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Mayor Addresses CHP Resignations and the Latest From Village Hall

menorahchaseparkAt Tuesday's Scarsdale Board of Trustees meeting, Mayor Dan Hochvert addressed the recent resignations of members of the Committee of Historic Preservation (CHP), and clarified the board's position on notable reversals of CHP decisions. "Deciding which houses meet the criteria in the village code regarding historic preservation is sometimes a very difficult job. Houses that do not meet the criteria but for which their owners have an offer conditioned on demolition bring public benefit of preservation into potential conflict with private property rights."

In the recent case of 12 Dolma Road, the BOT approved a "hardship" application 12DolmaRoadto demolish the home, despite the CHP's decision to preserve it. According to Hochvert, "It is one thing to designate a property as historic and entirely different to determine hardship." The owner had requested a review based on four hardship criteria listed in the village code, and because those standards were met, the board unanimously agreed to overturn the CHP decision.

The mayor also discussed 24 Morris Lane and 26 Cooper Road, both of which generated split votes from the CHP. With regard to 24 Morris, the CHP voted 3-2 to grant a certificate of appropriateness. However, because four votes are needed to support any decision, village code required that the BOT make the ruling. "The board carefully reviewed the record and agreed with the majority... a majority of CHP members who were at the meeting recommended that the board grant the certificate of appropriateness." In the case of 26 Cooper, Mayor Hochvert said that, while it was known that a renowned architect designed the garage, there was no defendable evidence that he also designed the home. "That evidence was not found by the CHP. The village board also asked expert opinion. The conclusion reached...was that there was no direct evidence the house was designed by him."

Further explaining the board's role, the mayor stated that the community should understand that before designating a home as historic, there must be enough evidence to support the decision. "When the evidence falls short of substantial, the village board is compelled to deny the designation of a property as historic," he said.

The mayor's comments clearly highlighted a need to review the current code to better reconcile the rights of property owners and the value of historic preservation. He acknowledged that there may be future changes that might be appropriate, and recommended that the board and staff be willing to "brainstorm" options to strike the right balance. "The overarching issue the village board faces is how best to preserve historic homes without creating financial hardship for property owners," he stated.

Additional Mayor's Comments:
Also included in Mayor Hochvert's remarks were a reminder for residents to complete the Scarsdale Forum's traffic survey by November 30 if they hadn't already, and praise for last week's interfaith Thanksgiving service. The mayor concluded his comments by recognizing Scarsdale Superintendent of Public Works Benedict (Benny) Salanditro for being named the Public Works Official of the Year by the American Public Works Association New York Metro Chapter.

Manager's Comments:

The village has completed the fieldwork portion of its $700,000 sanitary sewer evaluation, which covered the Mamaroneck Valley sewer district (one of three covering Scarsdale). The study, which involved installation of sewer inspections and cleaning, television monitoring and the installation of flow meters, was to determine the origin of sewer flows and a report on the findings currently is being drafted. One goal of the study is to identify illicit sewer connections from specific properties to eliminate unnecessary water from entering the system. Westchester county regulations provide for 150 gallons/day per person, and Scarsdale exceeds that amount.

Fire Commissioner:

The board voted to extend Fire Captain Daniel Purcell's service time for one year.

Municipal Services:

The board voted to extend the Ad Hoc Committee on Communications service for one year. As the committee has completed its mandate over the past year, it now is charged with 1) working with staff to maintain and increase resident subscription rates to "Notify Me," the village's online notification system; 2) updating the new resident packet and develop a version for electronic distribution, 3) developing resident boards and councils recruitment materials as well as new member packets; 4) collaborating with staff to update and standardize department handouts and forms, 5) reviewing and suggest online department overviews; and, 6) sharing ideas and suggestions for continued enhancements to scarsdale.com.

The board also voted to approve resolutions to place a crèche in Boniface Circle and two Menorahs in Chase Park.

Comments   

-1 #10 @alan sacks 2017-12-05 13:12
Then YOU should buy the house and renovate it to whatever standard you deem non-barbaric. Property owners should have a right to do as they see fit, within the BAR guidelines, with THEIR property.
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+2 #9 anonymous 2017-12-02 16:21
Where is the justification to classify a house historic on a hardly used side street if the outcome is hundreds of thousands of dollars from the pockets of the homeowners? When was the last time most of the residents of Scarsdale drove down Dolma Road to "enjoy" the historic look of #12. The Scarsdale Historic Society couldn't make financial sense of keeping one of the most historic buildings in the Village that is on one of the most heavily traveled roads. How can the Village justify forcing someone on a quiet residential street to essentially fund this folly.
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+11 #8 Robert Berg 2017-12-01 14:03
Whether you believe that private property rights should trump historic preservation or vice versa -- and valid, principled arguments can be made for both -- we can all agree that Scarsdale's current Historic Preservation Law is fundamentally flawed. It creates an expensive bureaucratic process that simply delays real estate transactions, sometimes for years, and never winds up preserving any historic structures. The CHP members were rightfully fed up by the BOT's decision to overturn their decision, and the prior BOT's decision to preserve 12 Dolma. There is truly no point at all to keeping this historic preservation law since there is no set of circumstances under which a BOT will not find economic hardship to trump preservation under this poorly conceived law.

This terrible law, which has been derided for all the years I've lived in Scarsdale, should be scrapped immediately. Then, the community has to decide if it cares about preserving any of the limited number of remaining historic or distinguished houses.

If not, let the developers have their day, and the McMansions will continue to sprout. At least our tax base will grow substantially.

That's not how I would do it, however. I do think that there still are a limited number of beautiful, historic houses that have escaped the wrecking ball -- though that number is shrinking with every demolition permit issued.

My proposed law for historic preservation would still require that a house meet a significant architectural or historical burden before it is designated for preservation over the objection of an owner. But I would have that designation process be conducted upfront -- as soon as practicable after enactment of the legislation. That way the fight over historic designation is resolved in most cases BEFORE the owner decides to put the property on the market.

That should reduce, in many cases, the "gun to the head" feeling where a transaction is being held up or busted up by the CHP review process. The historic designation battles can be fought when time is not of the essence, which means they can probably be resolved more amicably and at less cost to all parties.

In the rare case where a house is designated as historic, however, the economic hardship escape valve must be very limited. Essentially, one would have to show that there would be little or no economic value to the property unless the historic designation were removed.

Ultimately, in my experience, properly designated historic districts create massive incremental value to the property owners within those districts. Look no further than downtown Nantucket, Charlestown, S.C., or Savannah, Georgia. Our European cousins have been far wiser and more robust in preserving their historic structures. Compare the timeless medieval beauty of Prague with Newark, N.J.

Scarsdale has already lost a large number of its most beautiful, architecturally and historically significant houses. But there is still time to save the rest. Let's junk the current law asap. Let's not waste our time worrying about non-existent problems -- like trying to keep gun shops from coming to Scarsdale. In over 300 years, there's never been a gun shop in Scarsdale, and there's no need to expend energies trying to craft legislation to fight a non-existent foe. Same too with all the energies focused on penalizing residents who have to cut down a couple of trees on their properties. Saving a couple of historic houses from the developers' wrecking balls will preserve scores of mature trees.
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+3 #7 scarsdale resident 2017-12-01 12:17
Kudos to the Trustees for doing what's right. It's not just protecting property rights from the preservation hobbiests with no economic stake in the outcome. It's also preventing Scarsdale taxpayers from expensive lawsuits for which there is no basis to defend (see Mamaroneck) and taking seriously the trustees' duty to do what's right, however unpopular.
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0 #6 Fed Up 2017-11-30 22:50
Not all houses are worth saving but it has reached a point where the character of the village has been degraded. Not sure ensuring the financial gains of those selling their homes and leaving Scarsdale are the people that need protecting. Not to mention the developers who make millions flipping these properties. Lots of more questions for the mayor and BOT...

mayor Hochvert:
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+2 #5 Captain Latin America 2017-11-30 20:57
Failure is inevitable if bystanders expect their views on the enduring value of other peoples’ old homes to trump those of the actual owners. It is romantic to think otherwise but homes are structures that wear and depreciate like cars, only in slow motion. They are a liability, a burden, not an asset like the land they sit on. If an owner doesn’t see the value of an elegant old structure it is his or her right to change it. If someone who is not the owner feels differently, then they should buy the house and refurbish it as they see fit. This fundamental right is the reason that loopholes like “hardship” exist; more stringent rules will simply not survive. If the Village wants to preserve interesting homes, tax every demolition on the basis of how old and how large it is, put the proceeds into a housing trust, and put the preservation committee in charge of buying a home every few years and fixing it up to whatever standard they see fit and can afford. Then, deed it as a permanently historic property, and use it for Village operations, a museum, a rental property, or sell it with those deed restrictions to a conservation-mi nded party. It’ll be a waste of money, but the current solution of whining and delaying transactions is also a waste of both money and time. And unlike W&D, it will actually result in some preservation.
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+3 #4 Howard B 2017-11-30 16:50
I moved to Scarsdale in 1984. From then until now I've been reading stories about "now is the time we've got to do something about keeping these nice old houses around." And yet....
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-1 #3 Alan Sacks 2017-11-30 16:27
Appalling the barbarity and short-sightedne ss in destroying, not preserving and internally updating these wonderful buildings.
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+5 #2 Heres the rub 2017-11-30 13:47
The hardship criterion for appealing a CHP ruling to the (BOT) Board of Trustees (§182-7) are such that in today's economic climate, rarely does a property the CHP has ruled to preserve fail to meet one of more of these hardship criterion that empowers the BOT to overrule the CHP.

This then suggests that the CHP is nothing more than a temporary stop gap cog in bureaucracy the property owner faces, to ultimately have their decision nearly rubber stamp overturned by the BOT.

Is this good or bad? I don't know. Did the BOT act inappropriately with respect to law: no. But it does call into question the power/need for a CHP and the members who resigned, feeling themselves powerless--at least in a market where "tear down and rebuild" yields significantly more profit than "preserve," and our local laws.

..said as a bystander
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-1 #1 Fellow Citizen 2017-11-30 09:19
Well said Mayor, it is genuinely appreciated that the BOT takes their role very seriously when it comes to the high standard of property rights.
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