearings on whatever application he may make before the Planning Board, the Board of Appeals and the Board of Architectural Review. In each instance, residents will have further opportunities to express their views. So tonight’s meeting in no way is the end of the process that this project will have to go through before it can be built and no sale of the Village-owned land would occur until the appropriate approvals are obtained, including the environmental determination.
19. For all of the foregoing reasons, I move that the staff be instructed to amend the term sheet to incorporate the non-substantive language changes suggested by the Coalition, provided that the changes do not change the substantive terms of the term sheet dated July 27, 2011 and only clarify the existing language, and that the amended term sheet be placed on the Village Board’s August 9, 2011 agenda for a vote to refer the amended term sheet to the Planning Board for their consideration as part of the Developer’s application and the appropriate environmental review of the same.