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Planners and Managers Provide Update on the Status of Development at Freightway Site

freightwaysiteWhat is the status of an initiative to build a transit-oriented development on the west side of the Metro North tracks in Scarsdale Village? In order to keep the public informed about the process, the Scarsdale Board of Trustees scheduled a public forum on Wednesday May 15 with Village Managers and recently-hired planning consultants AKRF, to review what’s been done to date – and what’s in store for the next few years.

The site under consideration is 2.5 acres of Village owned property at Freightway, plus another 1.33 acres and the air rights over the railroad tracks. The deteriorating indoor lot, outdoor spaces and open lots accommodates 720 commuter cars, and one of the biggest concerns about the development project is where all these commuters will park during the construction project.

Over the past several years the Village has already done outreach to residents to identify priorities for the new development, assigned a steering committee to establish goals and objectives, held public workshops, fielded an online survey and done a visioning study.

Last year the Village received responses from seven firms to an RFI, and has rough concepts from these seven developers to consider. The plans included residences, retail locations and parking as well as public spaces including EastEndCapitalA rendering from the response to the RFI from East End Capitalparks, walkways, parks and open air plazas.

Since that time, the Village has retained McCullough, Goldberger and Staudt LLP as legal counsel and AKRF as planning consultants to help the Village evaluate the proposals.

Assistant Village Manager Ingrid Richards explained that the Village is “almost halfway through the process of developing an RFP that reflects the values of this community.”

Some of the key goals to improve the Village Center include:

-Aesthetics
-Place-making
-Connectivity
-Sustainability

Residents want a vibrant village center with green energy and green infrastructure.

Their next step is to finalize the RFP and circulate it to selected developers. It has not yet been decided whether it will go only to the seven applicants who submitted an RFI or to other bidders as well.

The proposals will be evaluated on the basis of:

-Extent to which the proposal meet Village criteria and aligns with vision and principles
-Prioritizes connectivity, open space, placemaking, sustainability, fiscal benefit and contextual design.
-Developer has demonstrated experience and competency
-Proposal offers best value in terms of finances and community benefit
-Developer experience with creating long lasting projects.

Once the SEQRA or environmental study is reviewed, there will be a public hearing on the zoning change. The developer will then file a site plan for approval.

Mayor Marc Samwick emphasized, “There is a long process in front of us – we are at the top of the second inning. We have an enormous opportunity to evaluate what is to be done”…. He added, “The Christie Place project was almost a parking garage paid for by us. Instead we have residences, retail, parking and real estate tax revenue of more than $1 million a year. (Referring to Freightway he said,) “Do we want to just get parking – or get the parking plus more additional benefits? That’s why we are here today.”

During the public comments portion of the meeting, residents expressed concerns about the project and hopes about what might be included.

Bob Berg said, “My big fear is that we give a developer free rein to do what is most profitable for them – and they make many multi family houses. Coops and rentals get a big tax break. Condominiums would not be a problem if we pass the Homestead Act.” He asked, “Are you going to restrict the housing in the RFP to condominiums to avoid this problem?”

Ed Morgan, President of the Scarsdale Arts Council asked the Board to “bring back a modern movie theater with a performance space in it. Freightway is one of the sites that should be looked at for a facility like the Jacob Burns Film Center

Bob Harrison suggested that the Board consider an indoor aquatic facility aka an indoor pool for the community. He said, “Can this be worked in?”

Andrew Sereysky said, “One of the proposals mentioned a dog run – this has been a pet peeve of mine. Scarsdale needs a dog park! Include a dog park during the process.”

Carol Silverman said, “What about a senior center or a community center?”

Zoltan Szilagyi of Chesterfield Road said, “I appreciate the transparency. Consider the importance of school enrollment –-- it is such an overriding concern. Have realistic enrollment projections in advance for informed decision making.”

Berg then returned to the mic to discuss the Homestead Act. He said, “At Christie Place, the units were sold on the premise that their property taxes would be very reasonable. That’s the same scam you want to pull off here.”

Trustee Justin Arest responded saying,

Commenting on the Homestead Act, Trustee Justin Arest said he believed it was “premature to have this discussion,” first because Homestead can only be considered following a municipal wide revaluation, and Scarsdale is not currently planning another reval. Second, “the probability for a Westchester municipality adopting it is relatively small.”

Furthermore, he said, “Whether it be in the form of public amenities and/or a potential up front payment, it behooves us as a community to balance our aesthetic and density concerns with maximizing revenue- in other words, making the pie and our piece of the pie larger. If homestead was implemented today, it would lead to an increase in the tax liabilities faced by any proposed condo units and therefore cause significant reductions in their value.”

Therefore he concluded, “Just the conversation of automatically opting for Homestead and giving the false impression that there is wide community support for it could lead developers to amend their base case that they will use to underwrite the project and materially change the proposals we receive.”

Addressing Berg he said, “I don’t appreciate your statement that we are trying to pull off a scam or cheat anyone. Bait and switch is not our intent.”

Mayor Marc Samwick explained, “There is a certain amount of value to the land the village owns. That value can be achieved in parking fees or real estate taxes. We are not going to get both – how are we going to maximize the value? We are putting the cart before the horse with a discussion of Homestead. We have to look at this in a responsible fashion based on the tax structure we have today. Let’s stay focused on what we know, quantify it and evaluate it and move forward. All options will be compared to a “no build” option so it will be clear how much the development is costing the Village.”

Tama Seife of Circle Road said, “What about the dislocation for people who park there? Is that part of the impact study?”

She was assured that, “Yes that is part of the environmental review – and mitigations need to be designed to minimize those impacts. How can we make this better? What are the tradeoffs?”

Tom Giordano of Montgomery Road asked if civic groups can provide input for the RFP.

David Buchen of Circle Road asked, “Are any of the private owners interested in contributing? What will the Village own at the end of the process? What is the capacity of the train station? We are the second most frequented train station on the Harlem Line after White Plains. How much more traffic can be brought to that station?”

Anne Zink of Beechwood Lane said, “Newer residents may not have the opportunity to supply feedback. When does the window close for the public to submit their wish list?

She was told, “The window does not necessarily close on identifying impacts. The Village hasn’t set forth a specific program – i.e. a dog park or a pool – instead we are asking the development community of their ideas of a good use of this land.”

See the full presentation on the Village website here.

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